December 27, 2003

The Ios "Chattanooga"

This little three-song CD-rom has spent a little bit of time in my stereo, and I love every minute of it! They've got a bit of a punky, new waveish little sound, and though I've seen comparisons to Weezer, I'd say that they're more aligned with the much-better Rentals. "Chattanooga" kicks things off. Once you've totally tapped yer toes, they slow things down a bit with the lovely, spaced-out "Laika" --how could a song with that name not bee spaced-out? "Cheers, Looting" is my favorite, where The Ios turn on all the charm, putting aside the pop, and turning up the "rock." It's quite fun, and I like the boy-girl vocal trade-offs, too. There's even a bit of a Billie Joe vocal sneer in there, too. A fun little record, and I definitly look forward to hearing more!!!

--Joseph Kyle

December 17, 2003

David Byrne "Lead Us Not Into Temptation"

Soundtrack albums are funny, tricky affairs. If the composer in question is already established, it can make things even more interesting--or boring. After all, if your fans are expecting one thing from you and you don't deliver, then you won't satisfy your audience--presumably the ones who would be the only ones interested in your record anyway. So it can be a bit dicey.Then again, if you're an artist who has a reputation for experimentation, it could be an interesting format for you to play around with. David Byrne's done several soundtracks in his life (The Last Emperor, True Stories), and he's certainly a master at playing around with genres and confounding expections. So it's no surprise, really, that he would release an album of (almost) all-instrumental incidental music for an independent film made in Scotland.

Lead Us Not Into Temptation is the soundtrack to the movie Young Adam, and though it's pretty safe to say you'll never see the movie, as an album, it stands up quite well on its own. The music is dour, of course; it's arty and bleak and devoid of words. For recording, Byrne recruited members of such hip Scottish bands Belle & Sebastian, Mogwai and The Delgados to help him out, and though the music never sounds like any of those bands, Lead Us Not Into Temptation is an album that is full of the same kind of dour, sad atmosphere not unlike those bands. (No loud screeching post-rock, thank goodness.) At times, the music is almost ambient in nature, with a piano twinkle here and there that recalls Harold Budd in only the best of ways. Of course, with the beatnik/arty nature of the film, I'm reminded a lot more of Angelo Badalemanti; it's hard not to listen to "Seaside Smokes" and "Inexorable" and not think of Twin Peaks. No vocals appear until the last two tracks, "Speechless" (which should rightly be called "Incoherent," as you can't understand Byrne's vocals) and "The Great Western Road." Though not particularly memorable, they sound like a fairly strong imitation of Arab Strap.

Young Adam may not be a memorable film, but Lead Us Not Into Temptation certainly does not suffer for it. Though at times a bit monotonous and a little bit depressing, it's still good to know that David Byrne is capable of making truly moving music. You don't really need song titles or a moving picture to appreciate Lead Us Not Into Temptation. Just hit the play button, and let it soundtrack you--it's the perfect soundtrack for a cold and gray Sunday afternoon, and for that, I'm grateful.

--Joseph Kyle

December 10, 2003

New Harmony Indiana "Parlour Music"

My dear readers, I am going to confess something to you, and I hope and pray that you do not hold this admission against me. Please don't use it against me in a court of law, this confesion is just between me and thee, and I'm trusting you to keep it close to your chest, and that you carry it with you for all your days. It's one that is especially true in the case of New Harmony Indiana.

I like music that is funny.

(I can imagine my credibilty going down the drain with that one.)

Why is it that a dang sense of humor is something to be ashamed of? Ladies and gentlemen, I really do not understand why people in this underground music environment that we are all trapped in do not understand that laughing and having a good time in an irony-free environment is NOT A BAD THING. Why must you stand there with your arms folded, a dour frown planted on your face, and just this whole laughable po-faced attitude that will not allow you to crack a smile? You aren't Morrissey, you aren't Thom Yorke, you only own their records, so will you pack up that piss-poor attitude of yours and just LAUGH every now and then, and ENJOY music that's fun and funny? (I'd rather hear Roger Miller than Morrissey ANY day. Wouldn't you?)

See, New Harmony Indiana is one of the funniest records I've heard all year. Don't get me wrong, I'm not laughing at Jeff Krajewski, because I don't think that his band is a joke one, but I do feel as if you have to listen to Parlour Music with a sense of humor, because, well...if you take anything too seriously, you won't like it--even though you think you might. Such is double the case with New Harmony Indiana--if you're not careful, you could be put off on the first listen, and that would be a shame.

I don't see any of that nasty 'irony' in New Harmony Indiana's game, but what I do see is a young man who's got a lot of musical inspirations and he's not afraid to use them. Imagine a drunken mix of lounge music, pop music, adult-contemporary and lite jazz, thrown together in the hands of an ex-goth crooner who suddenly went straight when he learned of the magic of singing to aging hipsters and their beards, and you'll be close to appreciating Parlour Music. On the surface, you could easily be put off by Jeff Krajewski's voice--it's like an unholy alliance between Bryan Ferry and Nick Cave, and if you don't have a sense of humor, then you're more likely than not going to hit the 'off'' button and go, "JOSEPH, WHAT IS THIS GAWDAWFUL POO THAT YOU'RE SO HYPED ABOUT???"

But, you see, that's the great thing about Parlour Music. The more you listen to it, the more you realize that, OH MY GOODNESS, these guys are serious! The silly jazz stylings of "City Of Lost Children" and "I'm Troubled" might make you laugh, but when you get down to it, those songs aren't silly--they're utterly sincere, and you shouldn't write these guys off as a novelty act. But, then again, how could you not like New Harmony Indiana? They've put a smile on my face and have made me laugh today--a day when a laugh was exactly what I needed.

Though it's sad that humor in music isn't appreciated by most music listeners, that doesn't hurt New Harmony Indiana none. These kids have impressed me, they've impressed folks at NPR, and they'll impress you if you allow them to. Seek this one out, my friends, because you'll be impressed, you'll be amused, you'll be wowed (especially with their lounge version of a Ministry hit), and, best of all, you'll add a few minutes onto your pathetic little too-serious lives--if you still remember how to laugh. Parlour Music is such a fun record.

You remember what 'fun' is, don't you?

--Joseph Kyle

December 08, 2003

The Marlboro Chorus "Good Luck"

Where the heck is Davenport, Iowa? I'll claim ignorance, but I'm pretty sure it's out in the middle of nowhere, and it seems a bit peculiar that such a small place could produce such an utterly wonderful indiepop record. (Then again, who considered Omaha, Nebraska for ANYTHING until a few years ago?) Still, I doubt that this assuredly charming city smack in the middle of Anytown, USA is in danger of becoming the Next Hip City, and that's okay with me, and I bet that's okay with them, too.

Good Luck, the debut by the dark horse Marlboro Chorus, is an album that's just utterly irresistable and totally relentless with its limitless supply of acoustic-pop hooks. Throw in some piano, some awesome lyrics and a really great singer, and you've got the formula for greatness. I really don't have much information on who does what, but it doesn't really matter; I think they'd rather be mysterious about themselves and let the music speak for itself, because they do have a lot to say, it seems. That they can say so much in under a half-hour is testament to the strength of their vision.

And they say it so well, too! The jingle-jangle acoustic guitar intro on album opener "Potters, Daisies" will wake you up--heck, I though that they were about to start a sing-song singalong! But as you're listening to this lovely song, they throw a curveball which will surely win you over--a piano! Yes, these guys mix it up rather nicely, and then, when you come to the next song, "The Unrulable Child," they do it again! And again..and again..and again! Utilizing all the tricks of the trade--including killer harmonies, winning melodies, some wonderful piano, lots of acoustic guitar jangle, and some masterful tempo changes--witness "Mrs. Bury-the-Bone"--Marlboro Chorus create a lovely racket that's traditional in nature but utterly modern in execution.

Good Luck is just one of the peppiest records I've heard all year. No pensive indiepoppers, these mysterious kids--they're not shy when it comes to their music. The best song? Heck, I can't tell you that. They're ALL the best song on the album, but right now "Always One For Fun" is doing me right. I really can't begin to tell you how wonderful Good Luck is; mere words do fail me, it seems. I could easily throw 5,233,634,262 words and letters your way to talk about how great this record is and I still wouldn't capture their greatness. Go do your ears a favor--go get this album right away. These Marlboros are smoking!

--Joseph Kyle

Modern Day Urban Barbarians "The Endless Retreat"

There are a number of initial hints that Modern Day Urban Barbarians' The Endless Retreat is a political punk record. The simple, black and white hand-drawn cover art, depicting what looks like a phalanx of the skeletons of dead punk rockers laying waste to an urban environment, is a rather obvious clue, isn't it? Songs titles like "Slaves," "Pop Culture Casualties," and "Waiting For a Break" all seem to have this clue of failure vs. success, and I'm wondering where they're going to take this. And, of course, there's that band name. On opening the cover, about all I've gathered about this band from the liner notes is that it's a two-piece band, and that they go by the names of Devin and Jesse ZorTon and that they're from New York. Hmm, that might explain something.

In fact, it explains a lot.

Apparently, there's some sort of theme here--anarchy? A discourse on popular culture and the demise of humanity via a life of luxury? The fact that 9/11 was the beginning of the end/the end of the beginning/the death of New York and democracy? I have no idea, really--I can't make sense of it all. I can't tell if they're a serious political band or if they're a band who are trying really hard to be ironic and funny and serious at the same time, or if they're trying to be a band of shambiotic prophets who are giving electronic warnings to the world via really amateurish playing. (Imagine, if you will, godhedsilo's very first practice, and you'd not be far off the mark.) It could be all of these things, it could be none of these things. I really can't tell you.

What I can tell you, though, is that I get the feeling that perhaps the Modern Day Urban Barbarians are better than they allow themselves to be. Though most of the album is a plodding, lo-fi "you are there" kind of recording that is nothing short of terribly muddy, it's not until the final song, "Statement," that everything gels for Modern Day Urban Barbarians. The bad playing and recording and lyrics and everything just merge into this one cohesive, beautiful statement, based upon that one unforgettable nightmare day in September, and a reflection upon life comes out of it all: "We could all live a little more and if you don't want to what are you here for?" they sing, and it's a touching truism that really rings deep and true with me. (In fact, all of their lyrics are GREAT. It's just the music that's not.)

Though I somewhat think that they've got a little bit of put-on in their blood ("I could let you in on a little trick/I'm actually smarter than all of this"), I really think there's something to Modern Day Urban Barbarians. They've got some excellent lyrics, even if the music betrays their brilliance, and, as stated before, I wonder if their roughshod amateurism might be a bit of a hoodwink. I can see where they're going with this, and with a little bit of work (aka PRACTICE), they could really have something. Still, despite all of the things that I hear that's wrong with The Endless Retreat, I still cannot write it off as a bad record--there's this inexplicable appeal that I like, and I just have this hunch about them. What it is, I can't say, but there's a feeling of imminent greatness that could be theirs soon.

Depending, of course, if they want it.

--Joseph Kyle

Trembling Blue Stars "A Certain Evening Light"

Though I may be loathe to admit it, I really like Trembling Blue Stars. Sure, I don't really care for an album's worth of overwhelming pathos and heartbreak, and part of me wants to give him a hug, shake him by the shoulders and tell him, 'move on with your life, please,' but when it comes to singles, man, Bob Wratten cannot be beat. His songs--his sad, downcast, heartbreakingly moving songs--are best taken in small does, lest you drown on his tears and bitterness, and as such, the single format serves him well.

A Certain Evening Light collects all of his non-album singles and B-sides from the past six years. On one hand, it's a very handy little collection. He's released seven singles/EP's over the years, all of which contained at least three exclusive tracks. As such, the lost' songs have certainly added up, and considering the fact that he never sold his B-sides short--almost all of these songs could easily be singles on their own. Heck, I even wonder if Wratten spends as much time on these little releases as he does on his regular albums. (It wouldn't surprise me, really.)

The only problem, though, is the obvious one. While an EP of three or four sad songs might be an excellent format for Wratten, an album of eighteen songs could easily become a bit tedious to listen to--especially if you're feeling kind of good about life right now. Yes, it's a bit much to sit through, but you should already know that a Trembling Blue Stars listen is not going to be an emotionless journey, and at times the album does get a little heavy. To his credit, A Certain Evening Light is not a chronological release; this serves the songs quite well, as it allows the different ideas and styles to mix together.

Though it may be a bit tedious, several songs on A Certain Fading Light do stand out. "Doo-Wop Music," originally a vinyl-only release on gorgeous blue vinyl, is a wonderful love song, mixing a reggae beat with a doo-wop beat, topped with Wratten's melancholy vocals and a scratchy-vinyl sample appearing throughout the song. Heck, until now I thought that scratching was on my single! I am also fond of the mellow club beat of "The Rainbow," sung beautifully by Anne Mari (the woman who inspired his songs of pain!), the country-rock vibe of "Though I Still Want To Fall Into Your Arms," which is actually a nice little country diversion. The harder rock of "A Slender Wrist" is also quite aces, too. I'm most fond of the Abbaesque downcast-yet-hopeful dance beat of "It's Easier To Smile," an ode to actually giving into overwhelming feelings of happiness--and it's also one of Trembling Blue Stars' newest (possibly last??) songs.

While the future of Trembling Blue Stars might be up in the air (the band's been dismissed, Trembling Blue Stars left Shinkansen--ending Wratten's relationship with his Sarah reputation), A Certain Evening Light is a nice, albeit flawed, little collection of sad pop songs. It's what he does best, and there are some really great songs to be found here. My advice? Don't be foolish and try to take it on all at once. Your heart might not take it.

--Joseph Kyle

Desert City Soundtrack "Funeral Car"

Funeral Car, Desert City Soundtrack's debut album, is a bit problematic. They rightly built up a great deal of momentum and interest when they released their debut EP, Contents of Distraction. Mixing morose atmospheres with beautiful, engaging instrumentation--built around a very dark piano sound--it was a too-short record that quickly stunned and left you wanting more. Now, with their debut album, they have progressed far beyond those humble beginnings--all in a year's time. Impressive!

On first listen, Funeral Car didn't have the overwhelming power Its bleakness just seemed to bleed together into one big massive downer, and other than that, it just seemed too miserable to penetrate. I just couldn't really get into it at all, and I was disappointed that the band had sunk down and drowned on the one or two aspects that made their first record so wonderful. Though I expected bleakness, I didn't think that it would be possible to turn bleakness into blandness, and to be honest, I felt a little bad, because I'd had such high expectations for them.

So I set the album aside and I came back to it a few weeks later. Though it didn't knock me over, I did notice nuances that I had missed before. For instance, I noticed that the piano's place in the background would rise and fall in such a subtle manner that it gave the songs a certain depth that I'd never notice before.Trumpets and other horns would also do the same thing. I didn't notice them before, but once I recognized the minute rising/falling backing vocals and instruments, Funeral Car started to grow on me. I then set it aside again, because I still hadn't warmed up to it.

When I came back to it again, I listened to it on headphones. To say that it blew me away would be a major understatement. All those nuances that I noticed before? They weren't so little this time--they were overwhelming. The screaming background voices of "Drowning Horses" sounded as if they were coming directly from Hell. The sublte fading voices and pianos on songs like "Dying Dawn" and "Take You Under" only add to the overall sinking feeling that you get while listening. By the time I made it to the grand finale of "Westpoint," I felt utterly down and out and bummed beyond belief, but the twiknling piano was actually quite uplifting, and though I felt horrible, I didn't mind the journey.

Funeral Car is not an easy listen. It's bleak, depressing and morose--heck, how could it not be, with titles such as "My Hell," "Drawn & Quartered," "Casket," "Something About a Ghost" as well as that album title? Though it took me a little while to finally warm up to Funeral Car's bleakness, I have to admit that I was impressed enough to realize that Desert City Soundtrack have made one stunningly dark album. Comparisons are going to be made to Black Heart Procession; their overwhelming piano and the bleak outlook on life may be similar, but they're pushing the envelope with the occasional horse reference/image.

Desert City Soundtrack have made a totally original, unforgettable record, one that should not be taken in heavy doses--unless, of course, you want to cross over to the dark side. Unless, of course, you're wanting to get in touch with your goth roots, and in that case, turn off the life, pour yourself some absinthe, crank Funeral Car to eleven and make yourself miserable--just don't say "bloody mary" three times.

--Joseph Kyle

Six Organs of Admittance "Compathia"

Sebadoh/Sentridoh guru Lou Barlow once remarked that he preferred to record his acoustic compositions on four-track because four-tracks are able to capture the rich overtones of an alternately tuned acoustic guitar better than a professional studio recording could. After listening to the latest album by Six Organs of Admittance, I can’t help but agree with him. Ben Chasny, the lone ranger behind the Six Organs moniker, uses acoustic instruments almost exclusively on this record. The excessive midrange and compression that most four-track recording suffers from actually bring out the tonal richness of his guitar. It also helps that Chasny is a guitar player of almost virtuoso-like status, picking out fast flurries of notes in vaguely Middle Eastern scales whenever the fancy strikes him. Vocally, his range is limited, but through multi-tracking his voice he gives his deep trembling croon added resonance.

Most of the songs on this record are just Ben’s guitar and voice, with light jangling percussion behind him and the occasional keyboard. The percussion makes the already arid and mystical music sound as if Ben’s being followed by a band of gypsies in the desert. The first time you hear a sitar pop up on “Somewhere Between,” it may shock you. On subsequent listens, though, the only thing that’s shocking about it is that it’s the ONLY song on the album that a sitar appears on. The closest reference point I can think of is Illyah Kuryahkin, but with more assertive singing and without Kuryahkin’s usual onslaught of fuzz guitars.

Chasny also has a gift for writing lyrics that are genuinely vague and open-ended, as opposed to the nonsensical BS that many writers excrete. You hear many of them claim to leave their lyrics “open to interpretation” in order to mask their laziness. When Ben sings, “You have gone astray…you can come back, but not on this day,” the effect is different. You don’t know HOW the antagonist has strayed, and you don’t know exactly when Chasny will let him/her come back. You do, however, feel sorry for whomever Ben’s singing about. “Hum a Silent Prayer” is even more ominous. With little more than his voice and a slowly emerging keyboard drone, Ben urges the listener to “take all your sacred words away; we’ve already changed everything that they say.” It’s a stark denial of religion that could have served as a perfect ending to the album…

…if it weren’t for the eighth and final song, “Only the Sun Knows.” Granted, every song on Compathia is repetitive, but at least the other songs have the decency to wrap things up before the six-minute mark. “Only the Sun Knows” goes on and on for eleven minutes, and is marred by some awful guitar playing. Chasny isn’t as good at slide guitar as he is at finger picking, and Ethan Miller’s “electric destruction guitar” solo (as the CD’s liner notes refer to it) doesn’t work well with the song at all. Music this placid and hypnotic shouldn’t be ruined by jarring blasts of noise. Chasny dedicates this album to “all those who have trouble sleeping at night,” but I don’t think this song would cure them of their insomnia. If this song were removed, Compathia would have made a near-perfect EP. As it stands that, it’s just a pretty good album. Thank God for the “program” button on my CD player.

---Sean Padilla

December 07, 2003

Various Artists "The Matinee Records Autumn Assortment!"

It's been a really great year for Matinee. They've released a TON of really really GOOD pop records, all of which have been on the office stereo for quite some time. I always get so excited to get a Matinee record, and if you've never ever experienced the Matinee label (for shame!), then Jimmy Tassos has, once again, put together a treat for you! Every year, he has festivals around the world, and he always puts together a goodie for those who make it out to the shows. (Lucky Europeans!)

This year's treat is The Matinee Autumn Assortment!, and much like last year's Summer Splash, it's a fine, fun little collection of artists participating at his shows. This time taking place in fall, the sampler has a lovely autumnal feel. The songs are poppy as always, though some songs seem a little sadder than usual. Oh, wait, they're not sad, they're pensive. Ah, okay, I understand now. Still, they're not as miserable as Morrissey (well, maybe Harper Lee, but that's just Keris' thing), though we have received word that Matinee will pay Mozzer and company tribute this next year.

All the usual suspects are here: stalwards Harper Lee (who pop off an EXCELLENT song, "Autumn"), The Lucksmiths, The Would-Be-Goods (with a powerful little unreleased ditty, "morning after") Airport Girl, Liberty Ship (with an excellent entry from their forthcoming debut album), Slipslide, The Pines, Pipas (with a nifty remix from their most recent album), The Windmills and Lovejoy, who provide a Pet Shop Boys-style dance song which for some reason makes me think also of Madonna--oh wait, cuz it's called "Strike a Pose" and seems to reference her ever-so-slyly.

Short, concise, to-the-point. More samplers and compilations need to take a lesson--all of these songs are winners, but, of course, that Matinee logo should already tell you that. A great little compilation for a great little label. Enjoy, and if you ain't got on the Matinee train, get with it, kids!

--Joseph Kyle

December 06, 2003

Entrance "Honey Moan"

Honey Moan Guy Blakeslee's (AKA Entrance) latest album, would normally piss me off. In my mind, there's absolutely nothing worse in the world than some hip indie rock musician co-opting a musical style and making an ironic statement--"look, dude, I'm playing country!" was a particuarly irksome style in the late 90s, and I'm automatically suspicious about any artist who makes a record that's rootsy. Thus, Honey Moan is a record that, on paper, had two strikes and three balls against it. A indie-rocker playing the blues? Oh, please.

It's not right for a writer to be predisposed to prejudice against a record from the get-go, but there I was, all prepared to just utterly hate Entrance. I never cared much for The Convocation Of.., but I could at least give Guy the time of day in a new group, even if he had a lot to prove to me. So I sat there, listening, and then I heard it. I heard the one thing that made me realize that he had not succumbed to hipster irony, that Honey Moan was to be taken somewhat seriously. It was something I didn't expect to hear on a record such as this; it was certainly a pleasant surprise, and, to be honest, I was quite happy to hear it.

An instrumental.

See, many of the pseudo folk/country/blues records are caught up in presenting this image, this "ooooh my baby left me, the land is hard, and i am growing harder if i don't die first" bit, and I don't like that one bit. But when I heard the instrumental "Can't Stop The Winter," I realized that Guy wasn't trying to be overly ironic or impressive. A lot of those hipster blues cats, they're just about replicating the words of the blues without actually feeling the blues. It takes a bit of dedication to actually make an instrumental, and he's included a few on Honey Moan. So now I know he's sincere. (Sorry for doubting you, buddy.)

Once you get past the feeling that someone's being ironic, you'll see that Honey Moan is one nice little record. Most of his songs on here are covers (Robert Johnson's "Come On In My Kitchen"), based on other blues numbers, or are based on traditional songs. His originals are based on blues numbers, too, and he's nice enough to reference where he got his inspiration from. (Once again, this is something your hipster type would NEVER admit to.) My favorite of the bunch is the final "Sunrise In Belfast/Sunset in Christiania," which is a blending of the blues with modern psych-rock, and it sounds really, really good.

So Entrance has released a wonderful record that's both all original and a full-on tribute to the Year Of The Blues. Good for him! He's keeping the tradition alive, and Honey Moan is a wonderful little collection of songs. I'm interested in seeing how he applies these principles and ideas to his own original compositions, because I have a feeling that the results will be most interesting.

--Joseph Kyle

November 30, 2003

The Jessica Fletchers "What Happened to The?"

The Swedish rock explosion contiunes unabated, but what about Norway? You never hear of this country's rock scene, and yet there's plenty happening there. Sure, they may be a bit more passive than their Scandinavian comrades, but let's not write them off just yet. Oslo's The Jessica Fletchers offer up their own musical onslaught, with their wonderful debut album, What Happened to The?. Man, who knew that a pop overthrow could sound soooooo good? It's obvious that they like classic rock and pop music up in that northern European region, and Sixties pop and rock seems to have obtained a near-religious following among all these younger bands.

Listening to What Happened to The? is like taking a walk through a scrapbook of the British invasion. Do I get the feeling I've heard all of this before? I sure do. Bands I'm reminded of--but never enough to warrant a direct comparison to-- while listening to this album are, at varying points: Beatles, The Monkees, Beach Boys, Kinks, Rolling Stones, Turtles, Yardbirds, The Troggs, Lovin' Spoonful...I think you see where I'm going with this. When they really hit their stride and pull out the killer organ, such as on "Just Another Fashion Band" and "Christopher Jensen," they recall the terribly underrated Inspiral Carpets. (Heck, "Let's Go" even sounds like an odd rip off of Talking Heads' "And She Was," The Monkees' "Steppin' Stone" and The Kinks' "You Really Got Me"!!)

Of course, it's really easy to think of classic rock when your lead singer is a dead ringer for John Lennon. Really! It's scary, but when you listen to "Early Monday," "Next Year" and "I Got News," you'll think that it's 1965 all over again, and that these kids have stolen a roll of tape from Abbey Road and called those songs their own. Not that there's anything wrong with that! It's just really, really scary, listening to Thomas Innsto sing, because the comparison is uncanny--hell, it's immediate. Lennon and his little band, influential as they may be, never had The Jessica Fletchers' raw power and toughness. The Jessica Fletchers sound like the Beatles if the Beatles had been a Norwegian R&B-influenced garage band.

What Happened to The? is a really fun debut album, and what's more, I bet these kids are even better live. I can envision them tearing up the stage and making all the girls in the audience go crazy. Ironic, though, because I bet their audience is more like a room full of twenty-and-thirtysomething men. Still, I really have to say that they've made an impression on me, and it happened immediately. Not only is that rare these days, it's to be praised, admired, and respected. Watch this young band...

--Joseph Kyle

November 27, 2003

Fonda "Catching Up To The Future"

When Lush came to a sudden, tragic end in 1996, they did so at a time of transition. Their recent album, Lovelife, had just been released, and they had handed in a lot of the ethereal melodies in exchange for a poppier, more traditional sound. While ultimately Lovelife wasn't that great of a record, it proved that at least Lush were trying something new, something that might not work initially, but could have proved interesting after some time had passed. Because Lush came to such a sudden end, this formula has proven to be the starting point for many bands.

Los Angeles' Fonda has been making dreamy pop music for many years, inspired in part by the dreamy shoegaze-pop of bands like Lush. After years of flirting with success (literally--their songs have appeared on TV shows such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Tru Calling, and they even composed the theme song to one of the Spy Kids movies), they've never failed to deliver quality dream-pop. Catching Up To The Future, their third album, is both a dreamy treasure and a delight for pop lovers. Though they've been busy with other things for the past few years, it's obvious that it wasn't to the detriment of their music; Catching Up To The Future is a strong, confident album made by pop-loving experts, and it shows.

Indeed, it seems as if Lovelife served as their template for their new record. Emily Cook--who sounds a lot like Miki Bereyni--sings with all the passion and conviction of a pop singer, yet she retains the cool of your hippest ex-shoegazer star. At times her singing is a bit contradictory; the words are cold and distant, yet she sings them with a warmth that quickly draws you in. On songs such as "Imitation of Life" and "Loving You Makes Me Sad," she's joined by David Klotz, and the vocal interplay between boy/girl makes these sweet little songs even sweeter. The real winner, though, is "Say Goodbye To Love," where all of the things that make Fonda great all blend together: the unisex vocals, the blissed out guitars, the tender lyrics--it's all so wonderfully wonderful.

Simple pop songs--who knew? Though it's an extremely brief affair, Catching Up To The Future is a wonderful dose of shoegazer-inspired dream pop. And, you know, I'm rooting for these kids; they've got such a lovely little sound, and kudos to them for carving a niche as a soundtrack band--these kids today need to hear good music, and if Fonda's the conduit to them discovering such bands as Lush and Ride, then, hey, it's worth it, isn't it?

--Joseph Kyle

Various Artists "Parasol's Sweet Sixteen, Volume Seven"

Ahhh, another Parasol's Sweet Sixteen compilation! About a year ago, when they released Volume Six--easily one of the best pop comps I've heard in ages--I was utterly overwhelmed at the quality and quantity of music that they released just in that year. This year is no exception, and I'll admit that I was very eager to hear their 'greatest hits' of the past year, and they've not disappointed, even though at first glance, it might seem as if there wasn't much new being offered with this volume. While only two songs on Volume Seven are unreleased and three of the songs are forthcoming, it's really not a problem, as the sheer quality level of music makes the lack of rarities a lot less heartbreaking.

Of course, it's no secret that those Parasol kids have a fixation with Swedish pop. Nine of these songs are from Swedish groups, yet these acts are so diverse in nature, there's never a redundancy when it comes to sound. From the singer/songwriter fare of Sukilove and Mans Wieslander, the twee pop of Nanook of the North and Ronderlin, dance club pop of Club 8, and the rock of The Wannadies, Moonbabies, Thirdimension and Bettie Serveert, if Parasol's guilty of a crime, it's certainly not a sonic monotony. Parasol may hype a lot of wonderful Swedish pop, but none of the bands sound remotely alike. Swedish pop? It's Swedish, but thankfully, it's not all pop.

Interestingly enough, many of the American selections are harldy what you'd call pop, either. True, Mark Bacino and Mentho, George Usher Group are power-pop of the highest order and Kevin Tihista's Red Terror is pretty much a definitive Parasol artist, bands like Absinthe Blind, Tractor Kings, and The Vertebrats aren't. This year's class seems to be gritter, tougher, and less fey than what you'd expect from a pop label; bands like The Like Young, Fonda and Menthol all have an edge that's much sharper and tougher than Parasol's usual fare. Then again, perhaps that's Parasol's secret. Underneath all of the pop and occasional fluff are some seriously unique, interesting and experimental bands, and Volume Seven like the previous volume, is the sound of a really cool radio station coming from an alternate universe. I simply wish radio were 1/23rds as interesting and as diverse as Parasol's Sweet Sixteen Volume Seven.

A fine little sampler from a most impressive label group. For cheap, you could have seventy-seven minutes of pure pop delight. What are ya waitin' for?

--Joseph Kyle

November 26, 2003

Pia Fraus "Plastilina"

I loved early-90's British dreampop bands, and part of that love was based upon the fact that so many of those kinds of bands released three-or-four track extended-play singles. The EP format ruled, for a number of reasons. First, you couldn't throw a tossed-off B-side on there; secondly, the format does have informal time-limits, which means that you really had to focus on the material. Mainly, though, was the fact that so many of those groups really took the format seriously; they would mix the songs together with the same kind of seriousness normally reserved for full-lengths. Plus, it was a fitting format for another reason: this particular style of music has a tendency to get old rather quicky over the length of an album.

Plastilina, Pia Fraus' latest offering, follows in the EP tradition, and like their inspirations, they do it quite well. Blending swirling, blissful guitars and dreamy boy/girl vocals all sung in a heavenly Nordic accent, Pia Fraus are clear descendents of the shoegazer family tree, yet they never really wear their lineage on their shoes, so don't fret about the comparison. Instead of the drugged-out guitar heroics of yesteryear, Pia Fraus have a soft pop underbelly, and songs like "Obnoxious" and "Summer Before Spring" could rival Stereolab or Pale Saints in terms of catchy tuneage. "Moon Like a Pear" and "Deep Purple Girl" are also blissfully nice, too. (I'm also fond of that hidden remix of "Summer Before Spring," too.)

This is a fun and utterly dreamy EP from one of today's underrated shoegazer bands. It's quick, to the point, and there's not one dull moment to be had on Plastilina. I look forward to hearing more!!

--Joseph Kyle

Ultramarine "Companion"

Ultramarine's Every Man and Woman Is A Star is a lost post-techno classic. Blending jazz, techno and ambient music, they created a pleasant, beautiful little record that only grows warmer and lovlier after every successive listen. When it was released, it became an instant lost classic, as their label folded within weeks of its release, assuring that nobody would hear it. Though the album was lost, Ultramarine soldiered on, and quickly followed it up with an EP of remixes from the album, entitled Nightfall in Sweetleaf. Companion is a companion to Every Man and Woman Is A Star, containing the Nightfall in Sweetleaf EP, as well as songs that were released in and around that time as well.

This compilation could not be more welcome, as it serves as a wonderful, erm, companion to one of the best albums of the early 90s. While Nightfall in Sweetleaf was essentially a remix single pasted together with three short little instrumental pieces, "Intro," "Outro" and "The Downer," it did prove that the mellow, chilled-out Every Man and Woman... could easily be transformed into dancefloor groovers without really losing their mellow, jazzy appeal. DJ's Lovebomb, Sweet Exorcist and Spooky all take turns behind the mixing board. Though the idea of remixing Ultramarine might not sound too appealing, "Panther" and "Lights In My Brain" only grow in depth once a dance beat is added.

Though the Nightfall in Sweetleaf EP is pretty much straightforward, the extra remixes and outtakes are what really makes Companion worth seeking out. "Saratoga (Remix)" is a rather obscure track taken from the excellent Volume series, and though it doesn't particularly differ much from the album version, it's still nice to have. Same with "Nova Scotia," a rare B-side taken from Ultramarine's entry in the Rough Trade Singles Club--a single that I remember hearing at a record store back then and dismissing as dull adult contemporary jazz. (My, how our tastes have changed--and I can't give away these grunge 7"s bought that day). The rest of the songs are unreleased remixes, and though not all of them differ much from the final album, they provide a wonderful variation on the Ultramarine theme, and I'm most fond of the jazzy "Early Discovery" and "Lovelife #1." There's even a live appearance, "Pansy," taken from their set at Glastonbury 1993.

Though they never really soared as high as Every Man & Woman Is A Star, Ultramarine did make some very beautiful music, and Companion shows that it was not a fluke on Ultramarine's part. If you're looking for mellow, beautiful and inspiring music for chilling out, meditating, or simply providing a nice, peaceful atmosphere, go get Every Man & Woman Is A Star. Then buy Companion. Then put them on the CD changer and hit random. A lovely collection, and an enjoyable reminder of what made Ultramarine great.

--Joseph Kyle

November 24, 2003

Hrududu Factory "Songs From The Burrow EP"

I've got to admit that this little Hrududu Factory record is an interesting little concept. In theory, Songs From The Burrow is the story of an indiepop kid who goes by the name of Tharn, who wakes up one morning and discovers, much to his horror, that he's turned into a rabbit, and these songs are the stories of his new life as a rabbit.

Yes, that's right, he turned into a rabbit.

Don't laugh, please. Turning into a rabbit is serious business. I kind of feel for Tharn. While turning into a rabbit is the ultimate realization of being twee, it's obvious that Tharn's kind of sad about this change. "I can't be your best friend any more," he sings on "Tractor Guy," and I really feel sad, because when he Tharn was a real live boy, the Tractor Guy used to be his friend, or at least I think that's what he's talking about. Now, the Tractor Guy is an enemy, for he unintentionally destroys little bunny rabbit homes in the name of farming. But that's not the only moving experience, because the whole record is touching. "A Terrible Sight" is a dreamy recollection of a bad dream, and it's quite moving. "Garfield & Family" is a song about dreaming about making the world a better place.

Of course, like many concept albums, the concept is much more interesting in theory than in practice. The story line doesn't really hold up, but don't mistake a weak concept means that the music is weak as well. For being a bunny, Tharn has some excellent musical skills. In fact, I'd say that he's pushing the needle to 'utterly brilliant.' His folky, downhome music is mixed with some pretty deep atmospheres, leading me to wonder if the Tractor Guy is either Jason Lytle or Mark Linkous. Tharn's that good, and Hrududu Factory, while a bit of a novelty on the surface, is far from novel. Just take a listen to "Family Car," which is easily a long-lost outtake from Sumday.

All of the songs on Songs From the Burrow shimmer and hum and sparkle in a way that makes your inner bunny rabbit smile. I've listened to this several times, and each time I do, I'm left with a really nice smile on my face, a warm feeling in my heart, and an overwhelming desire to hear more. Hopefully Tharn can get more time to record, because I have this feeling that when he turns back into a boy (if he can, that is), he will produce an awesome full-length album, and will get all the credit he deserves. A heartbreakingly beautiful debut record worth seeking out, and it certainly whets the appetite for more...

--Joseph Kyle

November 22, 2003

Helms "McCarthy"

The debt that Massachusetts trio Helms holds to indie-rock pioneers
Slint is made abundantly clear from McCarthy's very first song, "The
Hypochondriac's Last Words." The song gains most of its mileage from jarring loud/soft dynamics and tricky time signature changes. The guitar playing switches from arrhythmic arpeggios to slashing, distorted riffs. The words, whether spoken or shouted, are delivered in the most listless manner imaginable, and seem to concern the discursive path a pigeon takes as it attempts to follow an eagle across the city. If this doesn't strike you as a succinct description of a Spiderland outtake, you might want to dust off your copy of that record and listen to it again. (Even if it does, there's no harm in giving a masterpiece just one more listen for old time's sake.) This band is named after its bassist, Tina Helms, and its second album is named after the brotherly duo of Sean and Dan McCarthy, who play guitar/vocals and drums, respectively. Correct me if I'm wrong, but didn't all of the song titles from Slint's debut Tweez come from the band members' close friends and relatives("Ron," "Carol," "Kent,"etc.)? I know that rock critics are prone to make lazy comparisons, but a band like Helms simply makes it too easy! When a band is this derivative, they'd better be able to compensate for it in some other area, in order to keep from being dismissed or ignored. After letting McCarthy grow on me for a couple of weeks, I have to say that although there is definitely room for improvement, Helms have acquitted themselves admirably through sheer talent.

The album is split pretty evenly between highlights and lowlights. "It Takes Skin to Win" coasts on little more than a pretty finger-tapped guitar riff; in the lyrics, Sean compares the feeling he gets from playing in a band to that of slowly rising out of the ocean. It is to the band's credit that even its most abstract lyrics, instead of coming off like pseudo-cerebral nonsense, can be used as metaphors for real-life situations. "The Ten Thousand Things" uses architectural images to examine the plight of a man who has willfully isolated himself from the rest of the world. "I wear this house like a head," Sean croons on the song's introduction, like a friendlier, less pitch-deficient Lou Reed. He repeats the mantra "I lock my doors/I shut the blinds/I close my eyes," and the music gets louder as his desire for solitude increases. "Horace: Age 19; Powers: None" sports the only obvious production trick on the album that helps the song instead of hurts it. The rhythm section is randomly punched in and out of the mix during the song's climax, producing a series of sharp, unexpected interjections that give the song intensity not unlike that of a chase scene.

Sometimes, though, Helms go too far out of their way to play tricks on the listener, and this is where they falter. The otherwise compelling song "The Skills You Need to Succeed in the 20th Century" is derailed in by an intentional tape dropout that sounds like a Walkman with dying batteries, slowing down to a dead halt. "Three" begins with one clumsy guitar and Sean mumbling incoherently about pornography. The rest of the band steps in mid-song, with a riff that I initially thought would pull the song out of its doldrums. Instead, the riff fades out and is restarted three times for no apparent reason. McCarthy's final song, "Cornish, New Hampshire," commits the album's worst offense by dragging the listener through FOUR MINUTES' WORTH of false endings. The band crashes into one chord after another, with the gaps of silence between these chords growing longer and longer. Only rock critics and masochists would bother to sit through the entire song for more than one listen.

I'm pretty sure that my partiality towards Helms stems from the fact
that I was ten years old when Spiderland was released; because my age has divorced me from its proper context, I haven't formed a strong enough relationship to the record to be as strongly irritated as, say, Steve Albini, would be by artists who plagiarize it lock, stock, and barrel. I still believe, though, that Helms is able to transcend its main influence through the strength of its lyrics and instrumental interplay. The band doesn't need to utilize silly production tricks and false endings to prove its cleverness. If they rid themselves of these annoying habits, they will certainly deserve the honor of being crowned the Slint of my generation.

--Sean Padilla

Graham Lindsey "Famous Anonymous Wilderness"

Remember Old Skull? In the late 80s, they were a group of younguns (none above the age of ten) who were said to be the 'world's youngest punk band,' and legend has it that they broke up when one of the members was grounded for a month. Seriously, I'm not making this up! At the time, Old Skull were viewed with a mighty hefty grain o'salt. Anyway, the point of that brief history lesson is to inform you that Graham Lindsey was one of those Old Skull kids, and now he's grown up and has made a most impressive debut album, Famous Anonymous Wilderness.

If you're expecting the Punk Rawk Rumble of Old Skull, you're gonna be disappointed. Well, not really, because this album's better than all of that. He's traded in his Doc Martens for some Justins, and he's making music that's a lot earthier. That doesn't mean it's prettier, because there's a road-weary vibe to Famous Anonymous Wilderness that most of your other singer/songwriter types could only dream of having. Lindsey really really REALLY reminds me of Bob Dylan's best years--the years he was a great songwriter and not a parody of what Dylan used to be.

Lindsey pretty much sets the tone of the album with the down and out ballad "Hutch Jack Flats Rag," His voice--sounding like a perfect replication of Dylan circa The Times They Are A-Changin', but with a little more country slant. But don't think that Lindsey's just a feller with a guitar and a harmonica, because he's not. He does have a good little backing band; they're pretty rocking on "Emma Rumble" and "My Museum Blues." On songs like "Dead Man's Waltz" and "I Won't Let You Down," he wins points for excellent use of the one instrument I love to hear: pedal steel. All of these songs are sung with an edge of experience; sure, he's a young fellow, but just look into those eyes of his: if the eyes are the mirror of the soul, you quickly realize that in Lindsey's case, it's not the age, it's the mileage.

While a mixture of country/folk music and punk rock might seem to be a novelty to some, and it might be just an extention of that whole 'emo' thing to others, but Graham Lindsey's the real deal. His songs echo through the soul and his voice rings true, and as you listen, you'll find yourself nodding your head and thinkin', "yeah, I know what you mean, son." Ulitmately, though, what is it that makes Famous Anonymous Wilderness such a rewarding find? It's simple, really: No bullshit, no pretension, and honest songwriting.

And what did you say were the distinctions between punk and country?

--Joseph Kyle

Ryan Adams "Rock N Roll"

In my review for his last album, Demolition, I accused Ryan Adams' critics of judging him too hard on what it is they expect of him, and they never allow him to be what they expect him to be. It seems as if many critics simply will not allow the man to breathe without criticizing him for doing something wrong, something they don't like--as if they own him. Reviews of his records have been less about his music and more about him, which is a real shame, because he is what they have longed for--a talented young songwriter who more than delivers, when allowed to. Seriously, Adams is no slouch in the songwriting department. The man's more prolific than Bob Pollard, and his outtakes are better than some people's best song. Unlike Pollard, Adams' outtakes and rejects are never trashy, lo-fi recordings, but are legitimate, full-band outtakes that sound real good.

But what is it about him that gets the critics in a snit? I think it has a lot to do with the fact that they built up a hypestorm around him, building up this image, and then holding him to it. It ain't fair, you know, because you should never be forced to live up to an image. But who cares? What does any of this have to do with his music? Who held him to this idea that he was going to be this big savior and leader of an revival, that he was going to come in and make things better in terms of singer-songwriter fare? I mean, isn't he doing a damn good job at it already?

Yes, he is.

Rock N Roll is his third proper album, and it's as much of a departure from Gold as Gold was from Heartbreaker. Better still, it's a better record. Gold had its moments, but it's true, it wasn't necessarily his best work. Last year's outtake collection, Demolition was a shocking record; it showed that his rejects from that time were a vast improvement, and were generally stronger. Still, not every player hits a home run up at bat, and if Gold faltered a little, so be it, and Adams showed that he still was capable. So it comes as no shock that Rock N Roll would be equally impressive, if not better than his last album.

Rock N Roll is as it is named--a rock record. Better still, it's a great rock record. And why not? Adams has already proven to be masterful at other styles of music, so it's really no surprise that his rock band experiment would also be worthy--and it is. Mostly. Just take a listen to that opening track, "This Is It," where he piles on the crunchy guitars. "Don't waste my time/This is it/This is really happening" is one helluva punch, aimed directly at the jawbone of those critics who simply dismiss him. Luckily, it's an effective punch, and the song is killer, and Adams' lays down his cards very quickly--Rock N Roll is a no-bullshit album, striking with a punch that doesn't let up through "Shallow" "1974" and "Luminol."

Thankfully, the rest of the album never disappoints. While Rock N Roll does have a harder edge than his previous records--his Rolling Stones covers should have proven a hint as to where he was going musicwise--he does occasionally pop in some really tender, melodic moments. "Wish You Were Here" harkens back to the great Whiskeytown days, sounding like a lost outtake from Faithless Street's bonus Baseball Park session. The real winner, though, is "So Alive;" it's a tender Britpop-influenced number, with Adams' rough voice becoming touchingly tender. In fact, the main complaint I have with Rock N Roll is that his softer, sadder, tender side seems to have disappeared--well, for this album at least. After all, the man did make the excellently sad Heartbreaker.

While I will admit that Rock N Roll's harder edge was a bit of a shock on first listen, it didn't take long for its groove to open up. Yeah, Ryan Adams made a rock record. Big deal. It's still good. Adams is still brilliant, and he's only getting better. Rock N Roll is only one side of Adams' talent, the Love Is Hell is another, and the only way this album could have possibly been made better is a combination of the two sides, and it should be noted that Lost Highway was wrong about Adams' rejected album. Still, I'm not complaining; Adams is a major force in music, even if nobody likes him--after all, it's hip to hate Ryan Adams, but you know what? I'm sure Adams will still be making music well after said critics have long since retired. Rock N Roll is a great album of rock 'n' roll. Period.

--Joseph Kyle

Various Artists "Greater Southbridge Soundtrack:"

Now this is odd...this is the soundtrack to Greater Southbridge, a documentary film about the town of Southbridge, Massachusettes, yet almost all of the bands on the record are from Texas--Austin, specifically. It seems a bit of an odd way to go about things, for sure. The film itself looks quite interesting; it's about a small town and all of the unique personalities that live in the town. Though I haven't seen the film, it sounds as if it has a weird kind of Slacker vibe to it. You can get a hint of what it's like by listening to the soundtrack; each song on the album is prefaced by a clip of conversation; some of them are funny, some of them aren't.

As for the soundtrack, it almost serves as a greatest hits sampler of the Austin indie scene. There are some well-known names on here (American Analog Set, Spoon, Drums & Tuba), and there are more than a few unknown acts on here as well. Some of them--like Tiara and Centro-matic's Will Johnson--aren't from Austin, and some of them are local bands who moved away. Many of these songs are previously released as album tracks or B-sides, too, but there's a few unreleased tracks I believe, such as Drums & Tuba's "Dr Small." There's not a lot of information on the bands, too, which is a bit annoying because some of the unknown acts--like Sin Pelo, My Brother Zebulon and Dan Cray (who, erm, sounds just like Britt Daniel) are excellent. Overall, the bands are mellowed-out indie rock, nothing too loud, nothing too raucious; they all have a lo-fi/stoned folk sound in common, too.

This is an interesting record, though if you're from Austin, you might have a number of these songs already. Still, I have to admit I've enjoyed the Greater Southbridge soundtrack, even if it is a bit confusing as to why Austin bands were chosen for the soundtrack, but that's no biggie. If you like indie-rock, you're sure to find some good stuff on here, and though many of the current cream-of-the-crop Austin indierock bands aren't included, there's still plenty of music on here for you to enjoy.

--Joseph Kyle

November 21, 2003

Joan of Arc "In Rape Fantasy and Terror Sex We Trust"

Dear Joan of Arc--

Tim Kinsella. Tim, Tim Tim. What's up with you, sir? Your image has gotten you into trouble. We all know about the whole controversy about your last album, So Much For Staying Alive and Lovelessness, and hey, I gotta say that the whole issue sucked. That was a really great album, man. It picked up nicely where Live in Chicago left off...and though it wasn't as grand as your earlier works (in my humble opinion, that is), it proved that you weren't to be written off yet.

I'll be fair, after The Gap, I was a bit weary of you. I mean, that was a record that just didn't make much sense, and I think I listened to it all of one time. I was disappointed, but, you know, I realize that even Babe Ruth struck out. But, again, my faith had been restored after your last album, even if it didn't fly as high as I know you can. It's okay, man, I still love you. I really do, man. I know that might not mean that much right now, but believe me, it means a lot to me.

But I'm puzzled about this In Rape Fantasy & Terror Sex We Trust. Tim, may I ask you a personal question? What happened between you and your label? Why could they not hear how awesome this record is? I mean, don't get me wrong, I love Jade Tree, but I have to say they were wrong to let this one slip by. To be fair, they did have a point, the Joan of Arc name had become a scary proposition. With the problems that are facing the music biz these days, releasing a record that people are a little afraid of might not have been the right thing for them to do. I'm not hatin', though. I just don't like the idea that this record's considered the 'leftovers' from the previous Joan record, because that's selling yourself short.

It's kind of nice to see Joan of Arc heading back into familiar waters, yet it's even nicer to see that you're also setting out for different shores. Yeah, you're still a walking contradiction, and I like that. I like it a lot. And though you've taken up a political stance, it still fits you like a nice, warm suit. I mean, man, I'll tell you this: "Happy 1984 and 2001" is perhaps one of the catchiest songs I've heard all year. I just cannot get that long list of shadows out of my head, and I find myself singing along with it every time I listen to it.

The rest of the album does me right, too. It's a pleasant, interesting diversion. I've really enjoyed every minute of it; I like the lyrical twists and turns of "Excitement is Exciting," the frantic yet touching moments of "Moonlighting," and the "Dinosaur Constellations" sections are really a nice touch, too. If I may ask you another personal question, man to man, you can tell me straight up or not, but after listening to "Them Brainwash Days," am I right in assuming that you've kind of realized the error of your ways? I wonder about that, because this album really is a return to form, and if it's done anything, it's restored my faith in you, Tim.

So, Tim, man, keep it up. I was wrong to doubt you; I was wrong to forsake you after you put out those really complex records. That wasn't right of me, and I'm sorry. Thank you for winning me back. And may I say that I'm excited to hear what you'll do next. What will you do next? Another Owls record? Another Friend/Enemy album? More Joan of Arc? Keep me posted, please.

Joseph Kyle

P.S. I love that half-beard thing you're sporting in that press photo.

Nervous Cop "Nervous Cop"

When Deerhoof played in Denton this past September, I was fortunate enough to have a conversation with drummer Greg Saunier, who has replaced Keith Moon as one of my Personal Drum Gods, face to face. When asked if he was making any music outside of Deerhoof, he raved about the Curtains (whose latest album Iíve already reviewed on this site) and added a brief aside about Nervous Cop. Upon hearing Greg say that the album was a collaborative effort with Zach Hill of Hella, a man who has replaced Damon Che of Don Caballero as one of my other Personal Drum Gods, my interest increased tenfold. Greg keeps up with my reviews (which I consider an honor), so he already knew that my mind was racing with ideas as to what an album forged from the hands of two of my Personal Drum Gods would sound like. ìI canít wait to hear it,î I exclaimed like a hyperactive schoolgirl. Greg apprehensively shook his head and mumbled, ìI donít really know, manÖî I attributed his reaction to mere humility, and anxiously awaited my opportunity to hear the Nervous Cop album.

A couple of months later, I perused the Kill Rock Stars website and read their description of the album. I discovered that it took over a year and a half to make, with lots of rerecording and remixing delaying the process. One sentence read, ìAt last ready for release, Nervous Cop has turned out to be either a surrealistic masterpiece of musique concrete (what Zach thinks) or a total disaster (what Greg thinks).î Now, I knew that Gregís reaction to my enthusiasm was a bit more than a humble faÁade, which made me even MORE anxious to hear the album. Shortly thereafter, I was fortunate enough to receive a copy of Nervous Cop. After a week or two of frequent listening and absorption of the sounds contained therein (notice that I used the word ìsoundsî instead of ìmusicî), I believe that I have reached my final verdict. Do I agree with Zachís assessment or with Gregís? Which of my Personal Drum Gods has triumphed in the Battle of Subjective Opinions?

For the most part, evaluating Nervous Cop by describing individual tracks is useless because the whole affair flows like one long song. The track indexing is fairly arbitrary: there are eleven ìsongsî in roughly a half-hour, but by the time the first four minutes have passed, youíre already up to the fifth ìsong.î Anyway, Nervous Cop begins with about thirty seconds of dissonant, cascading harps courtesy of the Pleaseís Joanna Newsome. She delivers the only sounds that are anything close to melodies on the album. After that intro, though, she disappears and is replaced by the drums. Each drummer plays on one side of the stereo spectrum. Thanks to digital editing and processing, the likes of which most likely account for why the album took so long to make, the drumming is so severely clipped and chopped up that each thwack lasts for what seems like a millisecond. If you had no idea what was going on, youíd think that your speakers were completely blown.

As the drumming slowly becomes more aggressive, various unearthly sound effects pop up at random instances. Radio dials are flipped abruptly and various shouts and croons are heard in the background. Joanna returns in the fifth ìsong,î but her playing initially takes a backseat to the cut-up drumming. There are moments in which the avalanche of percussion subsides to give her nimble, expressive plucking prominence in the mix. However, at no point do Joanna and the Drum Gods actually cohere. Even at its most consonant (which isnít very), Nervous Cop still sounds like a competition between college roommates to see whose boom box is the loudest. One person turns up the classical music, the other cranks the Merzbow Satanic-drum-circle remix, and everyone in the whole damn dorm walks around with big cotton balls in their ears.

Newsomeís harp playing is beautiful, and occasionally the Drum Godsí computer manipulation produces some fearsome and purposed volleys of white noise. However, everything on Nervous Cop is so disorganized that obtaining any real pleasure from listening to it is impossible for me. As much as everyone seems to hate standard drum solos, I think that Iíd rather listen to Nervous Copís source material than what Greg and Zach did with it. The Drum Gods beating the crap out of their kits in the same room probably sounded awesome before they chopped it up into twitching pitter-patter. This project had serious potential. If they molded their digital manipulations into something a bit more solid, Nervous Cop wouldíve really been a masterpiece of musique concrete. Unfortunately, though, I have to declare Greg the winner in the Battle of Subjective Opinions.

Oh, well, you can't win them all. At least Hella, Deerhoof, and the Curtains still rule!

---Sean Padilla

90 Day Men "Too Late or Too Dead"

Chicago's 90 Day Men have certainly changed a great deal since they first turned up on the scene, and this little CD-Single certainly proves that the changes haven't ceased. Kicking off with the piano-led title track, they set the mood quite quickly: bleak. Not unlike Black Heart Procession, this song--and that's a good thing, too. Throw in some lethargic singing, and you've won me over. The next two songs, "Harlequin's Chassis" and "Eyes In The Road," are instrumental and are similar in nature to the first song: cold, dreary and piano-based. This is the sound of a band growing and changing, and whereas their previous records were merely OK, this EP hints that the next album's gonna be a monster.

--Joseph Kyle

Christopher O'Riley: True Love Waits-Christopher O'Riley Plays Radiohead

This fascinating little record, released on the same day as Hail To The Thief, offers a different view of Radiohead. Christopher O'Riley is a classically-trained pianist, and he's also a Radiohead geek. Fanboy. Obsessive. Literally. The fifteen songs on True Love Waits only scratches the surface of his catalog; in performance, he'll play a full twenty-song set of Radiohead songs that doesn't include any of the songs on this album.
Heck, he's even played unreleased songs that even the most obsessive Radiohead fan might have missed.

True Love Waits is a pretty simple concept: Radiohead songs as played by a classical pianist. As novel of an idea that might be, it's a bit surprising when you realize exactly how well most of these songs survive the translation. It doesn't hurt that Radiohead's always been a bit sad and forlorn, because the sadder and bleaker the original song, the better the interpretation. O'Riley covers every album from Pablo Honey to I Might Be Wrong, but it's not a surprise that most of the songs True Love Waits are from OK Computer. For the complexities of "Airbag," "Karma Police," "Subterranean Homesick Alien" and "Let Down," in stripped-down form, they're even more powerful. The award for most moving composition here, though, goes to "Fake Plastic Trees," one of the few songs that never fails to bring me to tears.

While at times True Love Waits slips into monotony, for the most part O'Riley is an interesting interpreter. Ironically, it's the weaker Radiohead songs that don't really leave an impression, and it's no coincidence that these songs come from their forgettable debut album, Pablo Honey. If True Love Waits accomplishes one thing, it's the rethinking of Radiohead's later work, especially songs from the underappreciated Kid A. While many critics dismissed it as an album of bland, flat electronica, O'Riley's interpretations of "Everything In Its Right Place" and "Motion Picture Soundtrack" help highlight the missing tenderness of both songs, adding a human dimension to these cold, lifeless songs.

It would be easy to dismiss True Love Waits as a bit of a novelty. (anyone remember Grunge Lite?)
And while it's true that there is a certain novel aspect in recording an album of classical interpretations of a modern rock band, O'Riley (and Radiohead, to be honest) makes some interesting yet surprisingly faithful choices. It's interesting listening; it might not be something you listen to regularly, but it's beautiful enough to stand on its own. Personally, I'm interested in hearing O'Riley perform some original material, because if he's really this inspired by Radiohead, I'm pretty sure his own work is also as lovely and as beautiful as True Love Waits.

--Joseph Kyle

November 17, 2003

Mojave 3 "Spoon & Rafter"

The members of Mojave 3 have a history of making beautiful, lush music. From their days as Slowdive--one of the best shoegazer bands of the early 90s--they mastered the art of tempering noise with beauty, and have secured their place in rock history as a definitive dream-pop band. When they split, Neil Halstead and Rachel Goswell and latter-day drummer Ian McCutcheon formed the stripped-down but just as beautiful Mojave 3, and debuted with the breathtaking classic Ask Me Tomorrow. Taking the beautiful harmonies of their previous band and adding them to a country/folk backing, they did the impossible--a complete change in direction which actually bettered their previous work.

As time went on, they refined their country sound, but as they did, they became a lot more countrified, losing a lot of what made their debut album special--namely, the decreasing vocal turns of Goswell. Their releases have never been bad, but with each successive release, they've become more solidified in their sound, and to a lesser extent, they've inched closer to becoming just another folk-rock band. A shame, really, but as their sound is really pretty and unique, it's easy to forgive them. After all, the core ingredients stayed in place: the beautiful vocals, the quiet, hushed guitar work, and the atmosphere remained in place.

Spoon & Rafter, then, is an album that's not very surprising. At this point in the game, they're not changing their sound, they're not tinkering with anything, not because they don't have anything new to say, but because they don't have to say anything new. As lazy as that may seem, when you write good songs, does it really matter? Of course not. Starting off with a nine-minute epic might seem a bit risky, but "Bluebird of Happiness" is an impressive start, and though it's long, it has about three different songs in it, so you're never bored. In fact, that's Mojave 3's saving grace--they can give you ten songs that sound remarkably the same, but they make them interesting enough to prevent boredom.

To be honest, the first few times I listened to Spoon & Rafter, I was not moved very much. No song really stood out, save for "Bluebird of Happiness," simply because it was so grand and epic. The rest of the album just didn't seem particularly remarkable. Not bad, mind you, just not particularly memorable. In fact, every time I tried to listen to it, nothing came to me, nothing stuck out--it just all seemed the same. I put it on this morning, I did so just to listen to it--not for serious critical analysis. When I did that--talk about a revelation! Nuances that I missed were suddenly standing out; little bits here and there that I'd completely overlooked because I was trying too hard to hear the 'bigger picture'--things such as the pedal steel guitar washes here and there, the soft mixture of atmosphere and pastoral greatness on songs such as "Tinker's Blues," "Writing to St. Peter" and "Too Many Mornings" just really cannot be beat.

Instead of seeing the bland folk-rock album that I initially heard, I found a lovely album of sublime folk, tempered with a gentle yet intoxicating atmosphere that easily stands up to Halstead's best work. While playing it safe is a dangerous game, Mojave 3 have safely delivered on their promise of beautiful, hushed countrified folk. Spoon & Rafter might not be terribly ifferent than their previous records, but when your other records are all beautiful, does it really matter that your album doesn't offer anything new?

Of course not.

--Joseph Kyle

Tracy Shedd "Red"

Red, Tracy Shedd's second album, is a surprisingly wonderful little album. Though her previous album, Blue, was a slice of sad-eyed folk songs, Red is a bit of a different record. Where the songs on Blue were spartian and threadbare, there's a warmth to the songs on Red that cannot be denied. Instead of making songs that were, ahem, blue, her latest collection of songs are not necessarily any happier than her first set, but there's a warmth to them that was missing the first time around.

Red's newfound warmth has a lot to do with her accompaniment. Backed up by a pretty rocking duo of Cash Carter (great name!) and husband Richard Dudley, this trio makes a racket that's very much reminsicent of another great, famous Teenbeat trio--Unrest. (It doesn't hurt that Unrest mastermind Mark Robinson produced Red, either.) Indeed, the jingle-jangle nature of Red is less indebted to the folk world than it is to the sounds of mid-eighties to early-ninties indiepop.

If you get the feeling Red sounds like a culmulation of all the things that defined Teenbeat Records, you're not alone. It would be easy to trainspot the influences and nuances of her labelmates, but that would be too easy. After all, it's never been a big secret that Robinson's partial to bands whose sounds are indebted to the label; you could say that Aden, True Love Always and the various post-Versus projects owe a certain debt to the label 'sound', and if such is the case, then yes, Shedd is simply following suit and is keeping the 'Teenbeat Sound' alive.

But might I add that such a sound is not a bad thing? From the sad-eyed "End of Spring" to the hopeful pop of "I Wish We Were Still Friends" and "Somersault," Red is never less than lovely and charming. The only flaw with this, though, is that occasionally the album tends to get a bit of a one-sided sound that's unavoidable. Still, I'm not suggesting that you write Red off; instead, you should simply approach it as it is meant to be approached--a great little album of indie-pop folk rock that never once lets its guard down.

--Joseph Kyle

November 16, 2003

Che Arthur "All Your Tomorrows Were Decided Today"

If someone asked me, “What is ‘emo’ and what does it sound like?” I would hand them All Your Tomorrows Were Decided Today and say, “This is what it would sound like in a better world.” Of course, we all know that the world in which this record could exist in its proper context doesn’t exist anymore because so many people have forgotten what “emo” really is. “Emo” is an abbreviation of “emo-core,” which is itself an abbreviation of “emotional hardcore.” Bands in this sub-genre of punk were just as concerned with volume and velocity as their predecessors, but they used their songs to write specifically about the inner workings of their hearts, something that you couldn’t really accuse the Ramones, the Clash, or even Minor Threat of doing. Nowadays, too many guys with guitars are writing either melodramatic declarations of puppy love or fake surrealist poetry and calling it “emo.” In a world where people refer to Weezer as an “emo” band without a single trace of irony, a record like this is a breath of fresh air that shows the world how “emo” is supposed to be done.

Che Arthur is better known as a member of Atombombpocketknife, Chicago’s answer to the mighty (and dearly departed) Unwound. There are much worse bands to emulate than Unwound, but so far the ABPK haven’t really brought anything new to the table. Fortunately, Che’s first solo effort sounds nothing like either band. If anything, the most direct influence on this album is mid-period Husker Du. I heard their masterwork Zen Arcade for the first time this year, and hearing Bob Mould scream “I will never forget you/I will never forgive you” while making one guitar sound like three instantly put at least a decade’s worth of the music I listened to in perspective. On some of Che’s songs, he rages like Mould (“Sunrise Motel,” “This Changes Nothing,” “Chains”), whereas on others he croons like Grant Hart (most of the album’s mellower second half). No matter which side of the coin you flip, Che’s music is pure “emo” through and through. He expresses his emotions concisely and empathetically; his guitars blur the line between lead and rhythm; his voice drips weariness and conviction. Sometimes he sounds as if he’s confused about what notes to sing, afraid that the guitars will completely drown him out. More often than not, though, his strained, croaking voice suits the tone of his music quite well.

This album’s two major themes seem to be failure and loss. The protagonist of “Sunrise Motel” feels like he’s the only one in the world who doesn’t have his life together. “Valley of Fire” inverts the theme by letting its protagonist sing about another person’s failure. It sounds almost as if the Che in this song is singing back to the Che that sang “Sunrise Motel.” “Farewell” (which rides a riff that Kurt Cobain would have killed to write) finds Che shell-shocked by a breakup that he pretends not to have seen coming. The song ends on a note of resignation and strength: “Now it’s time to learn to live without you.” That phrase pops up in a slightly different form on “The Black Hills”: “We learn to live without somehow.” In Che’s world, people find themselves unable to cope with loss, be the loss through breakup or death, and this inability grinds their own lives to a halt. “Words Are Impossible” is an acoustic gem that Dashboard Confessional would have killed to write. The title explains it all: it’s about the moments in which one’s emotions, however simple they might be, are felt so strongly that they can’t be clearly articulated.

All of Your Tomorrows Were Decided Today benefits from brevity and good sequencing. Ten songs breeze by in twenty-seven minutes, without a single one overstaying its welcome. The album’s lone instrumental, “Heresies,” comes right when most listeners would start to get sick of Che’s iffy singing. Apparently, another EP’s worth of material was recorded during the sessions that yielded this album. It is scheduled to see release in the spring of next year. One thing’s for sure: I’m looking forward to it MUCH more than I am to the next Atombombpocketknife record.

---Sean Padilla

November 15, 2003

Vicious Vicious "Blood & Clover"

To be young, smart and suave. If I were two of these things, I would certainly have Vicious Vicious score the soundtrack of my life. After all, I have this feeling that Erik Appelwick is the kind of fellow who throws good parties. From the sound of Blood & Clover, it's apparent that this young man thinks he's pretty classy, and I bet he is, too. Making organ-driven jazzy indiepop songs on a 4-track recorder might not be the most original thing to do these days, but let's not split hairs: Vicious Vicious isn't like lots of other bands. (Translation: Vicious Vicious ain't crap. No,

See, we're living in a post-Dismemberment Plan world now. Who knew that those loveable, hard-working nerds would become so definitive? I sure didn't--nor would I have expected The D-Plan to be the next big anything. I just liked 'em as a band. But, you know, there's this need for quirky jazzy nerd rock, and Vicious Vicious is certainly suited to play that role quite well. Vicious Vicious doesn't sound a thing like the Dismemberment Plan, but they have an abundance of the same weird magical quality as Travis Morrison: intelligence. Oh, and they also share a not-so hidden R&B influence.

Yes, Vicious Vicious have mixed in R&B, jazz, indie-pop and indie rock, and the end results is an album that is filled to the brim with intelligent, thought provoking slowdance numbers that make you want to go to a coffeehouse and order a latte. Really, all of Appelwick's influences are numerous, making for an album that shouldn't work. From the first moments of the slowjam "That's Not How It's s'pose To Be," the mellow grooves chill you out.

"Shake that Ass On The Dancefloor" picks things up a bit, but it's the only time the album falters; it's a token dance song, and it tries a bit too hard to be clever. That's about the only bum moment--unless you consider the fact that at times Appelwick's sincere, earnest singing sounds exactly like Anthony Kiedes. (If that's the case, just skip over track eight "Oh, I Would Do Anything For My Girl," because it's easily a lost Red Hot Chili Peppers moment.)

Blood & Clover is one of the most promising debuts I've heard all year, and I've heard a lot of promising debut albums. While it's really too short and brief to make much of an overwhelming impression, Blood & Clover really does a good job of impressing you with their charm. It's a strong debut, even if at times it's a bit inoculous; put it on if you want to feel mellow. It's a chilled-out record for those of us who want to feel the beat when we need to think.

--Joseph Kyle

Year Future

Wow! This is a four-track debut from an LA-based 'supergroup' of folks you've never heard of who have been in bands such as Dead and Gone, The Pattern, Angel Hair, VSS and The Fucking Angels, and it sounds exactly like you'd expect. It's loud, funky punk art-rock, at times more punk, at times more rock, but all in all a healthy dose. Lots of screaming on all songs, especially on "Each Others Futures" and "All Of Your Eggs," but it sounds good, believe me. It's that mixture of Joy Division and PiL and Dead Kennedys and Birthday Party that seems to be popular these days. They get really arty with sound effects on "Some Bodies" which is the standout track of the lot, but all of these songs are really strong in that loud and screaming kind of way. When they get it together and get a little more focused, I bet their debut album will be one helluva affair.

--Joseph Kyle

Label Website:

November 12, 2003

Kinski/Acid Mothers Temple"Kinski/Acid Mothers Temple"

Kinski and Acid Mothers Temple? It sounds like a mixed blessing. I've never really been convinced of the greatness of Kinski, and I'm totally enraptured by the utter brilliance that is Acid Mothers Temple. That the two would get together and jam proves interesting, yet I was a little skeptical about how Kinski's sound would influence the session. Then again, I trust Acid Mothers Temple's Kawabata Makoto, and as he asked Kinski over to tour, I figured that at least he saw something great in them, and that a jam session would at least prove interesting.

I really should not have worried. With Makoto and company at the helm, the proceedings were going to be real good, and the two songs that came from their jam sessions are indeed strong. "It's Nice To Hear Your Voice" is a Kinski-led session, and it starts off with a peaceful, quiet drone. It retains the drone for the next ten minutes, though there are a few moments of violent hiss and sound effects. In fact, the bands never use anything other than traditional instrumentation. "Planet Crazy Gold" is an Acid Mothers Temple-led session, and it starts with the sound of ancient instruments, and much like the other collaborative track, it's mainly a drone.

The other two songs, though, are new tracks by each band. The Kinski track, "Fell Asleep On Your Lawn" is not as bad as I expected it to be, making me think that I might have been a little bit wrong about them. The real winning track of the four, though, is the final track, Acid Mothers Temple's "Virginal Plain 5:23." First things first, it ain't five minutes and twenty-three seconds. It's about a half-hour long. It's total acid rock, too; the band conjurs up the ghost of Blue Cheer and everything 1971 in one fell swoop. Only Acid Mothers Temple could get away with such a thing, and this song is yet another piece of evidence to establish their brilliance.

Acid Mothers Temple is an utterly astonishing band. Kinski? Who knows, but I'm won over by their contributions on Kinski/Acid Mothers Temple. If you've ever wondered about that odd Japanese collective, then this record is most certainly worth seeking out.

--Joseph Kyle

Icarus "Six Soviet Misfits"

Being namedropped by people is peculiar. I've known a few people who have had their popularty increased dramatically by this simple little process. Person #1 says, "I've really been digging this record by (insert group or artist name here), it's really good," and suddenly the world pays attention to them (well, sometimes.) All it takes for the hype machine to get a-rollin' is a great review or an interview or something that you really wouldn't expect, and though this review's not a great place to discuss such matters, it does happen a lot in the indie world, it's even more prevalent in the electronica world.

Icarus is a great case in point. In interviews, this duo has been praised by respected electronica artists Four Tet and Manitoba, and as such, they've received renewed interest, and have received respect from the respected, even if their names mean nothing to you or me. (This is the underground, after all.) Six Soviet Misfits is a collection of three previously-released EP's, (UL-6, Soviet Igloo and Misfits) questionably compiled onto two CD's (they're short enough to appear on one disc). No matter how these songs are packaged, it's obvious that Icarus is, in every sense of the word, challenging.

The first disc is the most challenging. Soundscapes are rough, difficult and complex; there's not much of what you would call melody. Heck, there's not even a really sane beat--it's all a mesh of darkness, atmosphere and complex rhythms that are anything but linear. In fact, it's really difficult to distinguish between the songs; the only one that really stands out is the aptly-titled "Despair." If you've ever wondered what the sound of a man going through difficulty and despair sounds like, then this song captures that feeling quite well. It's a journey into hell, with no way out--and it's extremely disturbing to listen to.

The second disc, which constitutes the Misfits mini-album, fares a little better. While it's still complex and highly challenging, there are a few melodic moments here and there, and that synergy of ambient and drum & bass sounds really good--when it's allowed. The forth track of the second disc blends a whirling clarinet--or is that a sorprano saxophone--over a schitzophrenic drum beat, which is then layered with a slow, mellow ambient drone. The following track is also quite nice, and contains more of a dance beat, though 'dance beat' is a relative term.

Six Soviet Misfits is not an easy listen. At times, it's downright unpleasant. Still, that doesn't mean that Six Soviet Misfits isn't a compelling listen. In fact, it's a fascinating look at two men's idea of an ambient soundscape, and it's rather haunting. I also get the distinct feeling that this isn't their best work, but is meant to serve as a stopgap release between now and their next album. Perhaps those Four Tet and Manitoba fellows were right--perhaps Icarus do have something special, even if Six Soviet Misfits doesn't particularly make the case for it.

--Joseph Kyle

November 11, 2003

Barn Burning "Weatheredbound"

Any band that has the ability to make a jingle-jangle racket sound one-hundred percent original is A-OK in my book. That's why it gives me pride, dear readers, to introduce you all to Providence, Rhode Island's newest sensations, Barn Burning. This sextet offer up some of the nicest, heartfelt country folk jangle pop this side of the Dutch East India catalog circa 1988, and it took exactly all of two seconds for me to be utterly charmed & disarmed by their sound. Indeed, if you're old enough to remember those days, Barn Burning will quickly remind you of a time when REM was better known as a medical term, country wasn't alt, and 'indie-rock' was 'college rock.'

See, I'm a sucker for good, down-home country music, and Barn Burning are really good at what they do. With a bit of a wreckless, loose sound that borders on the shambiotic, their songs sound as if they're about to fall apart on you, but that's not because of inexperience--it's simply that they've hidden the ties that bind them together quite well, so it only sounds like they're gonna fall apart. In reality, these songs never do; if anything, they're extremely tight, well-produced and possess a live charm that's quite rewarding. I've always said that there's nothing better than a really good 'roots-rock'-style lineup, and Weatheredbound is certainly proof that, hey, I am RIGHT.

Instead of your traditional band format, Barn Burning is augmented with lap steels, mandolin, dobro, banjo, viola, piano, trumpet--and none of these instruments are add-ons to your basic guitar/bass/drum format. When you put Weatheredbound on your stereo, Barn Burning's sound will fill the air the minute the viola in album opener "Flown," but the minute the rest of the band comes in, the room will literally come alive with sound. Warm and inviting, theirs is a sound that's so new, yet so familiar--getting lost in Weatheredbound is really easy to do. Oh, and what's this? The title track borrows a little bit from one of my favorite songs, "Sweet Child O'Mine," yet they do it so innocently, they make it their own.

Every song on here is a winner. Even though some might initally be put off by Anthony Loffredio's vocals--a twang that never sounds like parody, but is an interesting combo of Jeff Tweedy and Jay Farrar, circa Still Feel Gone-era Uncle Tupelo. Let it be known, too, that mentioning Uncle Tupelo does not mean they actually sound like Uncle Tupelo--for shame if you think that! Barn Burning's better than mere imitation. Besides, Uncle Tupelo never gave the world anything quite like the magical "The Troubles" and the catchy "Not Falling." Heck, it's the one-two closing punch of the wonderful "100,000 Light Years" and the untitled secret track that will make you hit the repeat button. Still, after a listen or two, his voice fits in quite nicely with the rest of the band, and indeed, it's perhaps the key element that makes Barn Burning better than your Average Alt.Country Band (whatever that is).

Barn Burning's a wonderful (not really) little band, and Weatheredbound is a wonderfully charming debut record. It's full of wonderful lush sounds, homegrown melody, and a sunny, positive understanding of that thing we call melody--you know, the thing that many people neglect in favor of irony. This is a record that you MUST MUST MUST seek out, because it WILL charm you. Let's hope they get what they deserve in 2004--I know I'm rooting for this (not really) little band that can.

--Joseph Kyle

November 09, 2003

Beth Orton "The Other Side of Daybreak"

Press is sometimes a funny thing. A bad review--especially an unexpected bad review--can often leave you puzzled; after all, what happened? Why did the record not connect? What was it that was done wrong, and why did the critics think it was a bad record? It can be extremely frustrating. I'm sure it was extremely frustrating for those in Beth Orton's camp, when she released the lovely yet underwhelming Daybreaker. It was a collection of pretty albeit more traditional singer/songwriter folk, and it didn't contain as much of that special electronica-based spark that her previous albums offered.

So, perhaps to spare the album an untimely death, The Other Side of Daybreak was born. This collection compiles the B-sides from Daybreaker's singles, with remixes and live tracks and a few unreleased nuggets to boot. It's an interesting idea, to be sure. Sure, there are moments that are totally beautiful acoustic folk, such as her moving cover of "Ooh Child," a live, acoustic version of "Conrete Sky," and the would-have-been lost "Ali's Waltz." Then there's "Beautiful World" and "Bobby Gentry," which mix up her more electronic side with the prettier, tender moments that she's always excelled at.

It's those electronic moments that make The Other Side of Daybreak fascinating. Though they're remixes, they still reinvent the songs from Daybreaker, making you rethink what you heard and dismissed. Two remixes by Four Tet, "Daybreaker" and "Carmella" are highlights, but the Roots Manuva version of "Daybreaker" seems to be the most fascinating, as it adds a hip-hop beat and an additional vocalist--a rapper, though his rap is actually rather crude, compared to the beauty of her song. These remixes run the range of using her voice as an incidental sample, to simply changing the beat up, and they're all fascinating, even if some of them don't make you think 'Beth Orton.'

While Daybreaker might not have been the satisfactory album for Orton fans, The Other Side of Daybreak seems to concede that the direction she chose. It's a bit disheartening, though, to think that such a reaction would cause a label to quickly compile an alternate version of the album, with the kind of songs that were expected of her. Still, maybe this is a lesson learned--a pretty terrible lesson, mind you, that you shouldn't give the fans something new, and though there's a feeling of defeat, The Other Side of Daybreak is still a lovely collection.

--Joseph Kyle

November 08, 2003

stellastarr* "s/t"

Oh, to be young and supposedly hip band, with the support of a multinational corporation to build your credibility! You must have done something right to win such an honor--and hey, guess what, it doesn't really matter that nobody's heard of you until your debut record--we're talking about hipness here, my friend. That's why it must be awfully nice to be in Stellastarr* these days. Salad days? Screw that, it's time for lobster! Just pass me the drawn butter!

I mean, these guys are doing everything so by-the-book, I feel like I'm listening to a real-life 'How to Be a Hip Band In One Album Or Less' manual. I mean, these kids are doing everything possible to be considered cool, yet neglecting one thing: being cool. You know the things I'm talking about. Big hair, hip sounding guitars that rip off and yet somehow make the Cure and Joy Division sound utterly innovative, and--OH MY GOD IS HE SINGING ABOUT COCOPUFF CEREAL? Talk about appealing to a target demographic! This album makes me want to get a time machine and go back to 1980 and cut that damn rope, kick Ian Curtis in his skinny ass and say, "DON'T DO IT! YOU DON'T KNOW WHAT KIND OF MEDIOCRE PSEUDO-CRAP YOUR DEATH WILL INFLICT UPON THE CHILDREN OF THE FUTURE!!!!"

Stellastarr* is that kind of disposable record by an utterly forgettable band you won't remember next year. Sure, it's a cool record and they're a cool band--if you're fifteen and not old enough to know better. And those damn vocals? Good lord, David Byrne should sue...for something. ANYTHING because this album brings shame and dishonor to the history of the Talking Heads, and let's not even discuss the collective dis to the respected name of Fred Schneider. In a perfect world, nobody would ever hear of Stellastarr* and they'd be forced to sell their CD on CD Baby at reduced prices, and good bands will get the deals with RCA.

Oh, wait, that's where they'll be next year.

And, thank god, we've only got six weeks until then.


--Joseph Kyle

Star Bag

When Elliott Smith died, his place in rock history was solidified, and bands like Star Bag will do nothing if not carry on the musical ideas that he left behind. Sure, it's a little bit wrong to bring up Smith's name in such a way, considering that Star Bag's record was out several months before his demise, yet listening to this El Paso band's debut now, it's hard not to think of Elliott. Clint Myers, Star Bag's leader, is not a mere Elliott Smith imitator. In fact, I guess he doesn't really sound all that much like Elliott Smith, except for "I Just Can't Wait" and "Take it From Here;" if anything, it just goes to show how much of an influence Smith was.

Luckily, Myers takes his songs one place Smith never did: outer space. On songs such as "Everyone Is On The Moon" and "My Big Secret," Myers uses feedback, drone and atmosphere, and he gives his songs an extra depth other indie-folkies have yet to achieve. At the same time, Myers also has a firm foot in traditional country/folk; songs like "I'm So Tired" and "My Way Back Home" help to put Myers clearly in the genre. Too bad, though, because while he's good at that style, these songs don't stand out like the other, spacier numbers; in fact, some of them border on a poor parody of what some people think country music is supposed to sound like. Don't get me wrong, these songs are still of a higher standard than most, and it's clear that he's as influenced by the dusty streets of El Paso as he is the open skies of the desert.

While Star Bag might not be that spectacular right now--I get a "been there, heard that" feeling from time to time--I'm sufficiently impressed enough not to instantly write Myers off just yet. Give him some time, and I'm sure that he'll refine his sound and his style, and his next record will hopefully lose some of the weaker moments found here. Maybe he'll get lost in the drone and atmospheres found here and will produce something truly wonderful. Whatever the case, I will be listening.

--Joseph Kyle

Emery Reel "For And Acted Upon Through Diversions"

I have to admit that Emery Reelís debut album, ÖFor and Acted Upon Through Diversions, leaves me breathless. How anyone can make a record thatís so epic and larger-than-life and do so without sounding cold and distant is beyond me, but this band from Nashville, Tennessee has done so, and theyíve done it quite wonderfully. Sure, if youíre into post-rock, youíve probably heard this style of music before, and it would be easy to bring up bands such as Godspeed! You Black Emperor, Sigur Ros, or maybe even Do Make Say Think, but that wouldnít be right.

Unlike those bands, Emery Reel doesnít seem to be caught up in the pretense of being ëcomplicated.í Yes, this is very detail-oriented music; itís certainly obvious that they have spent a lot of time working on their record, too. Sure, itís quite a bold gambit to fill your albums with ten-minute epics, but when you mix and match sounds as good as they do, then you really donít notice the time. ìA New Beginningî is a great example of this. The song starts off slow and calm, then gets noisy--real noisy. Then it gets quiet again. Then it gets loud again. Repeat, as directed-and they do. And it sounds really, really good.

Luckily, the album only gets better.

From that early high point, they offer a seamless collection of melodies that change so easily and so effortlessly that song titles really are moot; if you donít pay attention to the track listing, youíd be convinced that the album contains more than seven tracks. From loud, pounding drums to the quiet twinkle of piano and the soft strumming of guitars, they really make it hard to keep your mind on such trivial things as life on earth. Their sound is heavenly, lush and dreamlike; one listen is quite enough to set your mind off on a flight into the air and down into your soul. Think Iím lying? Listen to the closing epic ìUneasy, The Crossing Guard.î If you can make it through the fourteen-plus minutes of it remaining completely alert and, um, sober, then youíve got an admirable constitution.

Iíd be half-tempted to wonder if Emery Reel simply made a bunch of records and left them unreleased, opting to debut with their third or fourth album, because itís so rare that debuts are this good. Apparently thatís not the case, which, in my mind, is the crown jewel for Emery Reel-the promise that ÖFor and Acted Upon Through Diversions is the opening salvo for a wonderful band just starting out on its journey. A fine, awesome record from a band (and record label) who have quite clearly impressed me.

--Joseph Kyle