January 26, 2003

Torrez "The Evening Drag"

There's something enjoyably dark about Torrez's second album, The Evening Drag. So much music of this dark-folk genre grows tiresome after a few tracks, but not Torrez. Instead of your basic guitar/drum/violin/piano mixture, Torrez have decided to mix things up, and have thrown in such things as mellotrons, omnichords, optigons, and pedal steel guitar all of which create a nice, heady, spooky vibe.

Of course, there's the main attraction, and that is Kim Torres' singing. Soft, sexy, luxurious, it's also dark, leary, and if you stare hard enough at the cover, I'm sure you'll see a red hourglass. Singing somewhere between hurt and hungover, she's had too many cigarettes tonight, too many beers, and probably too many tears. I wouldn't say she's hard, but she has been hardened, because there's an austerity in her voice that cannot be denied. Songs such as "All the Riders" and "All on Fire" are breathy siren songs that take on newer meaning once the lights go out, and "A New Despair" and the deceptively beautiful "All on Fire" would easily send Cat Power scampering up a tree in fear.

All of these songs are great, but I think that allowing all of those interesting little effects and musical toys to stand out would make The Evening Drag an even better album. The last part of "The Evening Sun" is a great example; the instruments are showcased, and it sounds great. "A New Despair" is also a great little instrumental passage that makes me want to hear more of it. You can tell that all of the members of Torrez are excellent musicians; it just seems a shame to allow the musical ability to be left as accompaniment to a singer. A blending/melding of instrumental passages between numbers, a la Calexico, wouldn't hurt Torrez; in fact, it might even help to strengthen an already excellent band.

It's refreshing to hear a band add new dimensions to a style that could easily prove boring after a few minutes. While The Evening Drag might not be something you listen to every day, it's also not a record you'll only listen to in part, because it's a journey into the soul, a soul in a bar on the dark side of town. With time and some more unique instruments, Torrez could prove to be an even more awesome band. As for now, The Evening Drag will do just fine for those moments when I need some Absinthe to chase away my tears.

--Joseph Kyle

January 25, 2003

Deathray "White Sleeves"

Deathray is one of those under-the-radar bands that makes great music in spite of never really being heard. They've released a few very obscure 7" singles, an underappreciated self-titled album on Capricorn, and now they've released a little five-track EP, and it certainly hints that Deathray could be a greater band.
Funny, though, that their past (Greg Brown was a founding member of Cake and wrote their hit "The Distance") really has nothing to do with their present. It's just as well, because while Cake is a great band, the worst thing that Deathray could do would be to imitate their roots. White Sleeves almost seems like a different band from the one that I remember; it certainly doesn't have those poppier elements that I remember. These songs do have a poppy element to them, but they have a bit of a melancholic edge to them. In other words, they kind of sound like the Eels.

That's not to say that White Sleeves isn't any good. It leaves more of an impression than their debut album, which seemed a bit soulless. Well, here's the soul! In fact, White Sleeves is a rather varied affair. There's a nice little crunchy new-wave rock number, "White Sleeves." There's a sad ballad, "Make and Do." There are two mopey-rock songs, "Not the Same" and "Making Sure It's Canada." The real jewel of the set woiuld have to be the closing "Let's Be Friends." It's got a definite 1970's rock feel to it; heck, the way it's mixed makes it SOUND like AM radio. It's a great song, and it really makes me think that "The Distance" wasn't the only hit that Brown has in his soul.

Don't know much about what's up with these guys; I certainly hope an album is forthcoming! This is much better than their debut album, which really didn't leave much of an impression on me. I wish I could find it, because I'd like to give it a second listen. As it stands, White Sleeves will suit me just fine until I do--or until their next album. If you're curious, simply seek out "Let's Be Friends" the next time you want to make a mix CD. It's certainly worth a looking-out for.

--Joseph Kyle

January 23, 2003

Lemon Jelly "Lost Horizons"

Lemon Jelly is good for your soul! Last year's lemonjelly.ky album was a mere taste of what these two musicans had in mind. Lost Horizons, Lemon Jelly's proper debut album, is one of the most wholesome, innocent records I've ever heard.
Not since the Yellow Submarine took off on its trip has music been so trippy yet so wholesome. At times, Lemon Jelly's music becomes quite cinematic--think IMAX theatre--and when it does, it gains a dimension that really cannot be beat. It's an aural symphony on CD, did you remember to bring your suit? No worries--close your eyes, for when you open them, you'll be decked out in some fine multicolored threads.

All of the songs follow a nice, sedate, warm, loving electronica pattern with touches of soft, mellow jazz, mixed in with occasional "vocals" (mainly a clip from astronauts in space and one or two spoken bits) that blend in with the music; instead of defining the song, these spoken passages accompany the music, as if they were another instrument. There's a tracklisting, but it's really not all that important; all of the songs blend in to one continuous whole, and because of this, you are encouraged to simply listen and enjoy the landscape. My favorite "song," though, is "Nice Weather For the Ducks," for three reasons: 1. I like nice weather; 2. I like ducks; 3. I like the Bacharach-esque horns that move the song along on a quiet, sailboat-pace.

Lemon Jelly make ambient music in the truest sense of the word; the harder you listen to Lost Horizons, the less special it becomes. Instead of exerting any effort, simply close your eyes, open your ears, press play and enjoy. Don't try and think about it; don't try and analyze it, just enjoy it. When you do, the stresses of life will simply float away, and you'll be sent on a quiet, peaceful journey through the sky, as documented on Lost Horizon's cover art.

For those of you with children: this would be a great record for your next playtime, especially before bedtime. At exactly 60 minutes, it'll sooth and relax those li'l folk. You'll enjoy the wind-down, chill out that Lost Horizons has to offer, and they'll enjoy all of the pleasant, silly, repetitive sounds, and it might just make them all tuckered out.

--Joseph Kyle

January 22, 2003

Melodie Group "Updownaround"

Roy Thirlwall has one of the most aloof singing voices I've ever heard. His singing fits the music, though; if you're singing songs of melancholy, it probably wouldn't hurt to actually have a convincing voice. Unlike, say, Calvin Johnson's bad-but-cute style, or Stephin Merritt's "I'm smart and I know it and my words are more important anyway" attitude, Thirlwall's got a "I'm smart and sassy, dig it, I'm DETATCHED" thing going on here.

As for Updownaround, it's not bad, either. I'll admit that it took me a listen or two to really get used to his singing, but after that inital thaw, I totally fell for updownaround. And though his voice may be similar throughout, the music itself is actually quite varied. With his guitar and beatbox and whatever else he may have around him at the time, Thirlwall produces a full, lush sound. Once you warm up to his voice, then you'll find the prize of warm, glowing pop music.

For the most part, the music on Updownaround is downbeat, kind of dour, a little bit melancholy, and possessing a wit as dry as the martini you drank last night. Sure, at times he sounds a lot like Bob Wratten or Keris from Harper Lee, but that's not a bad thing! When he gets a little bit funky and a tad experimental is when he's at his best; "Xiao" is my favorite; it starts off slow, but then builds into an odd electronic casiotone passage, and then returns to the original sound. Just a nice little surprise in the middle for you! Other great moments on Updownaround include the positive by way of being a double negative lovesong "I Do Not Not Love You," the Morrissey-ish "Butterfly:Tart," and the upbeat tearjerker "Hold."

An interesting, intelligent diversion of pop is what Updownaround ultimatly is, even if it's not totally memorable. At times, I feel like maybe Melodie Group is unfairly restrained by being a one-man project. These songs are all great, but a band might be able to add a greater depth to them. Other than that, no real complaints, and Updownaround is a fine debut album from a proven talent.

--Joseph Kyle

Longwave "Day Sleeper"

This EP really made my day! Their previous album, released many moons ago, was a great debut, but the loud silence that followed its release made me wonder if they'd just succumbed to one-album greatness. Like Interpol--who released a few things, gained much hype and disappeared until last year--Longwave made some great impressions upon first appearance, and rightfully so; apparently they hooked up with The Strokes (seems an odd pairing), and have since stepped into the "next big thing" spotlight. This little EP came out some time back, and is a nice little taste of what's to come on their forthcoming major-label debut. (Forgive us, please, of the lateness of this review; the CD was unexpectedly--but understandably--delayed in coming.)

The EP kicks off with "Day Sleeper," a powerful and strong instrumental that shows their electronic-pop debut was just a start. It's a quiet, introspective number that leads into the emotional storm of "Everywhere You Turn." The band slows down slightly with "Pool Song," which melts into the merely OK "State of Mind." At times, Longwave frontman sounds like a less-nasal Richard Butler; the apparent Radiohead influences have faded into the background, which is clearly a good thing. All of these songs--even the ones that falter--show that Longwave are a band to contend with.

I hope that the promises of greatness that are found on Day Sleeper are kept; they've got a lot of great ideas, and their sound is awesome. This is a nice little taste of a (hopefully no longer) underrated band who hold the future in their hands--and it looks quite promising, too!

--Joseph Kyle

Stephanie Dosen "Ghost, Mice and Vagabonds"

A pretty girl in a Victorian-style lace shirt and tussled-about hair, Stephanie Dosen certainly does catch the eye. My first guess about what kind of music she makes is simple: Goth-light with a hint of folk. Ta-da! I was right. But oh my, how right I was! But instead of simply being a Goff Girl, Dosen's music is as pretty--if not prettier--as she is. Maybe I'm a sucker for an intelligent girl making intelligent music, but that's a whole other book of poetry, my friend.

Lest you think that above paragraph is a bit flippant, think again. Ghosts, Mice, and Vagabonds, Stephanie Dosen's debut album, is nothing more than a pleasant forty-five minutes of acoustic, slightly atmospheric folk-rock. She probably has a few 4AD albums in her collection, as she occasionally sounds like Heidi Berry, Lisa Germano, and Tanya Donnelly. The strongest moment on Ghosts, Mice, and Vagabonds, "Weak," shows strength in the guise of vulnerability, and overall her songs indicate that you don't have to be loud and mean to be strong in spirit.

The only problem with Ghosts, Mice, and Vagabonds is that Dosen's songs are good, but at time her singing seem too by-the-book, too clinical. To her credit, none of the songs really sound the same, which helps break the monotony that can develop in folk music. She seems a bit hesitant to really let her voice soar, opting to show off her technical ability, but at times this leaves you with the feeling that the music and the singing seem to be off-sync. Thankfully this only happens on "Song of the Maydoves" and "For the Sake of Drowning," two otherwise beautifully written songs. She possesses a very beautiful voice, but at times she seems to be trying too hard, which makes her singing seem somewhat strained and restrained.

That, however, is a minor quibble, easily forgiven for someone who is starting out. Gorgeous music always is a pleasure, and Ghosts, Mice and Vagabonds is a very pleasurable debut album. Forgive her the awkward moments of inexperience, and you'll think what I think: this is a beautiful start to a promising career.

--Joseph Kyle

Experimental Aircraft "Love For The Last Time"

This record has been quite loved for the past few days; it's been on constant rotation, and with good reason. It's utterly gorgeous!

Okay, okay, I know you really want/need more description than that, and I'll try, because I don't want to be long-winded about it, nor do I want to be too brief about what Experimental Aircraft are doing. Shoegazing is a term that's misunderstood in large part because the "style" has been terribly abused. Many bands substituted loudness for talent, and in so doing they killed the great works of others, never realizing that their greatest musical achievement could never be as good as the worst moments of My Bloody Valentine, Ride, Slowdive, or Pale Saints.

Love For The Last Time sounds like the end product of a few warm and hazy Austin afternoons spent smoking pot and listening to Lush records, because this is a most mellow record. Occasionally, Experimental Aircraft get loud and noisy, but it's a very sublime racket; listen to "Contemplative Silence" and you'll hear a band that's made loud the new quiet. Just one listen to "Symphony" will tell you that they're using layers of noise in a symphonic manner. It's only on "Seasick" that Experimental Aircraft get really, really loud; falling near the middle of the record, it's a welcome wake-up from the blissing out that you've just experienced. At times, Experimental Aircraft sound like they've summoned up the spirit of early Lush--which, believe me, is not a bad thing in my book!

What really makes Love For the Last Time excellent is the clash between noise and beauty, the beauty being the gorgeous vocals of Rachel Staggs. Her voice is so sweet, it should be illegal. When it's combined with the music, it makes the noise seem tame, yet dangerous. Guitarist TJ O'Leary's singing provides a nice yin to her yang. He's just as doped-out in his singing, and when he joins Staggs on "Elephant," it feels like you're in the presence of a shoegazing Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazelwood.

Experimental Aircraft have made a beautiful record; the fact that they've done so in a genre that's overpopulated and overwrought with mediocrity is even more impressive. Love For the Last Time is very strong record from start to finish, with not one weak spot. Take the time to seek it out; you'll be glad that you did, because you'll have just spent thirty-nine minutes with one of the best records of this year (last year if you're a release-date purist).

--Joseph Kyle

January 21, 2003

Giddy Motors "make it pop"

In my review of Mclusky's latest album, I stated that I was quicker to pay attention to rock records that were recorded by Steve Albini than I would be to most other rock records that I receive for review, and that assertion remains true. Yes, I know that it's an unfair bias, and that Albini's name isn't always a true indication of quality; one listen to Bush's Razorblade Suitcase told me that. However, any bias that, more often than not, results in my exposure to records as great as Mclusky Does Dallas and this one is a bias that I'm willing to stick with. Of course, the Giddy Motors' influences will be familiar to anyone who knows Albini's taste in music: Shellac, the Jesus Lizard, the Birthday Party, etc. However, this London trio manages to distinguish itself from many of the acts on Albini's resume in a multitude of ways. First of all, the band's dexterous musicianship suggests that its members were trained in jazz as well as math-rock. Second of all, guitarist Gaverick de Vis delivers his vocals in an extremely animated and multidimensional manner that suggests a Shakespearean thespian bouncing around a psych ward. Third of all, the Giddy Motors are well acquainted with the element of surprise. In the sequencing of the album as well as within individual songs, the band changes tack enough to keep things interesting, but not enough to suggest attention deficit disorder.

Opener "Magmanic" begins with a long drum roll and a few spurts of drunken hollering, setting the atmosphere for a powerful full-band entrance. The guitars scratch, the cymbals splash, and the bass sounds like a man thumbing a broken power line. The band changes both tempo and key in the middle of the song, slowly rising from sinister whispers and tense guitar arpeggios to a furious crash-and-bash climax. "Hit Cap" sounds like an extended chase scene from a 1970s cop show, with fast-paced drums, rhythmic pick scrapes, screeching saxophones, and even a bongo solo! Gaverick, in a perpetually flummoxed state, seems to be discussing a rock show in this song: "All those strings! All those chords! I don't know what I saw" His vocals eventually degenerate into faux-Spanish babbling. The slinky shuffle of "Bottle Opener" could be danced to in a club, though the distorted vocals and incessant unplugging of guitar cables throughout the song would cause the patrons to assume that the P.A. system was broken. In this song, Gaverick portrays a hung-over alcoholic defending himself against criticism: "It only burns when I laugh," he moans to convince himself. "Cranium Crux" features the album's only instance of actual singing, in an agonized falsetto that can barely raise itself above the layers of drum loops and chorused guitars.

The second half of Make It Pop begins with "Sassy," in which Gaverick barks at a mistreating woman with the fervor of an angry schoolmarm: "I love it when you put me down-step on me, doll face!" This slice of musical misogyny is stripped of all subtlety during the chorus, which consists of the words "You asshole!" shouted over and over again. The next song, "Dog Hands," is the album's most oppressive, running the same riff through the soft/loud meat grinder for four minutes. Its bridge consists of Gaverick screaming and scraping his instrument as if he's fighting a losing battle with it. Just as the dissonance becomes too much to take, "Venus Medallist" begins, a pleasant breath of fresh air. It's a quiet, baroque instrumental that Robert Wyatt could work wonders with, and if it wasn't on the record, you would have no idea that the Giddy Motors were even capable of producing something so pretty. After proving its versatility once and for all, the band closes Make It Pop with "Whirled by Curses," a song that begins with two voices having a conversation with each other on different speakers, and then proceeds to chronicle a murder by drowning.

As you can probably tell, this is some bleak music we're dealing with, but the only reason why I don't feel like putting my head in an oven after listening to it is because I've heard Xiu Xiu's Knife Play, an album that makes everything else sound like "Shiny Happy People" in comparison. However, it still has to be said that Make It Pop is the most ironically titled album I've encountered in quite a while. Only "Venus Medallist" comes close to sounding anything like pop, and that's probably how all parties involved with the record wanted it. These demented British lads have crafted a fine debut, one that will entice any rock fan with a disposition towards the abrasive and the sordid.

--Sean Padilla

Roddy Frame 'surf"

A good song only requires a singer. There's really no need for further additives; anything less than the basics could, in fact, drown simple beauty. Of course, playing solo acoustic is a vulnerable thing to do; you'd better be good at what you do when you perform like that. You have to be excellent, because if you're not, then you can be terribly, terribly boring. To record an album of solo acoustic songs is certainly ambitious, as you're saying to the world, "my lyrics are excellent, and my voice is the only thing you need to hear."

Roddy Frame's certainly not one who's slack when it comes to making quality music. Best known for his sleeper-hit band Aztec Camera, Frame wrote some great pop songs, and in the process he set the standard for both Britpop and indiepop. Surf is Frame's second solo album, and it's his first acoustic album. Why did he wait?
Frame has struck musical gold with Surf, his singing, so warm and inviting, is as lush as any of his best Aztec Camera moments. The only other recent record I've heard that's as lush and warm and vulnerable and yet so solo would be Lambchop's Is a Woman, and it's a veritable orchestra working hard to make it sound that way!

It's rare, indeed, for a record like this that makes you not notice its limited nature. Do you really pay attention to the fact that Frame is all alone? I certainly don't. What makes Surf even beter, though, is that it never onces sounds like either country or folk. Frame's a pop man, and even in this limited form, ALL of these songs sound like they should be on pop radio. Indeed, songs like "Tough" and "High Class Music" could have easily passed as strong B-Side acoustic demo versions of grand, full-band arrangements.

On Surf's cover and in the booklet are scenes of a big city skyline in the evening; lights are shining and buildings look grand against the grey night sky. It's actually a rather simple photograph, yet it fits Surf's mood. I'd like to think that somewhere in this night, in some quiet bar or club, Frame is on stage, sitting on a stool, singing these simple, beautiful songs. Surf is a rare record of quiet, introsepctive beauty, and Frame quietly has made the best record of his career.

--Joseph Kyle

January 20, 2003

sparta 'wiretap scars"

It must be hard, wanting to be successful, coming close to being the next big thing, but never following through. Must be great to have all of these people talking about you as if you ARE THE SHIT, and to fail to take it to that next level must make for some really introspective moments. Maybe it's hard to move on, especially when you see others being rather successful using your formula.

It must be tough for the guys in Sparta to deal with these things, because Wiretap Scars sounds like is the sound of a band copping the styles from their former band, At the Drive-In, and mixing in the bland sounds of Commercial Rock Music AKA Emo. I loved the Austere EP, when most of the reviews I read dismissed it for the reasons I'm dismissing them now. I was really looking forward to Wiretap Scars. It showed talent, but it was a premature shooting of their creative load. I've listenend to Wiretap Scars several times now, and nothing sticks with me. There's nothing memorable; there's nothing that hasn't been done better by someone else--and, what's more, there's NO EXCUSE for it, either.

What is most annoyning, though is that they sound like they're trying to be sincere, and it's falling flat. They sound earnest in their approach; those vocals sure do sound "real," but it still falls flat, and they quickly fall into the crappy emo/"modern rock" pyre. The only time they're not giving off a "we miss your voice, Cedric, and we're going to imitate you" vibe is when they're not on my stereo. I mean, really guys, come on now! Dudes, Omar and Cedric have moved on, and their music is great! The only time they are "good" is when they're not screaming like the last band on Crank! or Caulfield, and when they do, they're just sounding like an emo version of the Police.

There's nothing sadder than hearing a very talented group of musicians squandering away their talents by making mediocre music. Wiretap Scars is one of the most soulless, empty-sounding records I've heard. I just cannot escape this undeniable feeling of insincerity that keeps popping up. Are these guys trying to continue the At The Drive-In thing, or are they simply trying to cash in on what they perceive to be the trendy sounds of today? Wiretap Scars is sad, it makes me sad. Wow. I'm "emo" now.

--Joseph Kyle

January 18, 2003

Ranier Maria "Long Knives Drawn"

Daytime talk shows seem to love the "look at me now!" themed-show. You know the story: "I used to be fat or skinny or big-nosed and small-chested or utterly and blissfully self-conscious, and you never noticed me or took my feelings seriously because I wasn't pretty, but now I'm H-O-T-T hot!" Well, Rainer Maria's certainly pulled that one on me, and Long Knives Drawn is very much a "look at me now!" type of record.

Instead of the blissed-out emo poetry diary-lite of yore, Long Knives Drawn rocks hard, rocks fast, rocks loud. Singer Caithlin De Marrais isn't merely singing, she's beltin' them out, in a strong, confident voice that leaves the precious sounds of their earlier records way, way behind. "Mystery and Misery" (great pun!) is, on first listen, a sonic sucker punch that will leave you thinking, "THIS is Rainer Maria?!?!"
True, there were hints of this sonic shift on their previous album, the aptly-titled A Better Version of Me, but I just couldn't get into that one.

For the most part, the songs on Long Knives Drawn are upbeat, slightly poppy rockers; there's nothing here that reeks of that dreaded "emo" term. "Long Knives," "Floors," and "Ears Ring" are hard-rock numbers (!), and De Marrais' singing reminds me of the late, great Mia Zapata. Something must have happened to Caithlin between albums, something that filled her heart and soul with confidence and self-assurance. Whatever that was, it was a good thing, indeed! Except for "CT Catholic," the boy/girl singing is a thing of the past...but, of course, with De Marrais' newfound strength, why would you want (or need) another singer?

Instead, Long Knives Drawn is an album full of songs that would sound great on both the radio and your mix tape. "The Double Life," in fact, sounds ready for the radio, if radio played this kind of music--good music. Breaking away from your sound is always a dangerous--sometimes fatal--thing for a band to do, but Rainer Maria have pulled it off, and Long Knives Drawn is a great record.

--Joseph Kyle

Vermont "Calling Albany"

I've got a little confession to make. When I heard that the Promise Ring were breaking up, I was happy to hear it. Now, don't think that I was anti (heh, irony!)-Promise Ring. I wasn't. In fact, I really thought that they were getting better with each successive record, because each record found them moving further and further away from their "emo" roots. Wood/Water wasn't a bad record at all, though it's easy to understand why those who loved the band were disappointed. The Promise Ring decided to make their record, and fans and critics alike weren't prepared for what they heard. I don't know if this is why they recently called it quits, but the poor recepition for Wood/Water probably didn't prevent it, either. If this is the case, then I'd like to thank them for having the foresight to break up now. Better to split up when the critics didn't like your record than it is to stay together and retreat into making Nothing Feels Good over and over again.

Calling Albany, the second full-length from lead singer Davey von Bohlan's "side project," (can it really be called a side project now that the main band is dead?) is quite a consolation prize from the sudden death of Promise Ring. Vermont makes beautiful music, and though it's not the same sound as Promise Ring, it's equally as moving, thoughtful, and intelligent. Vermont's lineup also includes Promise Ring's Dan Didier and Pele's Chris Rosenau, which leads me to believe that Promise Ring could have aptly handled this kind of sound. What's most striking, though, about the songs on Calling Albany, is that all of them sound like they could have been great, loud rock numbers had the Promise Ring done them, but instead Davey chose not to let these songs go in that direction. These songs almost makes me wonder what Promise Ring demos sounded like!

Vermont's had a few split releases in the past, with Ida and Centro-matic, and both bands have obviously influenced the band; "Commodores 64" could be a lost Ten Small Paces song, and "Kill an Hour" sounds like it would have been welcome on Distance and Clime. Many of the songs on Calling Albany find humor at the expense of pop culture, i.e., "Ballad of Larry Bird," "Arrest Harrison Ford!" and easily give Clem Snide a run for their money. The best song here, though, is "Calling Albany," which seems to address his medical concerns from a few years ago. With a looped percussion beat and a sad acoustic guitar riff, he's singing about his life, and it's not easy listening. Dealing with death is never easy, especially when it seems he doesn't know if he's going to live or die. "Stop sending me gas and electricity, calling Jesus, call my mother, calling Albany. I am the last man on your wish list, you are the last person I may see." Powerful stuff, indeed.

Goodbye loud emo-rock, hello jazzy acoustic-rock! Calling Albany is proof that life goes on, and being in a popular, seminal band doesn't mean that your style has to be limited. Though I don't really know if Vermont will become his main gig now, I'd like to think that whatever Davey does next will include some of this kind of music, as he really has a way with sad, soft music.

--Joseph Kyle

Desert City Soundtrack "(Contents of Distraction)"

Now this is different! Desert City Soundtrack could be accused of making pretty standard emo-rock, but they've decided to up the ante by adding a piano, and in so doing, have created a sound all their own. Everything you've come to know and loathe about Emo is here--the screamed vocals, the loud stop/starts, the traditional chord changes--but this little instrumental addition makes all the difference in the world. Maybe it's because a piano is a classy instrument--but methinks it's more because a piano adds depth to the standard guitar/bass/drum setup. Whatever the case may be, it certainly works, and it saves (Contents of Distraction) from falling into the genre-trap that emo has created.

(Contents of Distraction) is a helluva dark record, and for some reason, I'm really getting a Tori Amos-like vibe from it, too. "Emotional Post-Hardcore" was the term I've seen thrown about in describing them, but I'm thinking there's more of a "post-Goth" thing, because at times, I'm reminded of Nick Cave and Three Mile Pilot. Songs like "Carboard Hill" and "Widow's Staircase" are some pretty intense little numbers, and "Foglifter" is one of the most painfully beautiful songs I've heard in a very, very long time. About the only useless number on this is that untitled seventh track, which sounds like a collage of studio goofing off, and really isn't necessary at all. Maybe they're trying to lighten the mood? Could be, because the air in this room post-listening is pretty darn intense!

Desert City Soundtrack have raised the bar on their contemporarires, and thank goodness for that! This little EP is but a debut (!), which means that they've got plenty of time to make things even more interesting. As they go further and further away from the genres that we may try to bind them to, things can only get more interesting. An excellent debut, guys!

--Joseph Kyle

The Red Thread "After The Last"

California is a state with a well-defined sound. Orange County punk, Los Angeles metal, Bay Area punk, West Coast rap, and Southern California rock bands, all of these styles are instantly recognizable. After the Last is the debut album of The Red Thread the new project of San Francisco-based Jason Lakis, former leader of the acclaimed Half Film, and it's very much a California record. Instead of glam or punk or metal or rap, we're talking about singer-songwriter fare here, with a hint of country, but not too much; at times, Lakis sounds like a gruffier version of labelmate Hayden, which isn't a bad thing in my book.

I understand that people in California do a lot of partying. They go out late at night, and wake up late the next day, usually with some sort of hangover. Now I don't know what kind of activities Lakis and crew partake in, but After the Last is undeniably a hangover record. The songs on After the Last are blurry in vision and hazy in mind, with more than a hint of regret and of ache in the head. Lakis sings in such a slight, sly manner that fits in nicely with the picture of him on the cover, lookin' all hungover.

The Red Thread's music is very similar in style to a mairiachi-less Calexico, and it really works well, because these songs have a dry-heat that can only come from the hot desert sun. The only problem with After the Last, however, is that at times it seems a bit flat, and the music sounds oddly muffled. Unfortunatly, this causes the rocking numbers like "All In" and "Subject to Change" to lose a little bit of their strength, which is a shame, because these songs probably smoke live! And speaking of hard-rockin' music, there's a virtually unrecognizable cover of Bad Brains' "Sailin' On," which sounds like a lost rockabilly/alt.country hit.

Ah, but I forgive 'em for those little problems. This is a debut record, mind you, so there's plenty of time to work on their sound. After the Last is evidence enough that, given time and a little bit of maturity, The Red Thread could make a really great, powerful album. After the Last is a good start, though, despite its flaws.

--Joseph Kyle

January 17, 2003

Choo Choo La Rouge "Wall to Wall"

It's utterly amazing how much good music isn't getting heard. Sure, we've got this whole internet thing, and there have been plenty of places out there that allow you to steal music (honor system, be damned), yet there are still bands out there that are languishing for one reason: nobody's heard of them. And it's a particularly vicious cycle, too; to be heard, you have to play shows and get reviewed. In order to play shows and get reviewed, booking agents and publications have to have heard of you. It's this little indie-rock Catch 22 that's kept a lot of great bands down and has killed many a lesser one, too.

Choo Choo La Rouge are a band that give me hope. I just hope they don't get stuck in obscurity, because they're a really good band who have the potential of being a GREAT band. From listen numero uno, you'll be won over. I know I was. Hell, let's just stop right here, because I think I should just share for you what I wrote about these guys in my journal, because I stand behind my first impression 100%:

Choo-Choo La Rouge

"Great," thought I. Dumb name would mean bad, boring music. Wa-ho, I was wrong!

Sure, there's a healthy dose of youthful amateurism, but wow--there are some moments on this little record that just blow me away. While their rock numbers aren't so strong, the moments where they slow things down is where it gets really interesting. It's a smoke-filled view of the world that hints at a much greater potential, especially if they had a little bit more in the way of production and time to hone their craft in the studio.

Their record was sent by a hand-written letter asking me to listen and hoping that i like what I'm about to hear. I really like that, even though I don't hear the VU or the Kinks influences that they mention, at least not as much as I hear Pernice Brothers and a hint of Lambchop. The rocker numbers should be worked on, and their slower, more introspective numbers should be more of a focus. Love the instrumental work on "Worse Mistakes" and "Defrost." Guess I don't dig "Hearsed and Rehearsed" ad "People are Yelling" because it's so been-there, done-that. "In the End" sounds like they've spent a bit more time on it and there the rock thing works--not too fast, not too slow, but it sounds like a lost Smoking Popes number, which is always a good thing in my book.

These kids are much better than that silly moniker of theirs. Not often that a cd-R release really knocks me over, but I've been listening to this EP of theirs all day, and that's been a rare thing for me.

check them out at choochoolarouge.com, where you can get a few of the numbers I mentioned.

(and i guess i don't like the name of the band simply because I didn't think of it first!!)

current music:choo-choo la rouge!

Yup, that's how these guys are for me. I've listened to Wall to Wall countless times since this entry, and though "Hearsed and Rehearsed" doesn't do it for me, the rest of this EP is ACES. And this morining, in opening track, "Cards," I found Lou Reed.

Seek this one out, folks. Now. Break the evil vicious cycle of obscurity!

--Joseph Kyle

Midsummer/Coastal "This Ageless Night"

This is another impressive split release, and darn it, once again I'm more impressed with the unknown band than I am with the one I initally bought this for! Not that I mind, really; because both bands are worthy. On This Ageless Night symmetry seems to be the key, as both bands offer up five songs each.

Midsummer are first, and though the product description proclaimed them to be beautiful dreampop (darn liars!), I'm hearing Britpop, though, to be more specific, I'd call this stuff Thompop. (Or maybe Thomcore? Yorkepop? Yorkecore?) Anyway, Midsummer seem to pick up on that popular, creative question of "What Would Radiohead have sounded like had they not gone all-retro Warp records on us and had stuck to the OK Computer mold?" It's a good question to ask. All of Midsummer's songs shimmer quite nicely, with a brooding pop sound (a la Radiohead) that they do really well. "Silent Blue" is a song you'll swear you've heard somewhere, which tells you just how great Midsummer's music sounds. Other highlights include the melodic "Tempests" and their final track, the moody "'Til Human Voices Wake Us." The only moment where they fall down slightly is the cutesy, out-of-place instrumental "Japanese Beetle."

Coastal, on the other hand, are a great band who are definitely dream-pop. In fact, I'd say they were more slowcore, but that's more of a personal taste kind of thing. Coastal make long, beautiful, shiveringly cold music, not unlike Low. Their music is very sad, too; "The End of Summer" is one of the most hearbreaking songs I've heard in a while. "Sunbathers" is also a pretty little piano-based instrumental that hits right at the heart. Unfortunatly for Coastal, they've followed a really great, impressive group, and their songs suffer because of it.

Why, then, do I not care much for Coastal's selections? It's simple, really. Whereas the split vinyl releases of yesteryear would provide a pause between bands, and you wouldn't necessarily think of the record as a continuous whole. Compact Discs don't allow you that luxury. As such, after Midsummer's mind-blowing experience, Coastal's slow-core style is utterly anticlimactic. That doesn't mean their music is bad; in fact, it's quite beautiful, and both bands' selections would serve as fine, excellent EP's.

Normally, such a minor, technical detail wouldn't warrant comment, but because it affects the listening process so greatly, I felt it necessary to warn you. Despite this aesthetic flaw, This Ageless Night is a beautiful, beautiful record. My advice is to not listen to it as a whole; take a little time between bands. Go get you some coffee. Go let the cat in. Have a smoke. Wash your hands. Do something constructive with your time before you listen to the second set.

--Joseph Kyle

Single Frame Ashtray "Wetheads Come Running"

It's a rare feat indeed for a band to successfully explore numerous sounds and styles over the course of a debut record without sounding self-indulgent, but Austin's Single Frame Ashtray have done just that. If you're a little nervous when you first look at their record, you'll be forgiven; twenty songs--outside of a GBV album or a band's greatest hits--is a very full plate. Indeed, Single Frame Ashtray have covered much ground, with a lo-fi sound that never really betrays the band's talent; indeed, consider the sonic imperfection as a part of the whole, much like listening to vintage blues recordings, the cracks and the pops add depth and dimension.

Don't get too terribly comfortable when first you listen to Wetheads Come Running. Though "Floral Design In A Straight Line" starts off with a cartoon-like melody, it quickly gives into a nice, Sonic Youthy bit, and then returns to that cartoon melody. They then throw you into a new-wave funk with "$7 Haircut," that quickly turns into a weird little sound clip, that segues immediatly into "Post Daydream Forecast Endeavorm," which turns into...well, I'm going to stop here, because that would give away the great pleasure I've had since I've put this record on--the guessing game about what's going to come next. They flow through styles like they own the place, and they have the nerve to make you think they wrote the damn music encyclopedia!

The music here is not only diverse, it's downright unclassifiable. So, to help you out, here are some keywords to help you grasp what you're going to hear when you put Wetheads Come Running: Brainiac, Faint, Coil, indie rock, hip-hop, jibber-jabber, rap, new wave, indiepop, ambient, Sonic Youth, techno, Boredoms, trip-hop, collage, samplers, Blonde Redhead, Fluxus, Ween, Aphex Twin, Kid 606, electronica, noise, free noise, jazz, Tigerbeat6, Butthole Surfers....man, I feel like I'm off the mark on all of these words.

As lazy as it is, I'm going to give you the music writer's utterly worst line to use in a Review Of Any Kind, because it's true, and it's the only thing I can bear to say: GO BUY THIS RECORD, YOU HAVE TO HEAR IT TO BELIEVE IT!. Okay??? Are you happy???? You've frustrated the hell out of me in writing this, Single Frame Ashtray, but I appreciate the hell out of it! I love Wetheads Come Running.

--Joseph Kyle

January 16, 2003

Pfeuti "Pigeon Post"

This is a great record!

This may be the easiest review for complex music that I've ever written. Why? Because Pigeon Post is music that is so unique and varied that it cannot be, hee-hee, pigeonholed, yet its sound is so simple, so basic, that any long-drawn explaination is really unnecessary. Music of contradiction? Of course not! Making a basic description is rather easy, because Pfeuti have one basic sorce of inspiration, apparent to anyone who listens: John Coltrane. But-wait!! Pfeuti aren't a jazz band! At least I don't really think that they're making jazz music. Maybe they think they are. I just don't see it, really. There's nothing particularly groundbreaking about Pigeon Post, yet it's by far one of the most original records of 2002.

As this is primarily an all-instrumental record (save for a sampled voice--from M.A.S.H., perhaps?--saying "Hello, doctor"), I'm going to focus on one song. One really great song. Track #3. "Blind Man Plan B." Starts off simple enough, with a jazzy, lets-snap-our-fingers-because-we-are-HIP, sax riff. It's the music that you'd want playing if you were trying to meet a mysterious Beat girl. Then--well, let's just say that they win the prize for BEST tempo change, because that slinky jazz beat morphs into one raucious blast of...of....surf music!! Imagine if Trane had scored the soundtrack to Gidget. Just picture a group of mysterious Beat girls taking off their black clothes to reveal a black one-piece bathing suit and doing the Clam. It's enough to make Sylvia Plath come out of hiding. Just as soon as you're used to that beat, though, they return to the riff they started the song with. It's nice. Real nice. As is the following number, "Caravan Lowdown," which is, quite simply, the sound of Jazz Music meeting Jewish Music and taking a sail out over international waters.

Really, Pigeon Post is a great, fun record. It's rare that an instrumental record will cause unapologetic bursts of laughter, but this record is just that way. It's easily been a highlight of both this new year and last year as well. I'm certainly eager to hear what this Japanese group (did I not mention they weren't American? You certainly wouldn't know it by listening, that's for sure) will do next. You need a record like Pigeon Post in your life. Great fun for your next clambake, house party, poetry reading, or po-faced coffee drinking intellectual discussion.

P.S. In case I didn't make it clear, I'll say it again: this is a great record!

--Joseph Kyle

Roy "Big City Sin and Small Town Redemption"

Musicians often find it necessary to break away and make music that's different from what they usually do. I could regurgitate a list of artists who have made 'side project' records that are shockingly different than their main gig. Folk Implosion (Sebadoh), SOD (Anthrax), Ugly Casanova (Modest Mouse) and Barry Black (Archers of Loaf) are just a few bands who I have more than a little time for, and they are all worthy side projects. We should now add Roy to this list. But be warned: the members of Roy all come from hardcore-based bands--most notibly Botch and up-and-comers These Arms Are Snakes--and Roy is most certainly not like their previous/current bands.

Though those looking for the hardcore sound of the past might be disappointed, they shouldn't be. Big City Sin And Small Town Redemption, Roy's debut full-length album, is a strong effort. Of course, it's obvious from the get-go that this album's special. Album opener "Something That's Real" kicks off with the cryptic line "Why can't you just admit to the fact that you're not all that blue," it then launches into a really loud guitar drone and a very faint keyboard riff that (on headphones at least) picks up where The Who left off on "5:15," before switching over to a country-rock beat that would make Rhett Miller extremely jealous. Throw in some lo-fi groovers a la GBV (such as "Gold Rush" and "They Cut the Chord") and it becomes quite obvious that they're doing one thing: making traditional rock music.

The rest of Big City Sin never really falters from that country-rock-punk formula, though they never get too twangy or too punky or too rocky, opting for a swirling blend of styles that just sounds right. Though not everything works--one or two of these songs could have been edited out and it wouldn't have hurt the album any, and I still can't reconcile the fact that"Darryl Worley Forgotten" sounds an awful lot like Cracker--but for the most part the albums strongest moments deftly cover for the weaker moments. There are plenty of great ideas, though; their songwriting is actually quite tight, and if you think that their past is something they've forgotten, you're wrong. Throughout the album--such as the overwhelmingly poweful guitar on "Don't Overdub My Heart"--moments pop up that prove that the rock dragon in their hearts is not dead, but merely sleeping. In fact, at times it seems as if Roy's as much a result of restraint as much as it is an exercise in melody.

Big City Sin and Small Town Redemption is an album that's a lot like the new year: it's fresh, it's new, and though you've been here before, you know that you're gonna want to see how it comes out in the end. If anything, it is certainly evidence that these Roy boys have come up with a band that deserves to be much more than a 'side project'.

--Joseph Kyle

January 12, 2003

Motion "Cold Heroes"

When someone tells me that I can't judge a book by its cover, I simply bite my lip. After all, aren't covers designed so that the potential buyer would want to buy it? Isn't there some sort of aesthetic tie-in between the artwork and the content? In theory, yes. Cold Heroes' cover is an excellent example of this theory in motion. The cover--a blue-line drawing of a thunderbird--warned me that I was about to be ROCKED.

Yeah, The Motion is an indie-rock band, and they take no shame in wearing their influences on their sleeves. Why should they? They're influenced by some really great bands, most obviously Archers of Loaf and Dinosaur, Jr. Five years ago, that last sentence would have been a quick and sharp death sentence--why would you want to be a cookie-cutter band, when the real thing was still available? But Dinosaur, Jr. grew worse as time went on and I can't find my copy of Vee Vee, and so I can't really be too critical of what The Motion are doing here. It could be worse--they could have tried to ape Modest Mouse or Built to Spill.

Songs like "I'm Not Going to Fight (To Make You Feel Normal)" and "Color Stains the Gray, or, Must the Young Die Too??" are two highlights, and are good in their awkwardly-witty titled rock song fare, When they mess around with the indie-rock formula, such as on "Still Running," they actually sound great, and hint at a greater talent. Not that what they're doing on Cold Heroes is terrbly derisive-sounding, it's just the difference between GOOD songs and GREAT songs.

The main problem with Cold Heroes seems to be in the mix. At times, lead singer Brent Larson's vocals are competing with the guitar solos, which is more than distracting. Other times, the instruments seemed to be so high in the mix that he seems to be singing behind a wall. A rock wall. A Wall of Rock. Not that I mind, but it makes for a rather hollow sounding song.

Time's passing us by, my friends, and this record sounds more "traditional rock" now than it would have been seven years ago. Cold Heroes isn't anything that's particularly innovative, it's just a rock record, and it's a pretty good one at that. Nothing could be finer than a couple guys gettin' together and rockin' out, especially when they all like great music! Who knew that those underground rock bands would really have an influence many years after their departure? I don't mind it at all. Sometimes it's great to be reminded of those days of yester. Hell, I'd buy 'em all beers if they rocked the local bar.

--Joseph Kyle

Great Lakes "THe Distance Between"

Ah, there's nothing like stoned-out rock. Mellow music made by talented musicians is always a-ok in my book. Sure, much of country-rock seems to be nothing more than a basic rehash of the history of the Byrds and the Bee-Gees, but if it's done well, it's easy to forgive. Great Lakes, you're forgiven. Mellow, stoned-out inspired 60s rock. That's all that you're going to find on The Distance Between. Really. There's nothing groundbreaking at all, just a bunch of folk making music. Of course, with members of such luminaries as Ladybug Transistor, Japancakes, Essex Green, Sunshine Fix, Of Montreal, Neutral Milk Hotel...well, you should pretty much know what to expect. Yup, it's kind of a E6 jam session project type of thing, and that's just fine. Not that I mind, really; those guys, for all of my general dislike of the whole E6 scene, are all great musicians.

Starting off with "Free Scene" and the "Sister City," Great Lakes eagerly puts the acid on the rock, though those are the only moments of real psychedelia. "Ever So Over" brings out what I feel to be the Great Lakes' secret weapon: the piano. The piano really is their strength, because it brings out an Elton John influence that not many musicians openly embrace. "Bead by Bead" and "This Will Be Our Year" are some of the best songs I've heard from the E6 collective, period--though "This Will Be Our Year" is a cover of the Zombies. They also do excellent covers of Mike Nesmith ("Some of Shelley's Blues") and the Bee Gees ("Morning of My Life"). At least they're honest enough to cover their influences, and they do a pretty respectable job of it as well.

I don't know about the status of Great Lakes; looking at the notes, it doesn't seem like it's an ongoing project, because the sessions stretch as far back as 1996. They've released one album, and I'm pretty sure they're a part of the Sixth Great Lake as well. Regardless of whether or not the band is a full-time project or a sometimes project, The Distance Between is a nice (albeit short) album from a group that, while not the most original, has the potential of making some really nice music.

--Joseph Kyle

January 11, 2003

The Kills "Black Rooster EP"

Wow! Black Rooster is a record that really restores my faith in music. Okay, so it doesn't do that, but it is a pretty good little debut from a very promising group. If you think that the singer of The Kills sounds familiar, that's because VV was once known as Alison, who used to belt 'em out in the really great but underrated Discount. The other half of the group is a British fellow by the name of Hotel. Other than that, there's not much to really go on, which is fine--a little mystery is always great, especially with music like this! At times, the male/female thing is eerily reminiscent of another great duo/couple, the late, great Royal Trux. While there's no lingering cry of help from the throes of drug addiction, the lo-fi blues "rock" aesthetic is certainly similar to the 'Trux.

Starting off with "Cat Claw," VV's singing is stronger, grittier than ever before. Though at times it's a bit reminiscent of that whole Riot Grrrl style, it really exists in a blues-meets-punk stratosphere that only a few have really done successfully. On"Black Rooster (Fuck and Fight)," Hotel takes over the vocal duties, and the lo-fi blues-rock bug comes out, but much, much stronger. "Wait" finds VV back on vocals, though the song's a lot slower than her previous one, and it's a lot rougher, grittier, and much more desperate than any of the other songs on the record. "Dropout Boogie" is a cover of Captain Beefheart, and is a lo-fi, very rough live recording, which, considering the kind of music they're making, it gives the whole proceeding a field-recording feel.
The last track, "Gum," is a little experimental cut, and is perhaps the only bum among the plums.

Then it's over. There's no more here for you to hear. You'll have to start all over now. Don't worry, though; Black Rooster is a pleasure that second time around. The third time, it gets even better. The fourth time, you'll want to come up with a petition for more music. The fifth time, you'll be plotting. Violently. For more music. People will die.

And oh, how we wait for that day!

--Joseph Kyle

The World/Inferno Friendship Society "Just the Right Party"

Wow--they're back! This record really slipped under my radar! I didn't think I'd ever see the day that a new World/Inferno record would be born, but hey, it's here--let's party!!!

If you don't know about The World/Inferno Friendship Society, methinks its best to go and learn yourself all about them right now. They're a cabaret group with a hint of ska. Weimar Republic ska. Oompah-band with a hint of Broadway (the hard way). James Chance meets Nick Cave at Marc Almond's birthday party is what we're talking about here. Think I'm taking journalistic liberties here? Nope. This troupe is really one of the most unclassifiable bands you've ever heard, but it's nothing if not totally enjoyable.

Just The Best Party is only their second full length in five years. All that silence had me convinced that their musical output would be limited to a pretty good album The True Story of the Bridgewater Astral League, and a slew of essential singles released right before and shortly after their debut--all of which are collected on the must-own East Coast Super Sound Punk of Today!!. To be honest, that would have been fine with me. Why? Because sometimes it's okay to stop while you're ahead, to leave the game when you're on top, and The World/Inferno Friendship Society have all the qualifications to be one of those "cool" bands twenty years from now.

Don't get me wrong; I'm totally happy that these guys are back, and Just the Best Party is further proof that they're one of the most interesting--and fun--bands around today. There are nine members in the band photo, but this band's much, much bigger in style and sound. Their sound is the whole history of cabaret, performed and informed by the history of punk rock. The World/Inferno Friendship Society mix intelligent, whip-smart humor with a vaudeville punk rock approach, which produces fun songs such as "Zen and the Art of Breaking Everything In This Room," "All The World's A Stage (Dive)." and my personal favorite, "I Wouldn't Want to Live In A World Without Grudges."

The World/Inferno Friendship Society is a band that you really have to experience to enjoy, because the records--while great, mind you--are more of a document of what proves to be a great live show. Still, Just The Best Party is indeed the best party--provided that the party's full of lush punk rockers in velvet suits and a never-ending flow of Remy Martin. Put this on at your next party--it'll flow really well between your Scott Walker and Strokes records.

--Joseph Kyle

January 10, 2003

Armstrong "Dick, The Lion Hearted"

Punk rock. Punk rock. Punk rock. Punk rock! Punk rock!! That's all Armstrong know in life, and that is all they need to know. You may remember Zach and Donivan Blair from their previous (still together?) band, the pop-punksters Hagfish. With Armstrong, they're breaking no new punk-rock ground, they're not really changing their Hagfish formula--not that they're treading water or anything like that. It's just that this whole pop-punk thing rhymes with Avril Lavigne, and that right there is the key to the mystery of why Joseph Does Not Like Most Punk Rock.

There's a more melodic edge to Armstrong's music, I'll admit--after further listens, Dick, The Lion-Hearted became more and more melodic, though it never really became less generic. That they've got Bill Stevenson (All, Descendents) behind the mixing board probably speaks volumes into Armstrong's sweet melodic edge. The problem with the breaking of Pop-Punk is that it seems like so many other bands are making music like this, some of them are better, others of them are much, much worse. As pop-punk is not really my choice of music, I really can't compare them to anyone, nor do I feel like faking it, either. Now that Punk Rock is teeny-bopper music, I've moved on. Apparently, though, many of these songs were written with Hagfish's lead singer, George Reagan, which makes me wonder if this would have been Hagfish's next record.

One exception, though: "Follow Up," the closing track is aces. It's slower, and four out of five teens will tell you it is Not Punk Rock. It's more of an Elvis Costello-style rocker ballad type of thing, and I really really like it! If Dick, the Lion-Hearted had more songs like it and the Jawbreaker-jr. "So Much for Everything" and "My Pattern," I might not have become so terribly bored by it. Still, if these guys work a little more on melodicism and keep breaking away from Punk, then they might make a really great statement, and I wouldn't feel sad about having to use "punk rock" as a pejorative.

--Joseph Kyle

Appleseed Cast "Lost Songs"

If I handed out such things, I have to say that The Appleseed Cast win my award for "most improved band." When they started off, they came across as a pretty typical Emo band. When I saw them live--which is during the time period these songs were initially written--they really just did nothing for me, coming across as a been-there done-that emo band, and I wrote them off. I wasn't the only one, either; for the most part, the kids at the show seemed bored--terribly, terribly bored.

When they released their epic Low Level Owl, I have to admit that I didn't think anything about it. I just didn't think that it would be any good. Having no expectations about what they had done was probably the best thing for me, because I was really, truly shocked by what I heard: grand, epic songs, electronic clatter, and a band who had suddenly shifted gears, leaving their past behind, and transcending the things that had brought them to that particular point.

Of course, one must realize that changes--such RADICAL changes--don't happen overnight. Excellence and originality comes ony through experimentation, try-and-fail, and a "let's see what we can do now with our equipment" type of attitude that makes original music. Songs have to be played around with, ideas have to be created and abandoned, and often times a band will go through nearly an album's worth of experiments before coming up with something truly great. Admittedly, I don't really know much about the pre-Low Level Owl Appleseed Cast, so I really cannot say if their magnum opus came out of nowhere, or if it was a gradual process.

Lost Songs is an interesting record. It's a new record, but the music's not. Most of the music here was written and initially recorded in during the time that I saw them live, which was a time of transition for the band as well, having just had a lineup change. Apparently, after listening to these songs after a few years had passed, they decided to play around with them, and eventually, Lost Songs was born. According to the liner notes, the band shake-ups eventually resulted in a clean slate music-wise. Probably a good move on their part, considering how generic they were beforehand.

Consider Lost Songs a prequel, if you will, to Low Level Owl. You really can't tell if these songs are indicitive of the changes that were to come, or are a direct result of all of the experimentations that have happened. It's impossible to know, really, how much of what you hear is "old" and how much is "new." Perhaps it's wrong to even worry about things like chronology, and simply enjoy these songs as new recordings. I know it's a moot point, really, but it's hard to understand the context--imagine listening to Radiohead's OK Computer for the first time, with Kid A and Amnesiac as your only reference points to their sound. See the problem?

Either way, for rejected works in progress, these songs make for a surprisingly great album. Indeed, if you look at it as a change in direction from a sinking band, then it's pretty impressive. There's some straightforward emo-ish kind of music here, like "Novice" and "Facing North," but you can feel that something is on the horizion. Songs like "Take" and "House on a Hill" hint at what was to come--if you can really call it a "hint," considering how new these "lost" songs are. "Peril Parts 1, 2, and 3" is my favorite--it's rocky and hard with a hint of interesting atmospheric stuff going on--indeed, like Radiohead, to a lesser extent.

While the notion of Lost Songs as an actual collection of "lost" recordings may seem tenuous at best, that ultimately shouldn't matter, for the music here stands up rather nicely. Maybe I'm just picky about things like that, but it doesn't take away from the fact that Lost Songs is an interesting document of a band at a crossroads. That they chose to abandon their past in favor of a brighter future only shows that such a bold, probably scary at the time, step was indeed the right one. Lost Songs is an interesting and strong document which shows that had their change in direction only stopped here, then it still would have been worthwhile. An interesting document, and it certainly whetts the appetite for what comes next.

--Joseph Kyle

Scenic "The Acid Gospel Experience"

This is an odd record.

Having said that, I have to admit that this is one of the most enjoyable records I've heard this year. I've enjoyed ever 73 minutes of it. Cinematic music is what we're talking about here, but it's not soundtrack music, because The Acid Gospel Experience IS the main feature. On a rainy day, you could do worse than to put this on your discman--it sounds great on stereo, but better on headphones--and curl up under a blanket with a bag of popcorn.

From the first notes of "Year of the Day," you realize that this journey is going to be a very heady one. A very stacatto guitar melts into a slow melody, and you're lifted up in to a different state of consciousness, only to be jolted out by "Lightspeed," a song that does indeed send The Acid Gospel Experience into hyperdrive. A driving beat that's reminiscent of Stereolab is melded together with a rogue sitar and other kinds of noisemakers to create a krautrock Indian raga jam session. As cheap as it is to say this, you really must hear this song in order to fully appreciate it.

There are tons of other highlights to be found on this simple record. Harold Budd makes a guest appearance on "Under a Wing," playing ambient Piano as only he can. I'm also fond of the fact that this is an album with plenty of nooks and crannies, each with sonic treasures to enjoy, such as when "Lightcomb," a sad little sitar-led drone, just ends abruptly, leading into the ambient blues beat of "The Spheres." The epic final number, "A Journey Through The Outer Reaches of Inner Space," is so grand and majestic and beautiful that on first listen, it feels as if it could easly stand alone as a full-length album--though it also feels much, much shorter than its nineteen minutes!For real fun, though, place this album on "random play," and you'll create a record that's the same, yet different--and yet still sounds right that way!

The Acid Gospel Experience is one of the most surprising albums I've heard. So utterly complex, you'd be hard-pressed to notice that, at the end of the day, it's a rather simple, minimalistic record. Bruce Licher is to be commended with completing this record, which was originally intended as part of Darla Records' Bliss Out series, but then discovered that Darla had lost interest. Too bad, but not really; it just meant they spent more time on developing such an awesome final product. Good things come to those who wait, and The Acid Gospel Experience was certainly worth the six-year wait.

It must be mentioned, too, that the packaging of this record is a sleek, unique design called a discfolio, made from what looks like one piece of cardboard! It's really not a surprise, though, that the packaging itself is a work of art; Licher has made a bigger name for himself as the head of his own design company, Independent Projects Records, who have designed some very beautiful artwork for bands like Polvo, Stereolab, and Camper Van Beethoven, as well as his own bands and those on his label. It really is no surprise that a man responsible for such beautiful, intricate art would produce music just as beautiful.

--Joseph Kyle

January 08, 2003

Interview: Crooked Fingers

Crooked Fingers is the brainchild of Eric Bachmann, former leader of those wonderful blue-coller indie rockers Archers of Loaf. They had the sense to know when to quit, and decided not to be damn fools about keeping it going. Crooked Fingers couldn't possibly be opposite of their slacker indie-rock anthems. Quiet, sad, thought-provoking, even a little bit disturbed are all adjectives that aptly describe the music he makes now.

It was indeed a pleasure for our Kyle Sowash, our Ohio correspondant, to sit down with one of his Rock Music heroes. I'm sure, in the process, a few beers were killed. We're being honest about that, please don't hate us, we're talkin' workin' class folk here...

Hold on, let me get my list of questions to ask you....so...Eric Bachmann. How are things?

Good. Hold on. Let me get my list of answers to questions.

I hear you moved to Seattle.

Yeah. I moved to Seattle in January, and, well, i really don’t know how it is yet, because I got there, we rehearsed for a couple weeks, and then I left. I haven’t found a place to live yet...so when i get back in June or July or whatever, i’ll look for a place. It should be fine, i know a lot of people there.

Well, we’re glad you’re in Ohio tonight. I mean, you haven’t been in this part of Ohio in a long time.

Yeah, I think it’s been about a year and a half, maybe two years ago or so, out at little brother’s...

Well, hopefully we can show you such a rockin’ time tonight that we can convince you to move to Columbus. What do you think of Ohio anyway?

I love it. I think it’s great. It’s got a lot of rock and roll history...Chrissie Hynde, Bob Pollard, ya know...uh......Nine Inch Nails, right?

Yup. And Marylin Manson.

Right. Right. And Scrawl----they were great.

Yeah, they broke up, but Marcy Mays still lives here and plays out some..

Well, you can’t be a band forever.

Yes, but it’s people like you, Eric Bachmann ,that are still doing it, that keep the dream alive for the rest of us. So on this tour, I guess on the first part of it, you’re just headlining yourselves. This is a pretty small place, are you guys purposely playing smaller venues, cuz this place is really small, and I’m pretty sure it’s gonna sell out.....

Well, I mean, we’re not really a huge band or anything. I mean, this is normal for us. When we go to New York and Chicago and stuff, there’s a lot more people in those cities, so we’d naturally have to play bigger rooms, but..yeah, we’ve been on our own for this part of the tour. Tomorrow we meet up with Mason Jennings in Cleveland and then we’ll be opening for him for a few shows.

I’ve never heard of that guy.

Oh, I hadn’t either. But they’re super people. They’ve been really nice to us, getting ready for this tour, which is ....rare. But yeah, they’re cool. See, the people that book them and the people that book us, thought that their fans would really like us and that our fans would really like them.

i see you brought some new people along.

Yeah, well. Jo’s been with me for a few years now, and now Dov plays the drums, and the White Wolf plays the other guitar.

I thought his name was Barton.

He has many names. Barton Carroll, the White Wolf, and others i won’t go into right now.

So this Red Devil Dawn album is now out. It’s apparently good stuff, that’s what all the cool hipster rags are saying. How do you feel about all the Neil Diamond and Bruce Springsteen comparisons being made?

It feels great, man. I mean, I hear people saying things like: “What’s up with this, it sounds like Springsteen, mixed with Neil Diamond and Tom Waits. And that’s great. All three of those people are legendary. It feels great to be compared to them. It’s better than being compared to some washed up 90’s indie rock band, haha!

I think it’s great if an artist is able to list some musical influences when asked, and the listener can actually hear it in the music.

I agree, I mean, well, nobody wants to be completely derivative. I mean, I don’t really feel like I’m ripping anybody off or anything.

Is Merge Records treating you ok?

Of course. Of course. I’ve known Mac and Laura forever. And ya know, I loved WARM as well. It was great. Maybe I’ll do more music with them in the future, but it’s just I’d known mac and laura forever, and I’ve only ever put one 7” out on their label all this time.

You’ve only been with merge for less than a year, and you’ve already gotten an ep, two albums, and two compliation appearances. You’re making up for lost time there, bucko.

Yeah, well I had a lot of stuff.

So, the first thing you put out was Reservoir Songs, and I remember reading somewhere that you were going to do a Reservoir Songs Volume Two...when are we gonna hear THAT???

It’s just that, the thing I realized about that ep after we put it out was that , and I kind of thought this before I put it out, but I just thought I’d take a chance......was that now people are expecting them live, and well, now I don’t really enjoy playing those covers live as much as I do the new covers, because they’re so...expected. We do a lot of new covers, but I don’t know if it needs to be documented, because the whole thing about seeing it is that you don’t expect it; When you expect it, it’s not as great as it could be, it’s kind of like that whole coming out into the crowd thing. People are asking why we don’t come out into the crowd much anymore. If we did that every time, it’d be a gimmick, the reason it worked was because it was spur of the moment, and we did it and it was cool, and we’ll do it again, but not...not., we don't want it to become a “schtick”.

Right, I could see how that might get old. You did this soundtrack for this movie Ball of Wax as well....did the movie ever come out?

Man, I haven’t even seen the movie. I mean, I saw the scenes that I wrote the parts for, but.....i mean, they just finished it recently. Jason Davis, one of the actors in the film, I saw him in L.A. He’s a friend of mine, and he said they’ve got a distributor, so it should come out...soon

Any other soundtracks on the backburner?

I got fired from one.

Oh really?

Yeah, it was an educational experience. The director got fired, so I got fired. But then the director got rehired, and there was a bigger budget, a lot of money was involved...had some some bigger actors in it, Terrence Stamp was in it, there was a lot of money involved. I think they put Anita Baker on there. I’m like “Why the fuck did you ask me to score this film if you wanted Anita Baker in there?” but that certainly makes sense as to why I shouldn’t have scored the film. They paid me, it wasn’t like a rude thing or anything. I mean, everybody got fired, but the director got back on. I had writen some of the music, but they took it out, because they thought it was too weird. And then they put Anita Baker on it. I mean, it’s a sappy love story. Well, it wasn’t a sappy love story on the director’s cut..they sent out a director’s cut with my music on it, and then they said “we’re done with the director, we’re done with everyone involved” and then they edited the whole thing. In that process they took out my music and added in Anita Baker. Well, I got paid; it’s not like they really fucked me over or anything.

No more soundtracks lined up though?

No, I’m not gonna do it for a while. I’ve got to record an Azure Ray record in June, and that kind of work is hard to get. I wish i could do more of it, but...

Any job prospects when you get back?

Well, right now I’m doing this...and I don’t know, we’ll see how things go.

This seems like it beats working in restaurants.

Well, that’s great money, especially when you’re still in school.

Well, depending where you work. The clientele at the restaurant at which I serve seem to be a little on the not-so-classy side, so, i make about enough to pay the bills.

Yeah, see, I’ve never waited. I’ve bussed.

(sarcastically) Oh, I fucking love my job. Ok, I know you gota go do soundcheck so let me ask this one last quesiton: what is next for Eric Bachmann???

Well, I gotta finish this tour up. We’re touring through April, and then I have to get a new address. Then, I'm recording an Azure Ray record in June, and we’ll probably go out in the fall, and I’ll be writing new stuff all that time. I’m always writing. After that, I’ll start putting together the new record. I’ve got some songs going that I’m still finishing up and stuff, so..

Well, sir, it’s good to see you again. Thanks for your time, I know you do a lot of these interview things,

My pleasure.

I guess I’m gonna run home and eat a frozen pizza before the show. I shall see you later on tonight.

Yeah, thanks. I’ll see you tonight.

That night, Crooked Fingers rocked Columbus, Ohio, in that singer-songwriter-rock kind of way...

--Kyle Sowash

Static 'eject your mind'

This, dear readers, is a record you need in your collection. I'll admit that I don't have the best knowledge of the whole "electronica" scene. It just never has appealed to me; so much of it seems like egghead music made by folks who need a soundtrack for their smugness and music that only they could really enjoy. Harsh words, yes, but there's truth to what I say. And I'll be honest about this, too: if I had a better knowledge of electronica, I wouldn't mind. Nobody's ever died from too much learnin'.

Over the last year, though, I've had a few forays into the "scene," and I've come back with a few records I've enjoyed. Eject Your Mind is a record that I've recently picked up; I know it's rather old, release wise, but does music change after a year's time? Anyway, I picked this record up, because the sample I heard, of "Tsim Sha Tsui," was a very lovely song, even with the bleeps and bloops (or robot farts, as I'm wont to call them) in the melody--even a little bit of toe-tapping rhythm for you dancers out there.

Eject Your Mind is an interesting mix of musical styles. There are some moments of dancefloor bliss ("Northrop"), of thoughtful electronic meditation music ("Crushing," "Resonance"), pretty ballads ("Sometimes I'm Sad For A Few Seconds"), and some lethargic singing courtesy of Ronald Lippok (Tarwater, To Rococo Rot). All of the songs on Eject Your Mind are computer-generated, too, just in case you were worried about any real musical instruments being harmed. If I had one, I'd place this CD in a ten-disc changer, as I think the songs are better served on their own.

While I can't says what's what about this kind of music, I likes what I likes, and I knows what I knows, and I really have enjoyed the hours I've spent with Eject Your Mind, and that's all that matters, isn't it? If you like this sort of thing, then this is the sort of thing you'd like, ya know?

--Joseph Kyle

January 07, 2003

Cath Carroll "The Gondoliers of Ghost Lake"

The first time I heard the name Cath Carroll was in relation to Unrest's tribute song. I remember the record-store guy raving about Carroll; "She's a lot like Nico," he enthused, referring to True Crime Motel, her album on Unrest leader's Mark Robinson's record label. Invoking the name of the ice goddess instantly piqued my curiosity, but True Crime Motel didn't sound a thing like Nico. I still liked it, though, but it wasn't the grand statement I'd been led to believe.

It certainly didn't prepare me for England Made Me, which could have/should have been a huge-selling record, with its breathy, Sade-meets-Everything But The Girl style of intelligent, adult contemporary style. The reissue of England Made Me was most welcome, and that it did nothing chartwise really highlights Factory's failure in those morning-after years. Listening to it now, you're really struck by how grand and how talented Carroll is, and what she could have very easily been--a talented singer with intelligence behind the voice.

It would be unfair, of course, to compare the big-budget England Made Me with Carroll's latest album, The Gondoliers of Ghost Lake. True talent doesn't need a six-figure budget to justify its beauty, or, indeed, to make a beautiful song. The Gondoliers of Ghost Lake certainly sounds like a million bucks, even if it didn't cost that much to make. Carroll posseses a golden-chill of a voice, one that could sing the alphabet and leave you anxiously waiting to see how it ends. With a voice like that, though, it really doesn't matter if you've spent millions of dollars or hundreds of dollars--it's still going to come through.

To Carroll's credit, she's not trying to relive her former glories. Instead, she's doing what she does best, and that is making dark pop songs. There are obvious hints, of course, but those moments never overwhelm the album. While "Mystified" directly recalls the driving beat of "Train You're On," it's about the only place you'd notice a direct connection to England Made Me. The Gondoliers of Ghost Lake runs the gamut of musical styles, from the balladry of "7/7" the overcast pop of "The Divine Miss A," "Falling Over Tomorrow" and "Duvant Junior Prayers," and the atmospheric, heavy-breather of "Leaving Song," and Carroll never delivers anything less than her best. Of course, special mention should be made of Carroll's husband, producer Kerry Kelekovich, because his backing work is just as much a part of what's made Gondoliers a beautiful record. His musical abilities and production skills have given Carroll a full-band backing, when in fact he was the only musician backing her up in the studio! Brilliant production.

The Gondoliers of Ghost Lake is a proudly defiant record; it flows seamlessly and beautifully from beginning to end, uncompromising in its quality and its beauty. Carroll deserves an award for perseverence, and the hard work spent on this record really paid off. If you like pop music spiked with intelligence and chased with truly beautiful singing, then you have no excuse for not seeking out The Gondoliers of Ghost Lake. The mere fact that a record like this exists proves to me that some people out there still have faith in pop music, and it gives me hope that others will follow suit. Quietly innovative and always seductive, Carroll's an unknown and untapped pop goldmine. Now that you have been informed, you now have no excuse to bemoan the state of pop music.

--Joseph Kyle

January 05, 2003

Creeper Lagoon "Remember the Future"

This little EP comes as a bit of a shock. Their last album, Take Back The Universe and Give Me Yesterday was a slice of pretty standard, by-the-book alterna-schlock, seemingly ignoring the charm of their debut album, I Become Small and Go. I still wasn't convinced that Creeper's changes were necessarily their doing; after all, I'm sure Dreamworks doesn't keep their brand-new artists on a loose leash. With Remember the Future, the band seems once again to walk away from their previous record, in favor of a more subtle sound. Instead of the guitarworks of their album, they've gone for a much mellower, melancholy sound, all of which have a synth-based heartbeat. They've not gone new wave; they're just experimenting on record, which is perfectly fine with me.

Of course, when your record starts off with a beautiful and sad song like "So Little to Give," it's hard not to be charmed. Self-depreciation aside, the song moves on with a nice little acoustic guitar riff and a singular drum beat, offset with synths, harmony, and a distant, mornful string section. "The Way it Goes" switches the guitars out for a piano, yet the sadness remains. "There's a New Girl" and "Kisses and Pills" alters the sound a little bit, dropping the obvious melancholy for a little bit of hope and a sound that recreates what will happen when Nick Drake rises from the dead and kills Stuart Murdoch with kisses and a drum machine. The only fast-paced rocker on Remember the Future is the closing "Crisis," and while it's similar to what Creeper Lagoon's done before, it sure does stick out like a sore thumb among all the sadness!

Remember the Future is a sad little record, all the songs sound like breakup numbers, and I think that there's something to the all-black artwork. I wouldn't want my heartbreak-soundtrack music any other way. Good job, Creepers! All in all, a nice little record that proves that though some of Creeper Lagoon's soul might have been lost in their last record, they've still not lost the magic that made them the next big thing of 1998.

--Joseph Kyle

January 04, 2003

Various Artists "Tiger Style Records Artist Sampler 2002-2003"

Dear prospective indie-label owner,

Hi there, and thank you for showing interest in starting a record label. Congratulations are in order! You've taken a great risk, and I hope that your decision proves successful for you. There's no set pattern for running your record label. Remember, though, that simply having the resources doesn't mean that your records will prove successful, nor should being poor and struggling preclude your label from having future best-sellers.

Instead of pontificating on business structures and philosphical ideas, I'd like to draw your attention to one label in particular, Tiger Style Records. This tiny label has, over the course of its rather brief history (three years this year--happy birthday!) transformed from vanity project to nationally-renowned music buisness "playa." (Yeah, we know they're funded by the evil mega conglomorate business ogre Insound, but please, pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.) Successful and independent and releasing a hell of a lot of great music-- how has this tiny, three-men-and-a-little-kitty-log operation proved so successful?

It's simple, really.

Along with this letter, you were provided a complimentary copy of Tiger Style Record's Artist Sampler 2002-2003. I hope you have taken a few minutes to listen to this record. In fact, if you haven't, please set this letter aside for seventy-eight minutes and take a listen. You might want to get something to eat or drink beforehand. You might want to get a book to read. Maybe turn on your computer, or "log-on" to the internet. I'll wait for you. Promise. I've got to catch up on email, and then I'm going to cruise by my LiveJournal Friends page, so don't worry about me, I'll be fine.

So, did you enjoy it? Good! I knew you would. If you chart the release pattern for Tiger Style, you'll notice a label that constantly changes. From the early years, the label set itself apart with interesting and quiet music from bands like Her Space Holiday, Ida and American Analog Set, to odd art music with Aspera, Libraness, Tristeza, and The Letter E. A great start, indeed, and all of the records were well-received.

But here's what you should notice about Tiger Style Records--they never stand still, and they haven't been caught up in one style of music. "Pigeonholed" is the popular term for what they're avoiding. While they've stayed true to those kinds of styles, they've also added some sensitive, intelligent indie-rock (764-Hero), soft yet tough folk-rock (K), and loud, rough and tough rock music (Lo-Hi, Rye Coalition). They've even invested in releasing two archival records, a compilation by Speedking and a boxed set for no-wave jazz-skronker James Chance. Their future looks good, too, with the post-hardcore screaming of Dead Low Tide, the moody and dark rock of The Dears (both of whom have tracks on the sampler, my friend).

There's no guarantee that your new record label will be successful, my friend, but take a lesson from Tiger Style, and that is release music you love, don't be afraid of crossing genres in the process, and have fun! And hey, if you've liked the sampler, and aren't familiar with their music, I'd recommend you check out some of those fine releases--and if you are familiar with them, pass it on to a friend!

Joseph Kyle
Some indie-rock music-journo type

January 02, 2003

Owen "No Good For No one Now"

Things don't always work out. Sometimes you don't get the girl. Sometimes you don't get the job. Hey, it happens to the best of us. It's okay to be broken-hearted. It's okay to hurt. The secret to regaining your strength after a disappointment or hearbreak is to understand that it's okay to feel hurt or sad. It's okay to cry. It's okay to show emotion. It's part of the healing process. It's just how you deal with your emotions that matter. You can talk and talk and talk and talk about it, you can be bitter, or you can work on healing yourself. Instead of wallowing in self-pity, look at yourself, and try to figure out what happened--what went wrong, what did they do wrong, what did you do wrong, and it's from that point that true healing begins. Expressing yourself in an artistic manner is a rather excellent form of therapy. And that's not just some music journalist's opinion--that's historical, baby.

Mike "Hi I'm in a one-man band called Owen" Kinsella's had something happen to him, and listening to No Good for No One Now, I'm pretty sure it's heartbreak-related. But unlike many other folkie-types who sing songs about the one that got away, Kinsella actually seems to understand that lyrical content is only one aspect to making a great, sad song. The man's got a pretty varied, interesting, and experimental history, for sure--having been in Cap'n Jazz, Joan of Arc, and Owls, as well as leading his own group, American Football. So the overall sound of No Good for No One Now is really no surprise--and often, such as on "Everyone Feels Like You" and "Take Care of Yourself" there's as much focus on the music as there is on the words--which is good, too, because it makes the music a bit more memorable. Owen was good, but it suffered from a touch of monotony. With more focus on the music, No Good for No One Now is a more memorable record.

What makes Owen better than most "my girlfriend just left me" kind of music is that it's pretty obvious that he puts as much (if not more, perhaps?) time into the music as he does his lyrics. "Deceptively simple" seems to be the best definition of what Kinsella's made. On the surface, No Good for No One Now is your standard emo folk record, with sad, intelligent lyrics and such. Scratch the surface, though, and you're going to hear some mighty interesting music--jazzy, atmospheric folk music that's reminiscent of Joan of Arc and American Football. Ever heard a heavy metal guitar solo in the middle of a sadcore song? Just listen to "The Ghost of What Should Have Been" and you will. Pure Hesh, I tell you!

Kinsella seems heartbroken, but there's a shining ray of hope to be found here. Can't put my finger on it, but there's something in No Good for No One Now that says, "hey, it's really going to be okay. This is that hangover you have when you're left by someone that you didn't really love that much anyway. You feel like crap, but you know that it's for the best, and you're going to be better." No Good for No One Now is a great record for getting over it--and those mixtapes you want to make for your broken-hearted friends.

--Joseph Kyle