April 26, 2003

Crawling Chaos "The Gas CHair"

I have to ask a question about Crawling Chaos: what were they thinking? They were a band on Factory, though I seriously doubt that they were on anyone's mind when it came time for the Romantic Rememberences of Tony Wilson. There's really not much information on them, and there's really no need for any, either. What's to say? They were weird. Sure, it's easy to give them a little bit of credit twenty years after, and the record certainly sounds dated, but still--to be the oddest-sounding band twenty years ago was quite an accomplishment.

And I think I may have answered my own question right there.

At the time Factory referred to Crawling Chaos as "a cross between Status Quo and Orchestral Manoeuvres," but those words come off as rather vague, because there's really no way you can totally describe this. Sure, there are little bits and pieces that sound like things going on at the time, such as "Macabre Royale" and "Creamo Coyl," but the oddness that follows really, truly, is one without precedence. Crawling Chaos is not for the dour, humorless type--which, sadly, describes many of the art-school types who are currently buying into the revival. (It also explains why this record--a rarity in its own right--never sold at one Austin record store. Perhaps the "this is the worst Factory record EVER" tag didn't help!)

That's not to say that Crawling Chaos isn't funny, because it is. Terribly funny. I know that I fell out laughing at "Guinness," and I had a big smile on my face for the rest of the album. As this is a lovingly-reissued record from those historic-minded folk at LTM, The Gas Chair reissue also contains Crawling Chaos' first single, "Sex Machine," one of the funniest, dirtiest, and disturbingly wonderful songs you'll ever hear. If any record deserves the lazy music-writer's phrase "you really have to hear it to appreciate it," it's this record. It has no equal, before or after. Of course, there's also the faint scent of "this was a sneaky side project from someone who wishes to remain anonymous," too--though, for once, a LTM reissue is quite vague in its liner notes, opting for choice quotes from confounded reviewers. Oh well, a laugh's a laugh, and quite witty you are, Crawling Chaos!

The Gas Chair isn't a Factory record that the "i'm into the Factory scene even though I wasn't born yet" hipsters barely-20 kids of today will be mentioning anytime soon. I played it for one--who shall remain nameless--and they thought I was joking with them. Their young nose turned up quiite quickly, and they couldn't make it through track five--they preferred the Wake and Section 25, after all. It's too bad, really, because "Breaking Down"--the last song on the original album--sounds an awful lot like modern American indie-rock.

Perhaps they're still ahead of their time.

--Joseph Kyle

April 23, 2003

Caribbean "History's First Know-It-All"

Four years ago, a couple of ex-members of Washington, DC bands Smart Went Crazy and the Townies formed the Caribbean. They wrote and recorded their songs by sending Zip disks to each other through the mail. Their first album-length collaboration, Verse by Verse, was one of the most undeservedly overlooked albums of 2001. That album demonstrated a gift for both melody and experimentation that was positively Beatlesque. I don’t mean to imply that the Caribbean sound anything like the Fab Four, though. The Beatles’ songs were a combination of raucous R&B and traditional English music-hall balladry, and their production tricks came from tape-based musique concrete. The Caribbean, on the other hand, runs pretty indie-rock songs through computer manipulations that were unthinkable before the advent of IDM. (It doesn’t come as much of a surprise that German label Tomlab, the same label that gave us the Books’ amazing Thought for Food, has licensed this album for release in Europe.) However, four decades later the song remains the same: you’ve got to love a group that can write good pop songs AND make them sound weird. The Caribbean definitely fit the bill, and though they’re far from being Fab, their sophomore album History’s First Know-It-All definitely takes a couple more steps in the right direction.

The average listener might consider it pretentious for a group to credit one of its members in the liner notes, not with vocals or instruments, but with “visual literacy.” However, it must be acknowledged that the Caribbean puts the same care into the production of its music that a cinematographer would into one of his/her films. Take, for instance, opening track “Oahu Sugar Strike,” whose introduction sounds like a crappy field recording of the band playing the song live in someone’s kitchen. All of the low frequencies have been wiped out of the mix, and you can hear all kinds of ambient interruptions: crackling microphones, a person handling dishes, someone fiddling with a shortwave radio, etc. At the two-minute mark, though, someone strums a tremolo guitar, and the rest of the band is pushed into the front of the mix. It’s an effect not unlike a black-and-white movie transforming into Technicolor at its most climactic moment. Even after the song’s sudden increase in fidelity, though, the same noises that disrupted the introduction pop up now and again. The Caribbean never lets the listener simply bask in the song’s beauty, and their refusal actually helps the song. These songs are so subtle and unassertive that without the sonic gizmos, they could easily become mere background music.

Moments like this pop up all over History’s First Know-It-All. The Caribbean knows that even the slightest touches can radically transform a song. Listen to how “Bulbs and Switches” switches from real drums to programmed drums at precisely the right moments. Listen to how “The Requirements” fades into nothingness after drowning itself in a sea of droning harmonicas and crowd noises. Listen to how “Perish the Thought” derives most of its tension simply from the absence of a bass guitar, or even how the drumming does a credible impersonation of the frenetic rhythms of drum-and-bass without drawing attention to itself. Listen to the entire record on headphones to absorb all of the little tricks and interruptions that pop up every couple of seconds. It’ll take a while, though. Once you’re done doing that, then notice how firmly rooted each song on this record is in a strong, indelible melody, even as the Caribbean steadfastly avoids obvious choruses, or throws odd chords into otherwise standard progressions.

I only have two quibbles with this record. One is that “It’s Unlikely to Settle the Difference” is, hands down, the album’s weakest link. The first half of the song is little more than its title repeated ad nauseam, and the second half is an acoustic noodle that bears little relation to what came before it. The Tomlab edition of this album replaces this song with a different track, “The Coward’s Approach,” which (although I haven’t heard it) I’m sure is much better. This might be the only argument I can give American readers for shelling out money for the pricey imported version. The other complaint is that singer Michael Kentoff often sings TOO quietly, as if he’s afraid to get spit on the microphone. On the otherwise great “Annunciator Zone,” he almost ruins the album’s best melody by straining his voice to whisper the high notes instead of actually belting them out (which he does well on a couple of other songs, most notably the album’s title track). There are songs on this album in which the background vocals are more assertive than Kentoff’s, which isn’t a good thing. If he can either get some voice training or some self-confidence, the Caribbean’s third album should be a sure thing!

---Sean Padilla

Imitation Electric Piano "Trinity Neon"

Imitation Electric Piano is the brainchild of Simon Johns, who also serves in Stereolab. Gee, not that you would ever know that by listening to Trinity Neon. Okay, I'm being sarcastic, but I'm also being truthful. The apple doesn't fall too far from the tree, but is that really something worthy of complaint? Is it right to be critical of a band who makes music that sounds like his main gig, especially when his day-job is one that's terribly rewarding?
I certainly can't complain.

Of course, you really couldn't listen to Imitation Electric Piano without thinking about Stereolab. The expectations that come along with side projects must be annoying for musicians, especially when their main project is much-loved. Artists can't expect their audience to forgo such feelings; it's a part of the game, and a part of the nature of being a fan. There's plenty of Stereolabness to be found here--it hits you square in the face from the opening "Gin Lane," and sure, "An Hour Is Sixty Minutes Too Long" might sound familar, but that's okay. If you wanted to be snarky about it, you could say that Imitation Electric Piano is what Stereolab would sound like if Simon ran the show. Though that might seem a tad unfair, it rings true with every listen.

But does it really matter??

No, not really.

Considering Johns' musical background, I really like the fact that Imitation Electric Piano doesn't come off as terribly self-indulgent and that Trinity Neon never sounds forced. Instead of falling into the "this is our side project, let's go crazy" trap, the music Johns makes sounds right. Imitation Electric Piano are true to themselves, from the mellow "Chronicle of a Split Fortold" or the relaxing "Emphatic Yet Melodic" to the funky, silly "Theme for an Electronic Piano." None of that sickly side-project crap-trap here!

I'd rather live in a world where there was an Imitation Stereolab than to live with no Stereolab at all. Trinity Neon is an album of one sonic treasure after another, and just when you think that they can't get any mellower, somehow they find a way to lower your blood pressure even further. How mellow is it? It's so mellow that when Johns sings, you don't really notice, because the music behind him is taking you to a new level of coolness. And any band, regardless of the origins of their originality, wins MAJOR points in my book for using a Hammered Dulcimer ("King's Evil").

The world needs a relaxing balm for tense times, and Imitation Electric Piano have graciously stepped up to the plate. Trinity Neon is a great record; it's complex music made quite simple, and it's the perfect soundtrack music for the upcoming summer. A more pleasant record I have yet to hear this year.

--Joseph Kyle

April 22, 2003

Plush "Fed"

Plush's Fed is going to go down in rock history as indie-rock's "great lost album." See, rumor has it that the recording budget for Fed was so high (upper five figures is what I've heard) that their label, Drag City, refused to release it--and nobody else would touch it, either, because they couldn't compensate Liam Hayes for his effort. Only the Japanese label After Hours was willing to put it out, insuring that those who would appreciate it would either not be able to find it, or would be stuck with paying at least about 10 dollars more than what they would normally for a record.

Personally, I'm glad that After Hours took the time to relase Fed, and I'll be totally honest in saying that I had no problem whatsoever paying a pretty penny for it on import. How could I possibly complain? This is one of the best albums of orchestrated pop-rock that I've heard in ages, especially when you consider that orchestra pop is in short, short supply in 2003. About the only other place you're going to hear this kind of pop music is if you buy the reissued/remastered Harry Nilsson or Scott Walker collections (which I also highly recommend).

Really, though, I have yet to hear a record this year--or even since I started Mundane Sounds nearly two years ago--that sounds like it should have an orange RCA record label on it. In my mind, I'm still not totally convinced that Fed isn't an artifact from 1974 and that Hayes has been fudging about his age. Lush, thick and warm, Plush certainly lives up to its name--and then some. Hayes has certainly made the record of his career, and has put the also wonderful More You Becomes You to shame. And while I would never justify an artist going bankrupt making a record that will almost certainly wither away in obscurity, I also must add that I wish more artists would take take the time and INVEST in their music and their art.

Starting the album with "Whose Blues" was an odd decision. It's easily the weakest track, the only time that Fed falters--it's a five minute blues-rocker that just doesn't really fit in with the flow of the album. It's not bad, mind you; it just seems to be quite out of place at the beginning of the record. I bet if it was programmed later into the record, it wouldn't be as "bad," either. Wonder why Fedsounds so good (and cost so much to make)? Take a look at the list of performers on Fed, and you'll understand where the money went. He hired the best of the best when it came time to record, and it certainly shows. From Steve Albini to John McEntire and Rian Murphy to a huge orchestra accompaniment--when you put that much work into your record, it's gonna sound good. And Fed sounds damn good.

Fed is an utterly magical record, with every song being a winner. Sure, that's sloppy and vague journalistic writing on my part, but I really cannot think of any other words to say. From the mellowed vibe of "No Education," "What'll We Do" and "Have it All" to the orchestra-rocked out "I've Changed My Number" and "Greyhound Bus Station," Fed explores the possibility of rock music and orchestrated pop backing, and it sounds wonderful. Never kitschy or bombastic, it's tasteful in a way that's not been seen since Scott 4 or Nilsson Schmilsson.

I just hope that Hayes' experience with Fed doesn't embitter him, or makes him want to give up music entirely. I wouldn't blame him for doing so, but do we really need a highly talented pop musician turning his back on the industry, denying his talent to the world, and leaving folks like me wondering why? One Scott Walker is enough. Fed is evidence that Hayes should keep on going, problems be damned. Maybe it will be released soon here, maybe not; either way, it's still one of the best records you'll (n)ever hear.

(PS. I never do this, but Parasol is currently having a major sale. Though I know he needs the money, I also want you to hear this record. You need it. You need to hear what a great record sounds like.)

--Joseph Kyle

April 21, 2003

Gigolo Aunts "Pacific Ocean Blues"

The band's name is from a Syd Barrett song, and the name of their album is taken from a Dennis Wilson album...do these guys love one (or two)-album wonders or what? Well, looking at the cover of the Gigolo Aunt's newest album, you might think they were trying to make the record Dennis Wilson never made. I know that's what I was expecting. They've served his memory well, mind you; after all, he was one of the men who wrote "You Are So Beautiful," and if you've ever heard his solo album, you'll know that his genius was never appreciated.

Gigolo Aunts are survivors of that bloody "alternative-rock" era, and perhaps it's more of a surprise that they're still around. It's not really surprising, though, that after ten years, their sound has matured into a warm, sunny, positive power-pop with just a hint of that seventies-era singer-songwriter style. While I personally hoped to hear a hint or two of the late, great Dennis Wilson, Pacific Ocean Blues bears more than a passing resemblence to the Posies, but only in the best of ways--mainly due to the harmonies that happen with no warning.

What makes Pacific Ocean Blues nice is the balance between mellow pop and harder rock. Dave Gibbs and Steve Hurley, Gigolo Aunts' songwriting team, can write a mean hook, and I'm sure their collaboration prevents the band from delving into the blandness that often comes hand in hand with power-pop. They have the ability to write a great song, reminiscent of other great songwriting teams: Lennon/McCartney, Auer/Stringfellow, Ham/Evans, and Wilson/Love. "Even Though (The One Before The Last)," "Only You," and "Maybe the Change Will Do Us Good" rival most anything that these other songwriting teams produced.

Like a visit to the beach, Pacific Ocean Blues is a blast of fresh air, as taken from the California coastline. The one thing that makes me sad about this record is that the times have changed so much since these guys first showed up, making an audience for these guys very, very small. Too bad, because the world would really enjoy this record. Grown-ups like music, too, and this record is for them. Gigolo Aunts would fit in quite well with the whole World Cafe radio crowd, and hopefully they'll be on there soon.

--Joseph Kyle

April 18, 2003

Walt Kelly & Norman Monath "Songs Of The Pogo"

This is a historic little record. Do you remember Pogo? Maybe not, but you probably remember one of his most famous lines: "We have met the enemy, and he is us." Pogo was a fun little guy, a possum who lived in the Okefenokee, and often had some very insightful things to say. He was a little bit before my time, but I do vaguely remember him, even if I didn't understand what he was all about.

Back in the late 1950s, Pogo creator Walt Kelly met with Norman Monath, a Renaissance man who was big in the publishing world. Their friendship led to collaboration, and thus was born Pogo's only album, Songs Of The Pogo, which was released in 1956. The music is fun, big-band style, almost Disney-like, but with a more intelligent bent. What makes this Walt better than the more famous Walt, though, are the songs--they're poems, not songs, and they're odd and absurd and nonsense and reminiscent of what would soon come from the minds of both John Lennon and Shel Silverstein.

As a bonus, Reaction has added two later records, and a few unreleased tapes. The other two Pogo-related records--two seven-inch singles, "Can't" and "No" date from 1969. These are somewhat different than the album; they're narrative tales read by Kelly, with moments of song, and are quite funny. I think I vaguely remember one of these records from my own childhood, but I can't really be sure. One of the outtakes sounds like a lost Daniel Johnston song, which scores major points with me! These other tracks are of lower sound quality, but have been added for historical interest.

Songs Of The Pogo is one interesting little time capsule. There are loads of interesting and insightful sleeve notes, putting a historic spin on the songs. Reaction has fully reproduced the artwork, and have also included the lyrics, which serve quite well on their own. You can really tell that this was a labor of love for Reaction, and it makes me happy to know that some record labels still care about what they release--even if it's an odd little curiosity like Songs Of The Pogo. I will fully admit that I'm a sucker for children's music. When it's interesting, intelligent, and mentally stimulating as these songs are, I'm left with a happy, warm glow inside. While you might not know of Pogo, this would be a good place to start, as you'll feel like you've always known that little possum from Okefenokee Swamp.

--Joseph Kyle

Everything But the Girl "Like The Deserts Miss the Rain"

I've always had a soft spot for Everything But the Girl. They've been making interesting and always pretty music since the early 1980s, and have been much-loved for it. They had a super-massive hit in 1996 with "Missing," and it seems like that's all they're known for in America. Too bad, because their music is some of the most enjoyable pop music EVER. I'd like to think that the "masses" had taken them seriously, but perhaps that blame should be placed on their record label, too--pumping for singles, ignoring the talent.

Like The Deserts Miss The Rain isn't a greatest hits record. It's not really an odds-and-sods record, either. It's Tracey Thorn and Ben Watt's hand-picked favorites from their career, and as such, it's a really, really nice collection--and it really makes a case for Everything But The Girl's place in pop history. While there have been a few greatest hits collections, those records have seemed a bit too perfunctory, sticking to the singles, which weren't always the best representation of what they are good at.

Though Tracey Thorn's singing and Ben Watt's genius musical backing are certainly strong points, but Everything But The Girl's greatest strength would have to be variety. Simply take a look at their pop career. Both of them had solo projects in the early 1980s--Watt's album was a folky affair, and Thorn was in the lo-fi girl group Marine Girls, and also recorded her own solo, folk-pop album. As Everything But the Girl, they've made records that have been: Indie-Pop, Jazz, Adult Contemporary, Britpop, and Electronica. They've sounded like the Smiths and Bacharach; they've made music that's perfect for the club on Saturday night and for the hangover on Sunday morning.

Though Like The Deserts Miss the Rain is an overview of their entire career, the majority of the songs are from their dance-club rebirth. Don't worry, though; the band have mixed up the selection so that nothing sounds dated--and none of the songs sound out of place! That's what's amazing about Everything But the Girl; the acoustic ballads and steamy dancefloor numbers fit together so seamlessly, and it's a wonderful combination of sound that few could begin to touch. "Missing" appears here--the "hit" version, with the Todd Terry beat (the original was acoustic and quite downbeat)--and it flows quite nicely into a cover of Elvis Costello's "Almost Blue" from 1988. Other highlights include the remix of "Wrong," (entitled "Tracey In My Room"), "Mirrorball," Tracey's appearance on Massive Attack's hit single "Protection," and the cover of Captain Beefheart's "My Head Is My Only House Unless It Rains." For the collector, there's an inital pressing with a four-track disk, with some songs I'm sure have already been released. All four of these are pleasant, and my favorite is "Gun Cupboard Love."

Perhaps the only real drawback of Like The Deserts Miss The Rain is purely an aesthetic one; these songs come from various sources, yet there's no information provided as to where they came from. It's a hand-picked collection, but I'd be curious to know why they picked these songs. I could make an argument about songs that are, erm, missing from the set, but as this isn't a greatest hits collection, maybe I shouldn't fuss too much. (I'd have included "Come On Home," "Apron Strings," "Love Not Money," and perhaps their debut single, "Night And Day," but that's just me)

Like The Deserts Miss The Rain is certainly proof that Everything But the Girl are one of the best bands of the late twentieth century. That might sound a bit much, but taken as a whole, this is a great record that would appeal to fans of music of nearly every genre--and it certainly should pique the interest of those who aren't familiar with Everything But the Girl. An essential collection of beautiful pop music that really does belong in your collection.

--Joseph Kyle

April 16, 2003

Buva "daydream"

I have become totally and utterly and unapologetically addicted to Daydream, the debut EP from Los Angeles' soon-to-be stars, Buva. How could I be anything but hooked on this Todd Rundgren-meets-Jellyfish -meets nobody else ear-candy? Apparently there's been a growing buzz for this little band that can, and the utterly goregous "She Gets Around" has started to receive airplay on the esteemed no-bullshit radio station KCRW.

These five songs really don't play games with you, either. A reaction--and addiction--is immediate. I know that I found myself hitting the repeat button afterwards. These songs have a radio-friendly sound, thanks in part to the production of Andy Chase (Ivy, Tahiti 80), and songs such as "Daydream" and "I Fall Asleep" certainly could--in fact, should be radio hits. All of the songs will remind you of--without ever sounding like--what made Ben Folds Five so damn great. Clever, intelligent lyrics, great music, and an affecting vocalist are three factors that have conspired to make Buva a band to watch. Expect to see them in the "next big thing" category, and feel assured that at least they've got it right.

Really, why shouldn't Buva be on the radio? Why is melody and intelligent songwriting something to be feared? Why do young, intelligent people automatically assume that music that's popular must be void of intelligence, and must be something greater than what it is? Why must music that's not aimed for Joe Undergraduate or High School Sulkiteen be dismissed as something less than cool? Buva are a prime example of this. These guys should be freakin' huge, and I have to give them major props for making music that doesn't aim for "target demographics," AKA the ficlke teenage set. Buva is meant for intelligent thinkers, lovers of melodic pop music, and if that means that the "kids" don't get it, that's FINE. One day, the kids will understand. One day, the youth of today will appreciate good music and smart songwriting.

When they grow up.

--Joseph Kyle

April 15, 2003

japancakes 'Belmondo"

The concept behind Darla Records' on-again, off-again Bliss Out series was to present bands making music to "chill-out" with; it's a simple enough concept, and it seems as if it's as much of an outlet for bands to make music they wouldn't normally make, as well as to present a series of beautiful, intelligent music. Some bands were natural choices--American Analog Set, Windy & Carl, Piano Magic--while other bands stepped outside of their regular styles, producing excellent results.

Japancakes fall into the "natural choice" category, and the music here doesn't really disappoint. The six songs on Belmondo really seem together; with music this fine, delicate, and warm, titles really aren't necessary. Songs flow together seamlessly, and Belmondo feels more like a new-age symphonic movement with six movements. The album has a sad, overcast, funereal sound; at times, Belmondo sounds like a home-grown, countrified Sigur Ros, especially when that UTTERLY gorgeous pedal-steel guitar comes in. When the strings come in, Japancakes sound like Kronos Quartet on an ambient kick.

Belmondo is classically-trained drone rock with a hint of Southern darkness, and this combination has produced one truly blissed-out record. Japancakes' output so far has only hinted at this kind of wonderful sound, and they've proven themselves more than capable. Now that we know they can create a grand soundscape, the sounds that come next are certainly worth waiting for.

--Joseph Kyle

April 14, 2003

La Pieta "Summer"

When you think of summer, you think of hot days and cool nights, blue skies and windy days on the beach. Well, La Pieta, a New York three-piece, certainly have the right combination for a nice summer day. This little record has the nice indie-pop guitar strum that makes you think of the beach. The boy-girl vocal interplay is the wind on the beach, and the la-la-la's certainly help think.

The only flaw, though, is that La Pieta are occasionally awkward in their presentation. While this isn't a problem throughout Summer, it does pop up on "April Is." The vocal interplay between the two singers could be stronger, but it's easy to forgive, as this is but a debut record. Of course, their vibe is totally Unrest, and while I don't think they're guilty of totally trying to steal Mark Robinson's good ideas, I can pretty safely assume they own a copy of B.P.M. or Perfect Teeth. It's okay, though; I'd rather hear a band that's inspired by Unrest than ten bands that are inspired by Belle & Sebastian.

La Pieta are a band who probably play a fun live show, and are probably stronger now than they were when they entered the studio to record this. I really like "Who Knows What She's Thinking" and "Sound Machine," and I'm gonna safely bet my money on future records. Summer is the sound of a band with potential, and time and live shows and such have probably improved things for these younguns--the recordings are from 2001, so I'm eager to hear what they're up to now.

--Joseph Kyle

Cursive "The Ugly Organ"

Wow. When did Cursive grow up on us? This is not the same annoying emo band that made records with pompous "artsy" titles and bland, by-the-book music. In fact, I don't hear anything remotely like their early days--and that's a great thing, too. As snarky as that sounds, I could easily be snarkier. In fact, I kind of planned on it, but the more I listened to The Ugly Organ, it just didn't seem that copping an attitude on Cursive would serve any purpose--especially when their record is EXCELLENT.

First of all, The Ugly Organ is the first Cursive record to fully utilize the Gretta Cohn's cello abilities. Instead of novelty, Cursive use it to their full advantage, and it sounds wonderful. But, you see, there's another band who did this several years ago--Smart Went Crazy. Led by the underrated genius of studio wizard Chad Clark, they made one of the best damn albums of the 1990s, Con Art, and then imploded. The Ugly Organ is really, truly, the first album to come rather close to pulling the sword out of the Smart Went Crazy stone. Lucikly, Cursive never really sound like they're stealing directly, except maybe for "A Brief Conversation Ending in Divorce"-soundalike "Some Red Handed Slight of Hand."

Oh, but they are majorly guilty of a rip-off, and it's one that I simply cannot get over. Tim Kasher is way, way, WAY guilty of many a Robert Smithism. Yeah, Cursive have stolen much from the Cure, it seems. You simply cannot attempt to tell me that "The Recluse" doesn't sound like a total rip-off of "Lovesong," or that "Driftwood: A Fairy Tale" wouldn't sound out place on Standing On the Beach. I thought that the world had bored of that "let's steal from Robert Smith"-genre of goth YEARS ago, or maybe they didn't get the news yet in Omaha. Who knows?

The Ugly Organ is the sound of a band that's hit a great new sound, a style all of their own--yet they've really not mastered the recipe yet. The sound is vast, expansive, and dark; once Kasher and company break away from this relationship they have with "art," they could easily make a great record. There's some sort of concept theme going here--look at the lyrics, they're written kind of like a play, but I'm not getting it. If they'd just break away from their effort at being arty and let their music speak for itself, Cursive could really, truly be innovative. Personally, I can't wait.

--Joseph Kyle

April 13, 2003

Half-Handed Cloud "We Haven't Just Been Told, We Have Been Loved"

I wish there were more Christian artists like this. Christians making music of praise and worship without ever sounding like Christian Music. I just don't think that the bland, boring sounds that pass of as praise music really helps things, as it seems so just not very inspiring to me. Give me Damien Jurado's life-lessons, Danielson Familie's weirdness, and Absinthe Blind's inspiring melody--and keep your bland, boring 80's hairdo and sincere-sounding music away from me, please.

Then there's Half-Handed Cloud, who is one very happy, very loved boy, John Ringhofer. Since he's on Sounds Familyre, the label run by Danielson Famile mastermind Daniel Smith, it should be understood that the music is, at the very least, going to be interesting. As you'd expect, We Haven't Just Been Told, We Have Been Loved is a really odd listening experience. The music is lo-fi, shambly, rough, and downright FUN. Don't ask me to tell you which song I like best--with twenty-four songs in thirty-four minutes, they're all good, they're all fast, and they all work together in making a cohesive, wonderful-sounding whole.(I can't really tell some of the other song titles, though, as the font can be quite difficult to read.) I'm most enthralled, though, with "Dear John." Beauty and truth never sounded so nice.

Simply because it's odd, though, doesn't mean you should dismiss them or their message. While you won't find any Christian group that doesn't reference "make a joyful noise unto the Lord, you'll rarely find a band that actually MAKES a joyful noise. If Half-Handed Cloud is anything, though, it's joyful. You'll hear a big smile on Ringhofer's face whenever he sings, and you can feel the salvation in his heart. I've rarely heard a Chrisitan group sound so, so--inspired and blessed in their salvation. There's no talk of sin, despair, or hell here--it's all about the Love of Christ, and the joy He gives you if you believe in him. This is innocent, simple, and loving music, and We Haven't Just Been Told, We Have Been Loved is the sound of a boy in love with a God who loves him--and us--back.

--Joseph Kyle

Aurore Rien "Telesthesia"

Aurore Rien, we harly knew you.

This four-song mini-album is a warm, wonderful, stunning record, of a band that really has a clear understanding of atmospheres and noise and melody. They climb up to the highest mountain and shout down to the world; in the process of doing so, they've recorded their sonic mountain journey, and it's a grand journey to behold.

Too bad they broke up.

Yes, my friends, Aurore Rien are but a memory now. It's too bad, too; Telesthesia is a gorgeous, beautiful work that floats in and out of bliss for better than thirty minutes--and it's too bad that their band couldn't last. It's sad when bands break up; it's even sadder when a band releases a gorgeous record, but is DOA upon its release. When said break-up comes at what should be the BEGINNING of a band's career, the story is a tragedy.

Trying not to think about it makes listening to Telesthesia quite difficult. Their haunting melodies, vocals that are almost chants, and a dark, brooding, atmosphere are all expertly done--even better than some of the recent releases from bands who I've seen Aurore Rien compared to! My personal favorite--and perhaps the saddest song on here--is the closing "Sunsets, I Have Seen Too Many Without You." It's a haunting, slow guitar melody, one that would fit in well with the sadder parts of a romantic movie, and it closes with the same kind of haunting feeling that the closing train and barking dog samples did at the end of Pet Sounds.

So, good luck to you, fellows. I hope your solo efforts are as excellent and as beautiful as this. If they are, then the sorrow I feel for your demise will end. If not, then maybe you three can get back together again. Let's not burn our bridges too quickly, okay?

--Joseph Kyle

April 12, 2003

Hood "Compilations 1995-2002"

If Hood's singles showcase their weirder lo-fi side, their compilation tracks are a whole other story. Imagine, if you will, putting on your best church clothes to impress someone--that's how many of the songs on Compilations 1995-2000 seem to be. I get the distinct feeling that they intentionally put their best foot forward when it came to compilation appearances I don't know if they had a particular concept for these kinds of things; I know that some bands (like the Nation of Ulysses, who would make "jazzy" songs for comps, or other bands who strictly do covers) have very specific rules that they follow. Perhaps it's because they were trying to be the best they can be--or maybe it's because they were indeed the BEST band on the compilation?

Who knows...it's all speculation, of course.

For those who are trying to grasp with this band's many styles, I would recommend this other new Hood collection, Compilations. Unlike the noticable changes that come from listening to Singles Compiled, the songs on this album are mixed together in a non-linear sequence. Compilations really show that those lo-fi sounds that were found at the beginning of their career are still there, even if they're not as obvious. That, perhaps, is the reason that Compilations 1995-2002 is a stronger record than Singles Compiled. Because the songs here are programmed together in a non-linear fashion, more attention can be paid to mixing and matching sounds and styled. Imagine making a greatest hits mixtape for a friend, of a band that you really like. Would you dryly place the songs together in chronological order, or would you mix it up a bit?

Of course, one must also realize that since the music on Compilations 1995-2002 is of a higher quality than the singles, it only stands to reason why it's a better listen. I'm sure that if you were to collect most of the original compilations you would find that Hood shines like a diamond in the dirt. In some instances, (such as the Cool Beans sampler and the Earworm/Wurlitzer Jukebox compilation 7") Hood are one of the few redeeming bands on the collection. I'm sure that the people putting together all these different collections thought they were going to get a nice little lo-fi weird freakout, and I'm sure they were more than impressed with the breathtaking little number they wound up with!

Hood is an excellent band, period. Whether or not the earlier songs on Singles Compiled are your cup of tea, Compilations 1995-2002 is a strong album that could easily pass off as a new album, and would easily prove a stunning follow-up to Cold House! How many bands can claim such a quality?

--Joseph Kyle

April 08, 2003

Live Report: Bloodthirsty Lovers, The Baptist Generals, Pearly Gates, Emo's, Austin, TX 4/30/03

This evening, I went to my second home, also known as Emo's, to see the Bloodthirsty Lovers, the new band of ex-Grifters front man Dave Shouse. The last time they visited Austin, they opened for Enon and blew them clean off the stage. I had to see Shouse's band again, even if they played the same set that they did last time, because their live show is much better than their recorded material. They're still touring off of their self-titled debut album, which Frenchkiss Records recently re-released. Shouse recorded the album without the help of a backing band, so in lieu of an actual drummer, he used a lot of corny preset loops for the beats of his songs. Because of such, the album occasionally sounds like those bad "cyber-punk" albums that people like Billy Idol made during the early nineties. This is a shame because the songs themselves are almost uniformly great, and the Bloodthirsty Lovers make them come alive on stage. Shouse handles both guitar and keyboard with equal agility, the drummer manages to pull off the most complicated "junglist" rhythms on a standard kit, without any sort of programming aids, and the third guy is an even better pianist than Shouse is! Shouse really should've re-recorded the first album with his backing band instead of re-releasing the original version.

Anyway, the first band on the bill was a local trio by the name of Pearly Gates. They were a drum-less trio consisting of guitar, sampler, and piano,
and they played a set of ambient, religiously tormented alt-country. I say "religiously tormented" because almost every song had a reference to brimstone, hellfire, demons, and other similarly delightful things (sarcasm alert). On some songs, the guitarist's vocals were replaced with samples from porn flicks and television evangelists. It was very disconcerting to hear the blasphemous juxtaposition of a woman moaning in ecstasy with some guy ranting about "Gee-HO-vuh" in a thick Southern twang. Once I tuned that out, though, I noticed how truly talented each of its musicians were. The guitarist would make an excellent country singer, and the pianist just HAD to be classically trained. Some of the songs weren't up to snuff, though, relying on very standard and overused chord progressions. The absence of a drummer definitely hurt those songs. Once their writing skills catch up to their conceptual skills, the Pearly Gates should be able to make a splash. There certainly isn't any other group in recent memory that I could compare them to, and that's always a plus.

The second band, the Baptist Generals, were the unexpected highlight of the night. I knew that they were from Denton because I would always see their name on local bills, but I never got the chance to check them out. I should've done so much earlier, though, because they were great! They had an acoustic instrumental setup consisting of guitar, guitarron (a huge instrument that looks like a balalaika and sounds like an upright bass), an extremely minimal drum kit, and an organ that was charmingly out of tune with the rest of the instruments. They sounded like one of those makeshift country bands that would set up and perform right outside of a saloon in some imaginary Western flick. As it turns out, their latest album No Silver/No Gold WAS recorded live to eight-track on a storefront in Denton. This band also has to its advantage one of the most memorable vocalists in recent memory, guitarist and main songwriter Chris Flemmons. He has the kind of voice that will irritate you when you first hear it, but once you get used to the music, you won't be able to imagine anyone else BUT him singing on top of it. It's a high, reedy, uncooperative voice that strains to reach almost every note it attempts, which makes Chris sound like he's in the middle of a never-ending panic attack. It doesn't help that his eyes also look like they're about to pop out of their pockets when he sings. The Baptist Generals' set was inexcusably short, but they played one great rustic folk song after another. I spent my last twelve dollars at the merchandise table because I couldn't fathom going back to Waco without their album to keep me company.

Of course, the Bloodthirsty Lovers were fantastic. Their set was almost the same as the one they played the last time they were in Austin, with a couple of newer and better songs added. The new songs do a good job of bringing their rock and electronic sides together. One of them had an extremely difficult time signature, and sounded like the Mahavishnu Orchestra attempting vocal-based IDM. During the set, Shouse gave us an anecdote about his friends in the North Mississippi All-Stars, who also happened to be on tour at the time. "See, my friends' band is getting popular enough that they're starting to attract groupies who want to hang out on the tour bus with them. My friends have found the perfect music to play for every occasion when the groupies are around. When they want the groupies to…you know, get LOOSE, they put on Snoop Dogg's first album. When they want the groupies to leave, they put on the Strokes' record. This next song is in tribute to Snoop Dogg. It's our soundtrack to a malt liquor commercial." Sure enough, the instrumental that followed was a near-perfect recreation of 1970s blaxploitation funk. You wouldn't think that the same man who released the shambling, off-key dirges of Ain't My Lookout (my favorite Grifters album) seven years ago would be capable of pulling off anything close to funk. Then again, Shouse IS from Memphis. The drummer played so skillfully that the bouncers at Emo's started taking turns running the door so that the others could stand in front of the stage to watch him. I'd think that the bouncers of such a prominent rock club have seen way too many bands walk through its doors to be easily impressed. This time, though, they just HAD to give the Bloodthirsty Lovers their props. Bring on the second album, guys!

---Sean Padilla

April 07, 2003

Candy Coloured Clowns "Glory"

This is the new single by former Hurrah! frontman Taffy Hughes' new project. "Glory" reminds me, in a weird kind of way, of Midnight Oil. Maybe it's his singing, or maybe it's his lyrical content. "Sad Satellite" is similar, but isn't quite as good as "Glory," and "The Kids Are Going To Really Love You" is a nice little closer. These three songs are slower than your typical British pop, and they're a bit more mature as well. While the songs took a little while to sink in, they're certainly indicitive of some real talent, even if they take a little time to warm you up. Will keep an eye on this lot, as I have a feeling greatness is coming soon...

--Joseph Kyle

Single Frame Ashtray "Burn Radio Airtest"

Single Frame Ashtray are a band that makes me very, very excited. I loved their debut album, Wetheads Come Running, and though I felt like it didn't sit still enough, I certainly couldn't fault them for its lack of awesome music. Words cannot explain, though, the utter shock and awe I felt when this record showed up in my mailbox. To say that it made my day is an understatement. I didn't think they'd have a new record so SOON! What makes it even funnier, though, is that I'd been thinking about them, because last night I read a not-so-nice review of Wetheads, and though I understand the basis of the criticism, all I could think about was, "just wait until their next record--it's going to be awesome!

Burn Radio Airtest is not an album, but with eight songs, it's too long to be a single, and at only seventeen minutes, it's too short to be a mini-album. Once again, Single Frame Ashtray have defied previously-set notions of what should be and they come out the victor, too. They don't really vary any from their formula, which is a very good thing, indeed. That formula, in case you missed it, is punk rock new wave with a hint of something we call talent and packaged together in a futuristic style that sounds like the rock and roll record that people thirty years ago would have labeled "the sound of robots getting together and making some pretty hard and interesting rock and roll music."

Burn Radio Airtest contains two remixes of songs that appeared on their debut album. "Been To A Party At This House" was one of the stronger tracks, but this remix version really doesn't sound that different, and "Eavesdropper," which was one of the albums lesser tracks. They're still good, mind you, so you really don't mind the repeats. "Burn Radio Airtest," "Dry Lips Usually Crack" and "Without Pens" are pure new-wave punk, but they're stronger than what Single Frame Ashtray have done, so it's good to see the band progressing. "New Car Remix" and "Eavesdropper" are darker, slower, more brooding electronic numbers which also sound great. The only bum track here is the final number, "100,000 Troops," a little experimental clip that lasts less than two minutes and is easily forgettable.

Single Frame Ashtray are a band to watch, my friends. They're young, fresh, and are Austin's brand new stars. This is a nice little collection for those who loved the debut album, and a handy little tease for those who want to know what Single Frame Ashtray are all about. (Oh, and it's got pretty rad clear artwork, though this picture above--cool in its own way--doesn't show it.)

--Joseph Kyle

Sidone "Let it Flow"

Electronica laced Britpop with a heavy-duty dose of Indian rhythms made by three blokes from Spain. Hello...are you still reading? Believe me, you need to keep on reading, because Sidonie's debut album, Let It Flow, is one of the best records I've heard in ages, and I'm pretty sure that you'll be enthralled from listen number one as well. Best part? It never delves into new-age, hippie-dippy World music territory, either.

Instead of the novelty of World Music, Sidonie's sound is quite sincere. It's all over the place, yet it follows some pretty traditional styles, the main one being Britpop. If you ever wondered what Stone Roses would have sounded like if they'd gotten really funky, this is the proof. It's dancefloor-ready, but it's not at all vapid or unpleasant. "Love" and "Cry" are pretty straightforward, with mere smudges of an Eastern flavor. When you reach their cover of Madonna's "Beautiful Stranger," everything changes. Their cover nearly a note-for-note faithful version, yet somehow their version of it is better, but the Eastern instruments really change the dynamic of the song, and the passive singing really blends quite well, making the song a quite hypnotic number.

From that point, you're going to remain hypnotized, because Sidonie has thus released a multicolored-and-narcotic cloud of smoke, and your senses are certainly not sure of what is going to happen next. Songs are simply mind-bending. "Sidonie Goes to Varanasi" is the hard-driving sitar, tabla, and chant-dance number that you're hoping for, and the driving "Sidonie Goes to London" is a curry-laced Chemical Brothers hit that somehow never made it out of India. The album closes with "Entertainment," which is pure dance-pop that sounds like Erasure, with hints of silly Tom-Tom Club antics. Surprisingly, they never get close to sounding like the acts you'd think they'd sound like, Asian Dub Foundation or Cornershop. Why? It's simple--they're better!

If I were to say to you that I'm eager to hear more, I'd be lying. I'm not eager, I'm not impatient--I'm simply trying not to think about it, because I'd go crazy if I did, so I'm simply going to wear the hell out of this record. I just hope that their next record has more intense sitar attacks--because the two on here are simply too short, and I want more! This is one of the most impressive records to come out this year, period, and it behooves you to seek this record out now. It will serve you well, it will bring you peace, it will make you smarter. Yeah, it's one of those records.

--Joseph Kyle

April 06, 2003

Panda "Twenty String EP"

Soft, soothing, smooth, mellow indie-rock that is folky without really being folk; acoustic music with a full band, and plain-old pretty. Panda are a five-piece from Denton, Texas, and they've done quite a breathtaking little number on Twenty String, their debut recording. Instead of settling for one sound or another, they've created six pretty and delicate songs that rely on strings, bells, and a soft, soothing singer. Twenty String is a beautiful record from a young band worth checking out.

You would probably be best advised to avoid driving heavy machinery while listening to Twenty String. Every time I listened to this little record, I found myself drifting off into a deep, pleasant sleep. You can't really help it; their melodies chime like a lullaby for the indie rock set, and though they're not at all slow-core, they aren't really hurried, either. I think the word I'm looking for here is atmospheric. I do wonder, though, that since these songs have lulled me and my cat into sleep, if maybe this would be a good gift for my baby nephew?

Panda make perfect music for those who like blissed-out pop, sad-style folk, and just downright beautiful music. They happily slip through your fingers and into your heart. They don't sit still with one particular musical style, opting to embellish the best parts of--and never defining themselves as--country, folk, and, yes, a little new age music. (Tell me "As Soon As We Find our Way Through the City We Get Lost" isn't earthy and blissy and new-ageish, and I'll call you a liar.) It doesn't matter, though; if you can write a song as pretty and touching as "New Moon" and "Too Much Thought," who cares what you call your music?

--Joseph Kyle

Betie Serveert "Log 22"

Bettie Serveert should win a prize for consistently wonderful music. They've gone from critic's darlings to utterly forgotlings, but that's never slowed them down. They hit a home-run almost immediatly in 1992 when they released their still-wonderful-after-all-these-years debut, Palomine. They erred when they took three years to release their follow-up. Lamprey was a bit of a step down from the greatness--which, unfortunately, deflated Bettie Serveert's rising star, and, like many other great bands during those "alternative" years, were quietly forgotten. I thought they were done for when, two years later, they released the universally-panned Dust Bunnies (let's not mention it again) but they continued on, releasing a live album of Velvet Underground covers (!), and making a lovely return to form with 2000's Private Suit.

Now it's 2003, and Bettie Serveert have a new record, and, luckily, it's stunning. It's lush in the right places, it's hard-rockin' at times, and they've come close to sounding like a completely new band. Gone are the rough, dirty-faced indie rock sounds of yore, and lead singer Carol van Dik sounds more like a pop diva than rocker. It's a good thing, too, because her vocal range is good enough to handle most any style. The opening "Wide-Eyed Fools" would make you think that they'd turned into the Cardigans, but then the following "Smack" sounds like a lost Throwing Muses song. (Indeed, van Dyk has always sounded a little bit like Kristin Hersh.)

The lush pop-rock style works quite well for Bettie Serveert, as does their insistence on not sticking to one particular style of song. The soft, gentle acoustic "Captain of Maybe" and the rather telling "De Diva" recall the greatness of Palomine, while "Given," "Wide-Eyed Fools" and "Cut 'n Dried" are mellow pop numbers. They turn on their rock side with "Smack" and "Not Coming Down," which is similar to the band's influence, Sebadoh; they even indulge in their Velvet Underground influence on "White Dogs" and "The Ocean, My Floor." All in all they're a more confident-sounding band. The only major flaw with Log 22 is that it's a bit too long. "White Dogs" and "The Ocean, My Floor" are two wonderful (and rather long) Velvet Underground-style jams, and they sound great, but two of them on the same album--or perhaps so close to each other in the sequence--makes the album drag at the end.

A minor quibble, though. While moments might remind you of their glory day, they're certainly not guilty of retreading their past, and Log 22 is a great place to start rejoin Bettie Serveert. While not their best record (that honor goes to Palomine) it's easily their second-best record. Though it's probably never goint to happen, we're still dreaming that Palomine will receive the Slanted & Enchanted/Exile in Guyville reissue treatment. It's okay, though, because Log 22 proves that, ten years later, this onetime critic's darling is still capable of making an excellent record.

--Joseph Kyle

April 05, 2003

Razorcuts "A Is For Alphabet"

I'm going to admit something rather silly, but in the interest of honesty, it must be done. After having heard the Razorcuts' wonderful anthology, R Is For Razorcuts, I've been tempting to start a petition drive towards Messers Gregory Webster and Jimmy Tassos. I'm thinking of calling it the "Release the Razorcuts NOW!" movement.

There's not all that much left to release, and considering the things that have seen reissue over the past few years, there really seems to be no excuse for the remaining songs to go out of print. So, if you write for Tangents, Pennyblack, Dagger, In Love With These Times, or are Everett True, please keep an eye out for a mass email, a legit mass email petition from me, because these songs NEED to see the light of day.

A Is For Alphabet is a really great start, as it's a most wonderful--albeit brief--taste of sugary pop, and it really proves my case. Matinee were clever to make this a CD-single from R Is For Razorcuts. "A Is for Alphabet" is a wonderful song, and the other four songs are also worth their weight in pop gold. "First Day" is the final song from their Flying Nun 12" EP. It is a shame that it was left off the anthology; it is one of the best tracks that the Razorcuts had to offer, jangly in that wonderful Razorcuts way. The wonderful "Snowbound"--an album cut--also serves as evidence that their albums had plenty of magic. The last two tracks, while demos from the mid-1980s, were released in 1991, on a super-rare single."Sometimes I Worry About You" and "For Always" both predate the Stone Roses by a few years, and it's scary to think that, had things been different, Matinee might be releasing the new bands by Ian Brown and John Squire.

Okay, maybe I'm being a little impatient. Maybe a more thorough visit through the Razorcuts' back pages will take place soon, or at least I'd like to think so. This little single proves that there's more in the vaults in terms of this great little band, and if you've wanted to check them out but don't want to commit to a full-length, you really cannot go wrong with this release. This is essential for you if you loved the retrospective, and wonderful for everyone else.

--Joseph Kyle