May 31, 2003

Ex-Models "Zoo Psychology"

I must begin this review with a stern warning. As far as pure economics is concerned, this album is a complete rip-off. Letís assume that youíll pay somewhere in between ten and fifteen dollars for this album in your favorite record store. Three of its fifteen tracks are low-fidelity snippets of the Ex-Models jamming in the practice room. One track is fifty seconds of a bass guitar playing one note over and over again, and another is a new version of a previously released song (ìThree Weeksî) that is almost identical to the original. An album in which a full third of its tracks are pointless is already a criminal offense in my book. The fact that Zoo Psychology is ONLY TWENTY FRICKING MINUTES LONG simply adds insult to injury. By all means, I should thrash this record within inches of its life as if I was a rabid Pitchfork Media writer whose girlfriend had just been sexually served by the entire band. However, I am going against my natural instinct by urging everyone who reads this to buy this album anyway and let the Ex-Models screw him or her over just this once. The two-thirds of this album that are devoted to actual new material completely and utterly DESTROY.

The Ex-Modelsí 2001 debut, Other Mathematics, put the goofiest and weirdest elements of early Devo and Talking Heads in a blender and set it on puree. Their songs were intent on cramming as many adenoidal yelps, meter changes, and hard-panned guitar screeches as possible in less than ninety seconds. Their music was already abrasive to begin with, but Zoo Psychology catapults the band into a new sphere of otherness. I canít even compare the Ex-Models to other bands anymore, because they now sound like a malfunctioning factory on its last legs. The vocals are even more unintelligible than before, and this time around they donít include the lyrics in the liner notes. The guitars are run through effect pedals that give the playing a robotic, percussive quality, and theyíre played with the violence of a man picking scabs off of his body with pliers. The drums shift from time signatures that canít possibly be tabbed by hand to hissing blast beats at seemingly random moments. Even though I canít make many of the lyrics out, I can tell by many of the song titles (ìF**k to the Music,î ìSex Automata,î ìBrand New Pantiesî) that the horizontal limbo is the bandís main focus. Zoo Psychology is what it sounds like when white nerds with more nervous sexual energy than their bodies can handle pick up instruments. Somebody needs to put the Ex-Models in a hotel room with a couple thousand dollars and some pretty prostitutes soon before the band spontaneously combusts.

Until the band works out their sexual frustration, anything they make that lives up to this albumís best moments will be essential listening. ìPink Noiseî is a maelstrom of grinding guitars and stop-start drums that sounds like the entire band is falling down a flight of stairs, with the choppy two-note bass line serving as a sort of fire alarm. ìZoo Loveî and ìKool Killerî are the bandís warped approximations of funk: the rhythm is present on both songs, but ìZoo Loveî has no notes or chords to speak of, and the guitarists keep chanting in annoying chipmunk falsettos. ìWhat Is a Priceî sports a mid-song breakdown in which the rhythm section unleashes random long s**t-storms of noise that obliterate the guitars and vocals, an experience that will scare the wits out of you on first listen. ìHey Bonerî tries (and fails) to cram Sonic Youthís entire Daydream Nation album into sixty-seven seconds, and makes a pretty exciting racket while doing so. Last but not least, ìThree Weeks,î despite being a note-for-note retread of the original version is still a masterpiece of tension and release. Its guitars are so harsh, its dynamic changes so extreme that it took me a while to notice that the song only has TWO LYRICS AND ONE ACTUAL NOTE. Iím willing to forgive being ripped off by Zoo Psychology because of the bandís willingness to fly completely off the musical hinges. The Ex-Models have set a new standard for modern No Wave. However, I still demand that they come up with a half-hour of solid new material for their next album, because this is just ridiculous.

---Sean Padilla

Eluvium "Lambent Material"

I always laugh when I watch psychics who talk about past lives on television. Everyone who comes on and says that they are afraid of water are almost always told that their fear of water stems from the fact that they died on the Titanic! Personally, I find it odd that you never hear psychics saying that their previous incarnation was anything less than luxurious, or that they were a refugee who died as a boat person coming to the United States.

I don't know if Eluvium's sole mastermind Matthew Cooper's previous incarnation died at sea, was a washcloth, or was a sea anemone, but he's surely made a record that is quite aquatic in nature and is quite tranquil to boot. Though the only thing on Eluvium's debut album, Lambent Material that suggests a water theme is the song title "Under the Water It Glowed", it takes about thirty seconds of listening to "The Unfinished" to submerge into a watery world. Cold layers of sonic noise slowly yet strongly crash against each other, and like a child's toy sinking to the bottom of the bathtub, the music takes you to the bottom but it doesn't force you there. Piano and keyboard based music, spiced with a dash of clarinet, is the basic sound found on Lambent Material--and that's all Cooper really needs to make a beautiful record.

The song that is most striking is the epic "Zerthis Was A Shivering Human Image," and if any song really makes this record sound like the sea, it's this one.The basic rhythm pattern is exactly the same as a foghorn, but it also has a very loud, grand, troublesome distortion to it as well. The music floods, screams, bleeds, wails, crashes, and slowly it falls apart, the melody sinking into the nether regions of sound, and I swear it sounds exactly what I would imagine an ocean liner would sound like if it were sinking. As bits and pieces fall off of the basic melody-listen carefully, they do indeed sound like they're falling off--they go from sounding right there in the mix, and fade out while the melody stays on, creating a crashing affect, and if you picture it, it's a mighty disturbing yet utterly amazing sight to behold. (I took the liberty of watching parts of Titanic on mute while this song played, and it fit the soundtrack perfectly.) The song fades out after about fourteen minutes (it seems much, much longer than that), untill all that is left of the grand, majestic melody is a haunting, fading line of static that sounds not unlike a telegraph signal, and is picked up by the solemn, funereal piano passage, "I Am So Much More Me That You Are Perfectly You." This little fade-out fade-in effect is indeed quite haunting.

Lambent Material is an excellent debut, and Cooper should be commended for not going overboard with ideas. It's easy to get washed away in this particular genre, but Cooper wisely understands that ambient music can often sound longer than its actual running time--something that even the godfather of Ambient, Brian Eno, never really understood. (I've been fighting the urge to say he should have called this Music for Seaports, by the way.) In keeping the album brief, the listener doesn't drown in ambient noise. Besides, you'll be left wanting to hear more--and if you don't, I suggest that you go back and get your feet wet.

--Joseph Kyle

May 30, 2003

Pale Sunday "A Weekend With Jane"

Brazil enters the pop race with Pale Sunday, a lovely little jingle-jangle pop group. Their singer has this lovely, affecting voice, made even more saucy by his accent! At times, they sound like a South American Lucksmiths, which, believe me, couldn't possibly be a bad thing! "A Weekend With Jane" kicks off the single, and oooooh, it's dreamy! "Go Ahead" is a bit more rockin', though "Today" slows things down and gets a little more romantic. "The Girl With Sunny Smile" ends with a P!o!p!, and I'm enthralled and, once again, left eager for their next record! Hurry hurry, Jimmy Matinee!

--Joseph Kyle

May 27, 2003

The Jayhawks "Rainy Day Music"

I have been terribly the reviews for Rainy Day Music. I personally think that somewhere, , in some way, Jayhawks mastermind Gary Louris angered the Almighty Rock Critic Gods, and he's been unable to get a fair shake ever since. It's too bad, really, because he's made some wonderful music over the past decade that has, for the most part, gone unheard. Rainy Day Music is Louris' latest offering, and, as usual, it's been misaligned in the press, due to critics who are judging this album from some sort of impossible, unnamed standard. Much like labelmate Ryan Adams, it's a no-win situation in the media's light. Critics who lament the loss of wonderful singer-songwriters and who are looking for a singer-songwriter savior dismiss both Adams and Louris without any fairness.

It's too bad, really, because Rainy Day Music is a record of worth. In my mind, it's clearly as good, if not better, than what most consider their best record, Hollywood Town Hall. In fact, let's not even compare the two, let's not even mention it, okay? Because Rainy Day Music is the Jayhawks' best record to date. This record's been on my stereo every day for the past week--should that tell you something? It tells me that I've enjoyed every single minute of this album, and I have no qualms about slipping this record into my rough "top ten albums of 2003" list. Unlike others who spend time treading over the same old tired sounds of 1970s rock, The Jayhawks have taken a fresh drive in the open air of excellent songwriting, and they've done it so well that their sound, while "retro" at times, is one they can truly call their own.

Louris is a singer-songwriter who, over the past few years, has honed his craft to a point where he betters some of the best, including Crosby Stills and Nash and the Eagles, and has created a record that could pass as a lost Dennis Wilson album, with Carl Wilson handling all the singing. Brian who? There's none of that here--just an album full of intelligent California-pop, with all the sunshine and happiness you could possibly want. As an added bonus, Louris is joined by some very talented people, such as Matthew Sweet, Chris Stills, and Jakob Dylan. Does it reflect on the music that two of these three are the sons of famous singer-songwriters, or does it make the Jayhawksí flight into their fatherís skies a little bit easier? I donít think so, because I really believe that Louris can achieve great heights on his own. Tim O'Reagan turns in two wonderful songs as well, "Tampa to Tulsa" and "Don't Let the World Get In Your Way."

All in all, Rainy Day Music is truly a classic-rock album, a wonderfully recorded album that just beams like the summer sunshine. While others may find fault for their simple, stripped-down pop, I can only scratch my head and wonder why. Additionally, there is a limited edition pressing of Rainy Day Music that contains More Rain, an EP of demos and unreleased songs. You simply MUST MUST MUST seek out a Rainy Day Music that contains this record, because it's a rewarding little find. The demo versions of "All the Right Reasons" and ìTampa to Tulsaî really highlight the brilliance of the Jayhawks, and youíll totally fall in love with ìCaught With A Smile on My Face.î There's also a live version of Hollywood Town Hall's classic "Waiting For The Sun."

--Joseph Kyle

Various Artists "Matinee 50"

What a brilliant little concept this is, getting the label's roster to cover songs from the back catalog! It's terribly brilliant, too--but that's ot surprisng, really, considering the wonderful pop records that Mr. Jimmy Tassos has released over the past six years. It's a brilliant idea to celebrate their fiftieth release, which is also a pretty amazing accomplishment for this young, six-year old label--even more impressive when you consider that most of his releases over the past year have been consistently strong and well-received.

There are twenty songs on Matinee 50! to pick and choose from, and I'm sure that you'll find one or two that will be your new favorite Matinee song! Personally, I've got a few that are already zooming up my personal fav-o-rite song charts, including Melodie Group's cover of The Would-Be-Good's hit "Emmanuelle Beart," The Guild League's jazzy cover of Airport Girl's "Between Delta and Delaware," The Pines' lovely country torch of The Fairways' "Darling, Don't You Think?" and Simpatico's moody, sad cover of the even sadder Harper Lee's "Train Not Stopping." Personally, I'm most impressed by the cover of Sportique's "Just Friends" by Matinee's newest superstars, Pale Sunday. These kids from Brazil really know their way around a pop song, and Luiz Gustavo has one of the sweetest, most seductive voices I've heard in ages. Everyone I know agrees--this is a band to watch!

Here's to 50 great releases so far--and hopefully 50 more! I know that whenever I get a package in the mail that says Matinee Recordings on it, I can rest assured that the contents will be nothing short of high-quality. Jimmy's really struck gold with his label, and it's a safe bet to say that the Matinee logo is one to trust. A toast, then, to quality pop music!!

--Joseph Kyle

May 24, 2003

Color Theory "Something Beautiful"

Color Theory is Brian Hazard. Brian Hazard has done something that makes me rather happy. He's the first person I've heard in years that fills the void left by the disappearance of Shellyann Orphan and Suddenly, Tammy!, two bands who made lovely, intelligent and sad piano-based jazz-pop that had lovely splashes of strings and other yummy things. Sadly, both bands disappeared without a trace, leaving behind a few excellent records that can be found easily in most bargain-bins and used sections.

Let's hope that Color Theory doesn't suffer the same fate. Their most recent album, Something Beautiful, couldn't possibly be better titled. Hazard makes simple, sad songs with a lush background. I'd like to thank him for going this route, because the world really could use a whole lot more piano-based singer/songwriters. I'm just impressed that people take the time to make music like this anymore. In a music world that's becoming increasingly reliant on hype over substance and style over talent, the fact that Hazard has shunned that aspect of 'the business' makes Something Beautiful even more rewarding.

Really, though, how could you go wrong with the simple, subtle beauty of songs like "Alpha Centauri" and "Perfection," or the e.e. cummings inspired "Realist?" You can't. I can tell that Hazard really has a gift for songwriting, and that's a reward right there for you. The only word of warning that should be given, though, is that occasionally the lyrics---like "This is something I have to do/Maybe not thought-provoking/But it's just what I promised you/And you thought I was joking" (from "And You Thought I Was Joking)--can be a bit winsome. It's not a serious problem, but it can be off-putting, especially if you're not in the mood.

It's great to know that piano-based music isn't strictly confined to people wanting to be the next Elton John, Billy Joel, or Ben Folds, and Brian Hazard certainly doesn't seem to have such less-than-grand aspirations. Something Beautiful is, in fact, something beautiful. It's great music for a romantic dinner; would probably make great soundtrack music, and is just a pleasure to listen to. What greater expectation could you possibly want?

--Joseph Kyle

Flaming Fire "Songs From the Flaming Temple"

I think that we are in the presence of a new religion. A new, not particularly peaceful religion at that. I think it's kind of based on Amazonian culture. From what I've gathered, this new organization is matriarchal and monotheistic, and is quite, erm...different. The main goddess, who apparently goes by the name of Lauren Weinstein, appears to be based on another tribal goddess, Ari Up. But Ari Up was a much more benevolent, loving soul compared to this unnamed Goddess.

Songs From the Shining Temple is a most bizarre record, and is all the better for it. From loud chants to cacophenous percussion and noises I'm too afraid to attempt to figure out, there's a whole lot of weirdness going on here. And, you know what? I LOVE IT. How could I not? I'll tell you why..I'm afraid to! This Goddess is a very vengeful, angry deity. According to "Kill the Right People," she's been around for a while. From "Goddess of War" and "Gun Through a Razor," we learn that, well...she demands your love...or else.

This is a band that rivals both the Slits and Crawling Chaos in the utterly weird, totally odd, and disturbingly interesting music. Instead of weird new wave or twisted tribal reggae, Flaming Fire mix in a whole bunch of influences, so that their music cannot be linked, traced, or derived from anyone else. Flaming Fire make their own music...and if you don't love it, or Songs From The Shining're doing so at your own risk.
One of the most lovingly confounding records I've heard all year, if not ever..

--Joseph Kyle

May 23, 2003

The Intima "Peril & Panic"

I've waited a very long time for this record to materialize. Three
years ago, Portland quartet the Intima released a debut EP, No Lullaby for Sleep, that remained in my stereo for months on end. I remember putting my favorite track, ìTo the Daring,î on repeat and wondering how a band could manage to make a Emma Goldman quote rock this hard. At their best, the band sounded like a mixture of Unwound and Godspeed You Black Emperor, playing politically charged punk with the compositional density of classical music. I waited impatiently for more, but additions to the Intimaís discography were few and far between. They released a seven-inch and a live EP last year, but as good as both releases were, they could do little more but further whet my appetite for a full-length. It took a while for the band to gather up both the songs and the financial resources to make their debut album, but it was worth it. Peril and Panic consists of
thirty-nine minutes of music that, from beginning to end, live up to the promise of ìTo the Daring.î

Their sound hasnít changed much in the last three years. Like Unwoundís Justin Trosper, Intima guitarist Andrew seems unable to decide whether he wants to sing or shout. However, whereas Trosperís voice is nasal, Andrewís is throaty and possesses a much wider range. Sometimes his singingís a little flat, but even on these occasions his voice is mixed low enough not to interfere with the overall quality of the music. As a guitarist, Andrew is quite familiar with the Sonic Youth handbook of alternate tunings, close-interval note clusters, and rapidly strummed droning chords. Although Noraís violin and voice are most often the tuneful sugar to Andrewís dissonant salt, she also knows how and when to make a racket. During the introduction to ìMiles City,î she plays full, grinding chords and fast fills that make me wonder just how she got such a sound. Did she use extensive overdubbing, or was that really a guitar? Almost every song on Peril and Panic sounds as if itís stitched together from the best parts of many different songs. Alexís drumming is accomplished enough to handle the frequent tempo changes, but loose enough to sound as if he could accidentally drop one of his sticks at any moment. Thembaís bass functions as a sort of glue to hold each song together as the other three musicians go berserk. The Intima has a knack for cramming compelling melodies into every nook and cranny of their songs without things sounding cluttered. On many instances, the instrumental interplay is in the same league as symbiotic string-strangling ensembles like the Thinking Fellers and Polvo. The bandís exclusive reliance on minor keys (especially A and E) does make the album blur into one long song, but their rhythmic attention deficit disorder keeps things from ever getting boring.

As much as I can continue rambling about the music, I cannot review
this record without discussing the political perspective behind it. The CD booklet has short pieces of song-by-song commentary, as well as recommendations of books that elaborate on the topic of each song. Normally, this would be considered an extremely pretentious move, but in this case reading the liner notes will actually increase the musicís emotional impact on the listener. For instance, album standout ìBlue Coffinsî is about a massacre initiated by US-trained soldiers twenty-one years ago at a city in El Salvador. When Nora and Andrew harmonize the words ìShe cannot cry/She cried herself dry,î it sounds like a trite lovelorn plea---until you realize that theyíre singing from the perspective of the sole survivor of said massacre. Then, it becomes truly heartbreaking.

Another prominent theme of Peril and Panic is the destruction of nature by the forces of industry. ìFrom Exileî critiques the hypocrisy of national park services that claim to preserve nature while exploiting it for tourist purposes. Of course, Iím phrasing the sentiment much more blatantly than the songís lyrics do; when Nora and Andrew sing ìThe natural world/A packaged tour,î the inherent paradox in those two small phrases speaks for itself. ìCult of Cultureî is the only song in which Nora sings lead (maybe sheíll come out of her shell on the next album), and she attacks capitalism itself with a similar paradox: ìYouíre giving me morethan one person could ever need/You're taking me from what I need."

This is as plain-spoken as protest music gets these days, and the
Intima are to be praised for neither beating around the bush nor beating dead horses. (Okay, the hidden bonus track is an extremely obvious John Ashcroft joke, but at least they had the decency to make it a hidden bonus track.) At a time in which our government is doing things that many people disagree vehemently with and/or about, it is good to have records like this to continue a tradition thatís been present in rock since its genesis. From Phil Ochs to the Minutemen to Bikini Kill, there have always been bands and artists encouraging us to think about the issues of the day, even as we dance to their music. You can tune out the Intimaís vocals and lyrics, and Peril and Panic would still be an excellent album. However, it would also be an incomplete one.

---Sean Padilla

May 22, 2003

The Twin Atlas "Inside the Skate Scandal"

A long time ago, Pale Saints mastermind Ian Masters got together with His Name is Alive's Warn Defever and they produced a wonderful one-off project called ESP Summer. It blended acoustic guitar and soft gentle electronic hiss with the distinctive and lovely voice of Masters, creating a warm, summery vibe. I never thought anyone would ever reach those heights again, but Inside The Skate Scandal certainly does! I have to say that ever since this record showed up in my mailbox, hardly a day has gone by that I've not listened to it. Not that I was really much of a fan of The Twin Atlas before; in fact, I kind of lost my taste for that whole psych-rock movement a few years ago. As these guys have a history in the Philly scene, they've been around (mainly Sean Byrne, who is/was in Lenola and Mazarin) for years, but The Twin Atlas is a whole 'nother story.

Inside the Skate Scandal is actually the scraps left over from their previous album, a record which I have yet to hear, but if these are the outtakes, then the previous release is either really, really good or really really not. Still, my enthusiasm for them is not reliant on what their past records sounded like, we're in the here and now, mind you, and it's pretty damn impressive. Kicking off with "See That Happen," the duo turns the A/C down to 70, shuts the blinds, turns off the lights, lights up some incense...and, well, you know...participates in stuff. Not that we condone it or anything, but if you know what I'm talking about, you know how pretty darn special it can be. Inside the Skate Scandal is one mellow affair. From the intro, the duo just proceed to get..very..very..hazy. Hazy in the way that Daydream Nation was hazy. There's a cover of the B-52's "Legal Tender" in here, you wouldn't know it was a cover lest you looked at the cover. The rest of the record? I dunno, man--it just kind of blurs all into this one..real..good..affair. Then again, I don't think I'd want to examine this record piecemeal, or single out one track in particular.

Inside the Skate Scandal is a record that's very simple in design; there's no dramatic change of style or formula, and it never hurries along. The Twin Atlas just take time to smell the flowers, and they smell..real...goood. Miight not win awards for being the most original or innovative or particularly new-sounding record, but darned if The Twin Atlas won't be contender for the most heady album of the year. Inside the Skate Scandal will have you watching the clouds in your head for many listens to come.

--Joseph Kyle

the soundtrack of our lives 'gimme five!'

This is a stopgap reissue of a release from 2000, and, personally, I'm glad they decided to reissue it, because I've really wanted to review it! In case you didn't know, The Soundtrack Of Our Lives are currently on the road to becoming the Next Big Thing, and if you've heard their most recent album, 2001's Behind The Music, then you already know that expectations are extremely high--and rightfully so--for their next record.

How wonderfully promising this EP must have been for those who heard it when it first came out, what with its harder sound, intelligent lyrics, and an utter devotion to pure melody! When describing TSOOL to friends, I describe their sound as "Rolling Stones via Oasis," and not only do I stand by that description, Gimme Five certainly proves my point. And they pummel you with the rock, too. From the opening chords of "Dow Jones Syndrome," TSOOL are utterly relentless in delivering an onslaught of classic rock, never pausing to breathe, and giving nothing but their best. Not a naff track in the lot, either!

While we await delivery of the next entry into 2003's Top Ten list, Gimme Five is a wonderful look-back at a band whose best work is far from behind them. At the very least, it proves that Behind the Music was far from a fluke. If you're wondering who is going to save you from bland, boring-ass rock music, I think that The Soundtrack Of Our Lives answered that question three years ago. Thanks, Hidden Agenda, for rereleasing this record! (Disturbing double-take cover art, too.)

--Joseph Kyle

Envelope "Faded Letters"

Andrew Nelson is Envelope, a one-man New Wave band who makes music like its 1985. Of course, having been around those days, and having a not-so secret love affair with all things pop from that era, I've got to say that I've enjoyed every second of Faded Letters. With its supple, lush dancefloor beat, and intelligent lyrics, Nelson's has some extremely good ideas, and his ability as an instrumentalist shows. Every one of these songs have a wonderful groove to them, and are very pleasant for the ears..and the legs...for dancing is the prime objective here.

If there's one fault with Faded Letters, it's that Nelson's music sounds so...dated. It's hard to make synth-based dance music without succumbing to the sounds of the past. Because of this, Nelson's musical ability and skill get lost amidst the crowded graveyard of Bad New Wave Bands. When he breaks away from the upbeat dance numbers, such as the dark and brooding "Proclamation" and "Haunted," the music sounds a lot better; when he sticks to the synth-pop formula, I don't care as much for it, because it's so been there, done that, and it does his talents a great disservice.

Faded Letters just didn't feel like it was Nelson's record, and that's something that I feel is holding him back. Perhaps Nelson should experiment more with his instrumental backings, because that is Faded Letters strongest point. Having heard a ton of so-called bedroom dance-poppers' records, I can tell you this: Nelson tops the lot of them, and I really expect things to improve. Because this is his debut, these criticisims are forgiveable, and I'll admit that I'm eager to hear what Nelson comes up with when he develops a sound that truly is his own. The minute he does, I'll bet you I'll be dancin' all over the place.

--Joseph Kyle

May 21, 2003

Weak "Weak"

"Weak" is far from the correct adjective to describe Weak's music. Antony Widoff is the one man mystery machine behind the music, and the music that he's made here makes me less than hesitant to throw out the term "brilliant." Even though I feel like the term "weak" is a bit of an intentional oxymoron, I could also see it as a sign that Widoff knows he's a brilliant fellow. Little did I know that this was the beginning of a problematic writing assignment.I'll confess right now and say that this review has been extremely difficult for me to write. It's an unintentional complication, too; it's not like I'm fighting with myself to be extremely generous with the music, either. I guess it started with the whole "why is Weak called Weak when it obviously isn't?"

After I settled that little confusion, an even greater one arose. I swear that every time I listened to Weak, I heard something different, I heard the music in a different way--and it often made me throw out what I'd just thought was correct. When I first heard the spider-sly opener "Anxiety," I instantly thought, "this guy is a modern day Syd Barrett," and that's what I heard. A twisted, kind of dark and sad folkie making challenging music. The next time I listened to Weak, the first thing I thought was, "why the heck did I think this guy sounds like Syd Barrett? He doesn't sound a thing like him. This sounds just like David Bowie." Of course, when I came back to Weak, I wondered where the Bowie comparison came from, because they sounded SOO MUCH MORE like someone else. That list of someone else, to kind of shorten the story, grew to include the following: Sparklehorse, Radiohead, Scott Walker, Grandaddy, Jeff Buckley, Coldplay, and that was just this afternoon! (You could be snide, of course, and point out that all of those bans could easily be compared to one another, but let's not do that right now, Slappy.)

Regardless of my inability to capture the genius of Weak, the sound of Weak can easily be drawn from that mighty behemoth of a paragraph. It's a slow, dark, foggy, cold and lonely musical landscape that is tempered with soft, gorgeous, fragile singing and a hint of desperation to boot. On tracks such as "When Nothing Matters" and "Wild World," he kind of gets a bit too jazzy-dancy for my taste, but he soons corrects that error, and I'm not too bothered by it. Besides, when there are other brilliant numbers like "Alice Said," "Regrets," and the utterly cover of the Beatles' "Here, There, and Everywhere," why bother to worry about it?

That Weak has gone virtually unheard is wrong, people. Wrong! What are we going to do about this, friends? I'll tell you what we need to do. We need to take a visit to their website,, and we need to check out their music, and we need to buy it. We need to make mention of them at every opportunity for name-dropping. C'mon, you drop Ben Gibbard's like it's yours, so why not get someone on your namedrop list that's actually good and, more importantly, deserves to be hyped up?

Get moving. NOW!!!!!.

---Joseph Kyle

May 19, 2003

Kosmonaut "Desert Song" C/W "Bee Song"

Whoops, Jimmy Tassos did it again--yes, that's right, he released another awesome little slice of POP music. It's nice to actually have a vinyl 7" single in the "single of the week" section! Jimmy is one of the last holdouts of the 7" format, though I've heard he's grown tired of the format--or at least has had a few hassles. Anyway, his labor of love once again reaps a wonderful bounty. Kosmonaut features Stephen Maughan (ex-Bulldozer Crash) and Geoff Suggett (Ex-Lavender Faction), and the results are exactly what you'd expect. Mellow and never dramatic 80s-style pop that reminds me a little bit of Aztec Camera and more than a little bit of those wonderful Just Say Yes samplers. "Bee Song" is my choice for my next new-girl-impression mix-tape sensation. Kudos, now let's get crackin' on that full-length!

--Joseph Kyle

May 17, 2003

Califone "Quicksand/Cradlesnakes"

This record has bothered me. It's been a hair in my craw, for sure. Califone's earlier records were mellow, spaced-out blues that were dosed heavily in atmosphere and blues, and I loved 'em for it. Then, they released Deceleration One, which was cold and beautiful instrumental soundtrack type of music, and it sounded even better. I was hoping this record would be a mixture of noise, beauty, and dementia. Instead, they've offered up a stripped-down country-blues record that sounds a lot like the bands that Rutili and company have been involved with--such as Ugly Casanova, Fruit Bats, and Holopaw.

But Quicksand/Cradlesnakes just bugs me, because it sounds like Califone of old, but yet it doesn't. Tim Rutili's history of making gritty, oil-stained blues-based country and rock is well documented, and while this record follows quite well in the Califone legacy, it's not quite as electronically atmospheric as eariler records. Conflict arises, though, because though it's stripped down, it's no less disturbed than previous records, and it's just as experimental and awkward as anything else he's done. And, on "Vampiring Again," Califone take another turn, and offer up a sad rocking number that could easily pass as a lost Radiohead track., and it sounds great.

If you've ever wondered what Syd Barrett or Skip Spence would sound like in 2003, then Quicksand/Cradlesnakes answers that question. Rutili's lyrics are typically strange--almost contrapuntal--and if you can tell me what "early minor japanese pitcher sidearm slow tic/a wolfish mouth/on a mouse-ish face lady from shanghai 3rd man" (from "your golden ass") means, please do, as I'd like to know. Because the lyrics are of such an oblique nature that you simply have to accept them as part of the songscape.

Califone have always offered challenges when it comes to their music, and this stripped-down, bare-bones record, while shocking to hear, simply continues their tradition of offering something new and different with each record. It's certainly a grower, but I guess that, in the end, Quicksand/Cradlesnakes isn't that different of a Califone record. It's a grower, a bit of a shocker, and ultimately impressive. Mission accomplished, then?

--Joseph Kyle

May 16, 2003

Parlour "Googler"

Seems as if releasing 'sister' albums is the latest indie-rock practice. Bands are recording enough material for two records and then picking and choosing between the material. Sometimes it's awesome (like Appleseed Cast's Low Level Owl and the Kristin Hersh solo album and Throwing Muses reunion) and sometimes it's merely okay (hi, Radiohead); sometimes it's interesting (like Cex's simultaneous Being Ridden vocal and instrumental mixes and Poor Rich One's William Hut releasing his solo debut on the same day as a rarities disk by his band Poor Rich Ones) but other times, you're left scratching your head (hello, Joan of Arc!) about the results. Louisville's Parlour--who spent several years recording material before releasing their offical debut album Octopus Off-Broadway--are the latest band to succumb to this new concept. Their debut album was a pleasingly mild, calm, chilled-out record.

But what of Googler? It's a bit rough around the edges; unlike the oceanlike waves of sonic beauty of Octopus Off Broadway, Googler is a much harder record. Industrial sounds are much more abundant here than before, and at times these songs--such as "Over the Under" and "Distractor"--seem to be more like instrumental rehearsals and jam sessions as opposed to cohesive songs. Don't count them out for moments of dreamy bliss; "Hop Pife" and "Svrendikditement" are groovy, mellowed-out rock that's very reminiscent of Mice Parade, though with a little more edge. In fact, these last two numbers--ironically the oldest songs on Googler--really make this a worthy release.

At six songs, Googler seems a bit too brief. While these songs are excellent, I'd love to hear what Parlour could do if they really let loose in the studio. They come very close on "Svrendikditement," but overall the band seems restrained and not particularly sure of themselves. The Furnish brothers have some great ideas floating around, and the backing band are all capable, but something just seems so...unsteady. Perhaps this is an inherent flaw of bands who spend more time in the studio than they do onstage--the chops are good and are tight, but they might be better after spending a few weeks onstage.

It will be interesting to hear Parlour's next work; if they've spent several years in and out of studios to come up with two great albums, what will be the results of their next album? Will it be another five-six years before the next Parlour album? Or will Tim Furnish and company pull it together and release another opus next year? They've got the talent to make a great album, even if it seems as if they don't have the time.

--Joseph Kyle

May 15, 2003

Muggs "Dust"

It's finally starting to happen--hip-hop artists are finally tired of making straight-up rap music, and they've started to get weird. This is a good thing. Look at artists like Cex, Gold Chains and Aesop Rock, or labels like Mush. They've started to take matters into their own hands and are redefining the genre that once was only about hoes, rap and bling-bling. Muggs, who is the musical mastermind for Cypress Hill, has branched out as well, and has produced a dark, brooding soundscape of an album.

Muggs is actually following very closely behind sometimes collaborator and former trip-hop genius Tricky. Thus, Dustdoesn't owe much to the rap world at all, but it owes a great deal of debt to electronica as well. Don't worry, though; Dust is neither hip-hop or trip-hop or anything like that. It's a weird mixture of R&B, electronica, hip-hop and pop, but it never really sits still long enough to be classified. I like that. I like that a lot. Muggs has turned in a record that defies classification, and he does it so effortlessly.

Though he pretty much handles the music by himself, he does have several guest singers, and this gives the album a distinctive sound. He's assisted throughout the album by the lovely vocals of Amy Trujillo, who is Dust's only consistent vocalist. The songs "Rain" and "Faded" are hauntingly sad, quite deep and very pretty--"Rain" even has a children's choir on it--and what makes things surprising is when you learn that the singer, Josh Todd, was the frontman of really the hideously named and boringly bad hair metal band Buckcherry. On here, he's very tender, sweet--and occasionally reminiscent of Noel Gallagher, which is who I thought it was at first. Also appearing on Dust is Everlast, who does the pretty good "Gone for Good." The real winner, though, is Greg Dulli's "Fat City," which is very similar to his Twilight Singers project--heck, it even appears on their new album.

That's not to say that Dust is a perfect record, because it's not. As is quite obvious, he moves around quite a lot, and because he's not sitting still, Dust is occasionally spread too thin. Sometimes there's a monotony in the overall sound of the album, making it a bit tedious in places, leaving you to think that you've just heard the song you're listening to. Still, that's a relatively minor complaint, because Dust is never less than enthralling, and Muggs is an excellent composer. (Then again, all those Cypress Hill records should have told you that!)

Dust is a dark and haunting work, yet it's quite beautiful. It's a surprising record from someone who's well-regarded in the rap world, because it doesn't sound like anything he's done with Cypress Hill or solo. To be honest, the only other record I could think of that compares to what Muggs has created with Dust is This Mortal Coil, and that's saying a lot. An excellent record that will leave you wanting more, Dust is a record which points to a brighter, interesting future for its composer.

--Joseph Kyle

May 11, 2003

Elliott The Letter Ostrich "Coweata Android"

Ah, now this takes me back! This little CD came to me in a bright envelope, and it has a vibe that I like--that Blackbean & Placenta Tape Club vibe. If you never heard of Blackbean & Placenta, let me just say that you missed out on one of the most heady, interesting, frustrating, and challenging record labels out there. Mike Landucci had a love of all things music, and he released just about every genre you could imagine--from noise to new wave, french pop to drum-circles--the man released it all, and did so in an econo-state of mind. Paper sleeves were common, as were recycled covers from other albums. While they're still around, making lathe-cut 7" records, their full-length CD days are over.

He had a soft tooth for casio-based pop, and it's too bad they're not really doing much anymore, as Elliott the Letter Ostrich would have most likely been one of his newest stars. This duo (who I *think* are from Oklahoma) make pretty cute boy-girl synthpop, with a hint of acoustic guitar and a well-produced sound that would make you think that they weren't just now releasing their debut. The cover is a cute, somewhat three-dimensional sleeve that hints at something utterly twee and sweet. Such hunches are quickly confirmed, once you hear the lovely "House Plants to Ghosts." It's a slower synth number, that turns into the boy-sung acoustic "Hasselhoff 3010." They keep it up for the rest of the record, with a Cardigans-like vibe that I really do enjoy. There's also a space-age vibe going on here (they *are* new wave, mind you) about aliens and animals and sprits and ghosts. I haven't quite figured out if there's a concept going on here, but I could see them going in that direction in the future

Coweata Android EP is a really fun, refreshing debut. While there are a few week moments--like a popping on one or two songs that might be a technical glitch--the production is otherwise top-notch, their ability to play their instruments is also great (which, believe me, can be a rare commodity in the home-tape community), and they just have this wonderful little positive aura about them. I can safely say that great things shall soon come from these kids. I can't wait!

--Joseph Kyle

May 10, 2003

Interview: The Owl & The Pussycat

How did the two of you meet, and, more importantly, what made you decide to collaborate?

Lois: It's a really long and convoluted story, but basically, Greg handed me a cassette of his music about seven years ago and I loved it and sang along with it all the time. So I decided I wanted to make a record with him. The trouble was, I didn't know him, or his address or anything else about him. Cut to six years later, a couple of further Greg Moore sightings and I finally get around to asking him to record with me. Gracious fellow, he accepted.

Describe the writing process for this album, please.

Greg: Lois and I both wrote individually. Then we'd work out harmonies and arrangements together. "Tigers" and "Don't Play Me" are both pretty old, but they seemed appropriate for this project because they owe a lot to Lois. I became a big Lois fan around the time I saw her on tour with Heavenly. The other songs were all written in the last couple of years. "Blinds" and "Time of Day" were the only ones written specifically for this project. Lois helped me with the words on "Time of Day". "Blinds" was kind of worked out while we were recording it. I initially envisioned Lois doing the lead vocal, but I'm really happy with the trading off vocals. "Curtains" owes a lot to my friend Peter Ford, who once helped me record it on 4-track.

Lois: Although Greg and I each wrote separately for the album, we really crafted it when we were recording. We added harmonies and piano and bass parts and changed a bunch of stuff around. Almost all the non-acoustic guitar parts were written while we were recording. Totally on the fly.

Any fond memories about recording?

Lois: We recorded in a cabin on a quiet island in British Columbia. So we did stuff like dug clams and watched whales and eagles. It was rad. We had to take all our recycling off the island on the ferry and there was tons because everyone drank a lot of beer and spirits. I missed the 4 a.m. recording session of "Time of Day" that was done by Greg and one of the engineers, John Collins (New Pornographers). They got trashed, took a microphone outside on the deck and recorded a track. You can hear the waves washing beneath the deck and John saying something like "that was killer" in the background.

Greg: Many fond memories- Lois and Jon and Dave (the engineers) are really funny and interesting people. I laughed a lot. We ate really well. Usually, Lois was the head chef and the guys would run around and try to be useful somehow. In general, those guys made the whole recording process very enjoyable and relaxing. I saw a whale off the side of the ferry. I thought it was a killer whale but it may have just been killer.

When the two of you got together, were either of you particularly inspired by any particular albums, or was there a record that really made you think, "I'd like to do that!"?

Lois: What's interesting about my list of inspirational records is that none of them are particularly great. Leon & Mary Russell's Wedding Album; British singer Judie Tzuke's first album; Pablo Cruise, Worlds Away, Silk Degrees by Boz Skaggs. It's pretty embarrassing to admit, actually.

Greg: I didn't really have a specific idea of what this record would sound like. I was more concerned with personally rising to the challenge than chasing a certain sound. I did listen to that latest Softies record (also recorded with JCDC on Galiano) on Lois' recommendation and I really loved that.

What's the story of how you two became the "owl" and "pussycat"?

Lois: I like to read and Greg likes to be petted. It was a natural.

Greg: We were patiently waiting for the right name to reveal itself. I was 4-tracking with Lois at her place in Olympia and I was looking at this little wooden Owl and Pussycat lamp or painted wooden toy of some sort. Lois said, "that's the name- the Owl and the Pussycat." She was right. Somebody gave me Edward Lear's Complete Book of Nonsense when I was a kid and its still one of my favorites.

Pussycat, what's your story? What else are you working on? Greg: I play in a band with my brother Thom called the Moore Brothers. We have a brand new cd coming out in May on Amazing Grease records. We live together as well in Oakland, CA. I am working on my undergraduate degree in Art and German. I'm working on 2 songs too.

It's been a few years since your last "Lois" record. Have you retired the one-named "Lois" project, or are you biding your time before releasing another Lois gem on the world?

Lois: If Heather Dunn would play drums and George Michael would produce it, I'd put out another Lois album in a heartbeat. (Let me know if you know anyone in the George Michael camp.)

At times, it seems like your songs are bursting at the seams and are eagerly awaiting a full pop orchestra accompaniment. Is a orchestral pop record something that's not too far off for you, Owl?

Lois: I am 100% uninterested in orchestral arrangements. I like simple tunes, played simply. It's like the difference between classic and nouvelle French cuisine. One is full of cream and sauces, the other one just relies on the basic flavors of the food. I'm nouvelle cuisine. Maybe when I write the songs: "Caught in the Folds of Your Gown," "Oh, Marble is Cold" and "How Do I Get The Lice Out of My Wig?," I will reconsider.

Are there plans for a second Owl & The Pussycat record, or is this a one-off?

Lois: "Owl & the Pussycat Take Manhattan", "Owl & the Pussycat II: Electric Bugaloo" and "Owl & the Pussycat: The Prequel" are ALL in the works. Stay tuned!

Greg: I hope we record more. We've got a little week long west coast tour in a couple of weeks and some shows later on in the year- so we'll see what happens


---Joseph Kyle

Zwan "Mary, Star of the Sea'

Dear Billy Corgan,

I want to say thank you for brining Zwan into the world. It's a most impressive debut album, and it really shows that you've grown as a songwriter and as a person. At first, I was afraid that your record was going to be a rehash of Gish or Siamese Dream--good records, mind you, but not what I'd expect from a debut of a new band. I was also afraid that you'd do the exact opposite--make a record that distances you from your excellent past, and in the process, negating what your real talents are. Thankfully, that didn't happen, either. I'm also happy to hear that what you're doing now sounds a little like--but not really like--the Smashing Pumpkins.

In fact, you sound a heck of a lot happier now. Certainly, the angst and anger of the Pumpkin decade have dissipated. You sounded frustrated; angry, and after a while, what you were writing sounded forced. I really felt for you, Billy. Your frustrations made you angry; your anger made you unhappy, and your unhappiness reflected on your writing. But, you were younger, I was younger, times change, and you have to move on with your life.

And I'm happy that you've got a talented bunch of people helping you out, too. Matt Sweeny and Dave Pajo are certainly experienced foes, Jimmy's still got that powerful drummer's touch, and the girl in your band--sorry, I don't reememer her name right offhand--she's pretty good, too; I'd like to hear her singing more, but, you know, it's your band, I'm simply a fan, and it's just an opinion.

The songs, man--I swear, I can hear a big ol' grin on your face! I like that. I love your songwriting; I love the fact that you're having a good time with life. "Lyric" is a sing-along if I've heard one. And I really like "El Sol," too. It's almost Beach Boy-ish (and let's not forget the obvious reference by the title of "Endless Summer") and I really like this direction of your writing. It's almost as if you've come to realize that you've made a success of your life--now's the time to enjoy it. I mean, really! You sound so much more...alive! Just listen to you on "Yeah!" and "Baby Let's Rock!"--you're enjoying yourself! But I have to ask you a question--did you unintentionally steal the riff from Unrest's "Imperial" for "Settle Down?" And that big long rockfest of "Jesus I/Mary, Star of the Sea" shows that you've not gone all soft on us, either.

So, Billy, welcome back to the music world. You've made a great record. You've put together a great band. Don't listen to those who criticize you for not being the Smashing Pumpkins--let those who want to hear Siamese Dreamform a tribute band. After all, why would you want to remake the past? There's plenty of future, why waste it looking back?

Joseph Kyle

Euclid "Carthage"

For obvious reasons, I'm a bit partial to Euclid's debut record, Carthage. Though it's a brief affair, it hints at a band who have quickly found their sound, and are simply improving on it. From the opening, scratchy "Little Dove," their agenda is set: old-timey country music. They take a few pages from the Tarnation songbook, and with a little band stability, have made a record that is dark yet delicate, powerful yet vulnerable.

Lacing the opening track with scratchy vinyl record pops and hisses, they've created a mental nostalga, making themselves seem quite older than they really are. Throw in the dueling siren-song vocals of Katrina Whitney and Renee Raiteri, and you'll soon find yourself in a dusty old honky-tonk. All of the songs have a dirty, wind-blown streets of frontier towns feel to them; that Euclid's singers sound not unlike Patsy Cline doesn't hurt their mystique, either.

While it could be argued that they're simply following the Tarnation formula, might I argue that such a formula was quite wonderful, even if Tarnation didn't survive it? Yeah, I'll argue that one. In fact, I think that they're better than Tarnation, and considering how highly I hold them, that is indeed saying something for this little Portland band!

Welcome to the world, Euclid. I'm eager to here more.

--Joseph Kyle

May 08, 2003

Mean Red Spiders "Still Life Fast Moving"

I've got to admit that the blissout pop-fest, in general, will leave me happy for many an hour, and Still Life Fast Moving have provided me with a hour's smile or two. Of course, when you're doing the shoe stare thing, you're probably listening to such wonderful bands as Ride, Chapterhouse, Pale Saints, Boo Radleys, or Slowdive--bands that broke up ten years ago yet seemingly won't go away, because while the British "press" loved them and then hated them, those who loved their records never wavered in their devotion. It's a lovely little feeling to know that bands out there still take the time to make this kind of music, and Canada's Mean Red Spiders are certainly students of the early 90s school of sh**ga**ng.

Mean Red Spiders are one of those bands I'd always heard of, but had never actually heard. Apparently there was a big lineup change between this and their previous album, and with that member leaving, the band's sound has also changed a bit, losing some of the more obvious My Bloody Valentine inspiration, trading it in for something a bit more (hee-hee) Lush. Silly giggles aside, you can't help but feel like the pressing plant accidentally programmed tracks from Gala on here, especially the driving "Turn Walk Away" and "First and Only." And, much like Folksongs for the Afterlife, when Mean Red Spiders aren't making sounds that sound indebted to Lush, they're exploring new areas of pop and sh**g**er that sounds a lot like bossanova pop. No matter, though, they're still good here, too. The big winner here, though, is the closing one-two salvo of "Awkward Over Coffee" and "First and Only (Reprise)"--an epic album closer that is just so blissfully good, it's worth purchasing Still Life Fast Moving just for these two songs.

Mean Red Spiders are working wonders for a genre that has been full of pretenders, not-so-goodnicks, and downright imitators, but they've pulled off the trick of sounding totally indebted yet utterly original. It's a rare feat, indeed, and Still Life Fast Moving will quietly win you over, and they'll do it so subtlely that you won't even notice that you've been staring at your loafers.

--Joseph Kyle

Stereolab "ABC Music"

It is indeed difficult to talk about this collection without mentioning the death of key member Mary Hansen. Perhaps it is fitting, then, that this retrospective collection was destined to be released at the time of her death, as it really serves as not only a "greatest-hits" of sorts, but also stands as evidence of the magic of Stereolab in a live setting. And unlike previous singles collections, ABC Music covers the full range of Stereolab's long and varied career, serving up the "hits" that fans would expect: "John Cage Bubblegum," "Lo Boob Oscillator," "French Disko," "Les Yper Sound." (What, no "Ping Pong"?)

Starting off with the wonderful "Super Electric," ABC Music serves as a wonderful reminder that Stereolab's magic was with them since birth. Relentless, beautiful, and mesmerizing were three words I thought when I first heard them all those years ago, and those words certainly come to mind again, hearing a young Stereolab starting off on their journey. Underneath all of the art, though, was a pure heart of pop gold, and when put on the radio, they never failed to present the audience with magic. There's nothing on ABC Music that's self-indulgent, or too long; only the "Metronomic Underground" stretches out their songs past the ten minute mark, and while two CD's worth of Stereolab might be a bit much for some, it passes by too quickly.

I don't know if ABC Music is complete; it certainly seems a bit odd that they dropped off of the radio circuit for five years. Still, that really doesn't matter; after all, they really haven't changed up their formula too much over the past decade. It's amazing to note that no matter how much they change, Stereolab almost always stays the same. While the future might be uncertain, ABC Music is a nice reminder of the magic that is Stereolab. Mary Hansen's passing was tragic; her music was heavenly, and if ABC Music accomplishes anything, it serves as a reminder of that. A wonderful collection from a wonderful band, and maybe their loss does not mean their end; if it does, this record will serve as a wonderful final statement of their greatness.

--Joseph Kyle

May 07, 2003

Various Artists "Emo Is Awesome/Emo Is Evil"

Hey boys and girls! Do you want to feel like a high-school junior again? Do you want to feel aloof and awkward, yet totally superficial and silly? American Idol 2 is over, and your life is feeling oh-so-empty because, even though you really hate the show, you can't help but watch every episode, and in so doing, you're appreciating it from an ironic point of view--at least that's what the college guy who wanted to hook up with you said last night in your LJ. If your life is more Paul than Kevin, if you're a boy with a Karen Carpenter complex, if you're a girl and you've modeled your life off of My So-Called Life, or you own more than one white belt, then, ta-da, guess what? You're probably emo. You know that TBS stands for Taking Back Sunday (and not Trembling Blue Stars, whose Bob Wratten was making sad-eyed emo whilst you were a suckling at yer mom's teat), you really not-so secretly like OK Go, Juliana Theory, Saves the Day, and Alkaline Trio.

Okay, okay, okay, I'll be fair to you kids out there and say that this whole "emo" thing isn't always as bad as I'm led to believe. Besides, the kids gotta have their music too, and if emo is what they call it now, then so be it. We had "grunge," you know...which I'm sure sounds like Leo Sayer when compared to your Jimmy Eat World.
And while many labels and bands have been guilty as hell of the crime of mediocrity, Deep Elm--perhaps the one label that's synonymous with that dreaded genre--cannot be accused of making and releasing boring music. That doesn't mean that they've been guilty of hit-or-miss releases, or by-the-books albums, but, like Polyvinyl and Jade Tree, they're turning into a much more challenging, interesting label--one that's more substance than style, but yet never being anything less than utterly stylish. It's a dizzy dance, indeed, but they're pulling it off. Yay!

Emo is Awesome/Emo is Evil is a label sampler for you new-to-emo kids out there. There's nothing new on here, so you emoheads out there might want to sit this one out. Pretty much every band on the label is represented, and not all bands are as good as others, but hey, that's a personal choice. Personally, I'm impressed with the Texas bands (Slowride, Lewis, Pop Unknown, Red Animal War), and I'm really fond of The Appleseed Cast (represented here twice, though now on Tiger Style), Brandtson, and Desert City Soundtrack. Some of those Swedish bands, such as Starmarket, Logh, and Last Days of April are pretty sweet, too. I'm not fond of a couple of the other bands on here, 'cuz they're too by-the-book, but you might dig 'em.

So, if you've just now hit the last few years of your high school career, sweet-talked a cutie-pie into giving you a LJ code, or like to use X's for spaces in whatever you put your name in (Make-Out Club, LJ, AIM, it's all good), and you need a soundtrack to your emo-lacking life, then check out Emo is Awesome/Emo is Evil. Growing up can be tough, you know. Luckily, you can go to Hot Topic to become the original non-conformist to impress your friends. Personally, I'm putting a copy of Emo is Awesome/Emo is Evil aside for my baby nephew, because, hey, I'd rather him listen to this than the other music that's going to be marketed his way...

--Joseph Kyle

May 06, 2003

Portastatic "The Summer of the Shark"

All hail the return of the Mac! The Summer of the Shark is the first 'traditional' Portastatic in years, and personally I'm glad that Mac decided to head back in a more songbased direction. Okay, so the last few Portastatic releases have been most interesting--a cover of Tropicalia songs sung in Portugese, an all-instrumental score for an art film, and a live recording with Ken Vandermark--they've been quite far away from the lo-fi, everything-plus-the-kitchen-sink work ethic that produced such gems as Naked Pilsners and The Nature of Sap.

Having just written that paragraph, I realize that Portastatic's nature has always been an experimental one. In fact, The Summer of the Shark is as much a bold experimental step for Mac as Looking for Leonard was. What's experimental about this album, though, is that it's unconventionally good. I'd hesitate to compare this to the lo-fi works of the past; Mac's grown so much as a songwriter that these songs no longer sound like Superchunk demos or not-quite-good-enough rejects. In fact, I'm probably not far off in saying that this certainly rivlals his best Superchunk work.

Of course, certain things are par for the course when dealing with Portastatic; Mac's high-pitched voice singing slightly-sad songs, all tempered with a bit of shambly instrumental backing, and every bit of it recorded at home. The Summer of the Shark shows that either he's upgraded his home studio system, or he has a bigger bedroom, because every second of the album is as grand and lush as the last Lambchop album. In fact, if you didn't know it was a home-recorded album, you wouldn't believe it; I know that I was immediatly impressed by how darn good the album sounds.

Oh, and the album sounds wonderful! The Summer of the Shark is certainly a varied album. From mellowed-out grooves of "Noisy Night," "Don't Disappear" and "Paratrooper," to the near punk-rockin' sounds of "Windy City" and the classic-rock sounds of "Drill Me," Mac never sits still when it comes to the music. He even has a wonderful, indie-rock Captain and Tennille duet with Janet Weiss on the utterly beautiful "Oh Come Down,." Mac's muse hasn't failed him yet, and it shows that Portastatic might just out-rock Superchunk one of these days.

It's good to know that Mac has set aside a retirement project that's just as good as his signature band, Bricks Superchunk. While their future seems to be winding down (hey, it's okay, it's been well over a decade, even the Beatles didn't last as long as the 'chunk), Mac's future as an excellent songwriter and musician seems assured. The Summer of the Shark proves that he's still got it, and isn't going to stop the ROCK.
Long may you rock, sir. Long may you rock.

--Joseph Kyle

May 05, 2003

Jeff Hanson "Son"

Jeff Hanson sings like a girl. Don't misunderstand--that's not an insult, and I'm not trying to pick a fight with Kill Rock Stars' newest star. It's just that..well...Hanson's voice is so angellic, so high-pitched, it's almost like an aural Crying Game. You'd be forgiven for thinking that Hanson had wanted his songs to be sung by a woman, like Stephin Merritt did when he started making records. Once you get past the initial shock of expectation, you'll find that Son is an extremely wonderful album of folk-rock--never too folky, never too rocky. At times, such as on the lovely "If You Ever Stay" and "Laughing At Nothing," you'll also swear that Hanson was secretly Elliott Smith.

Hanson is one of the few singer-songwriters who actually excites me. It needs not be stated, but I shall: in this genre, there's an awful lot of crap. Instead of falling victim to the cliches that hound most folk-singer slobs, Hanson clearly avoids the dull doldrums of yawn-inducing voice and guitar by deftly harmonizing with himself, often switching from acoustic guitar to electric from song to song as well as from solo to full-band backing. I've also got to praise his thoughtful use of piano as well.

Son's only flaw would be the fact that his strongest feature--full band accompaniment--is also his least utilized. "You Are The Reason" and "If You Ever Stay" were too-brief ventures into this sound, and they're easily the best numbers of the record. Though Son is varied enough to never become monotonous, I kept expecting to hear more full-band arrangments, but they never came. Personally, I'd love to hear "As Honest As A Liar Can Be" and "Laughing at Nothing" with a full band backing, because they would be monsters.

Still, that's only a minor quibble. Maybe Hanson will expand his sound on his next record--or maybe he'll stick with Son's near-perfect formula. Either way, the results will most certainly be rewarding. Son is a quiet little jewel of a record that's always a pleasure to listen to--not too sad, not too happy..just right!

--Joseph Kyle

Luminous Orange "Drop You Vivid Colours"

No one rocks like the Japanese. Although America and Britain still dominate the genre, rock musicians in Japan seem to have a knack for grasping the nuances of any Yankee sub-genre, and using them to create perfect simulations that put our sloppier creations to shame. Maybe it has something to do with Japan’s highly accelerated information flow in comparison to other nations, but I won't make sweeping sociological statements. Let’s look instead at the musical evidence. You want math-rock? Ruins put our own Don Caballero to shame. You want postmodern pop collage? Cornelius is miles ahead of Beck. You want psychedelic droning? Acid Mothers Temple churns out, like, ten albums’ worth of it every couple of months. Japanese band Luminous Orange are doing nothing to buck this trend, as their sophomore release Drop You Vivid Colours finds them recreating the sounds of early 1990s alt-rock and shoegaze with a significant boost in musicianship and song-craft.

At least half of the songs on this record could be considered genre exercises. After a plodding feedback-drenched introduction, “The Sky” crams all of the Breeders’ Last Splash into four minutes, right down to the surf guitars and sung/spoken Kim Deal-style vocals. However, this song features a bridge in which the bass and guitars run up and down the fret boards with a speed and agility that neither of the Deal sisters can manage. “Turbo R” does the same thing to Sonic Youth’s Dirty. The music is almost overwhelmed by crusty guitar noise and tuneless distorted vocals, but the drumming propels the song toward speeds that SY drummer Steve Shelley hasn’t managed in almost a decade. “Utatane no Hibi” is early Stereolab, right down to the clean guitars, clipped vocals, and synthesizer whooshes, but adds jarring stop/start dynamics to the equation as well. “Sun Ray” gives a sprightly face-lift to the jangly college-rock of Belly and Juliana Hatfield. “Starred Leaf” imitates the swooping whammy-bar antics of My Bloody Valentine. Come to think of it, almost every song on Drop You Vivid Colours puts squealing MBV guitars on top of already anthemic choruses (which, admittedly, makes the record a bit more endearing to me than it would be to the average reviewer).

Luminous Orange transcends mere mimicry, though, due to sheer chops and hooks. The title track (also the album’s first song) runs through five equally rocking yet completely different guitar riffs before getting to the first chorus. The vocals make the song sound like a co-ed duet, but according to the album credits the majority of vocal and guitar duties are handled by a woman named Rie Takeuchi. (In the studio, at least, Luminous Orange is basically Takeuchi with a revolving rhythm section.) Rie loves the sound of overdubbed harmonizing guitars and layered vocal harmonies, and she fills almost every crevice in the mix with them. She’s also well versed in the element of surprise. “How High” shifts from verse to chorus and back again with a completely unexpected yet totally killer key change, and many other songs on the album stop, start, and change tempos at a rate that keeps the listener guessing at all times. The songs never sound schizophrenic or disjointed, though, which you definitely can’t say about similar American bands like the Swirlies (who still rule, by the way). The drumming on the album is consistently excellent, full of cymbal splashes and incredibly fast fills, and the bass carries the melody of a song almost as often as the guitars do. All told, the attention given to arrangement on this album makes most other bands sound simply LAZY in comparison.

There isn’t a single moment on Drop You Vivid Colours that doesn’t sound like it couldn’t have been recorded after 1995. However, there haven’t been many bands of this ilk making music this good since then anyway! I’ve said this about many other bands, and it certainly applies to Luminous Orange: who needs originality when the music is this GOOD?

--Sean Padilla

May 03, 2003

Various Artists "Yes New York"

I'll admit that I've been quite blah about this whole "new rock" movement; it seems that every rock and/or roll band in New York City has become quite beloved, even if the band isn't all that great. True, it's a personal taste thing, and while I'm not going to say that such music is bad or inferior or whatever, I'm going to say that bands such as the Strokes, Interpol, and Yeah Yeah Yeahs just really don't do it for me.

Though I disagree with the folks at Vice Records, who consider Yes New York to be the "definitive statement of the New York Scene"-- that honor belongs to Arena Rock's massive This is Next Year--this is still a pretty good little collection. Yes New York (named in tribute to Brian Eno's legendary collection of the no-wave scene, No New York) contains songs old and new from many of the bands you'd excpect--The Strokes (with a live version of "New York Cops"), Interpol, The Rapture, and Calla--as well as newer, lesser-known acts, such as The Fever, The Roger Sisters, and The Witnesses. (Boy those New York kids sure love their definite articles!)

Personally, I'm fond of the Le Tigre remix "Decepticon," with its fun disco beat, Kathleen Hanna's disco-diva singing (including a generous 'borrowing' of Barry Mann's "Who Put the Bomp?") and clever lyrics (did I hear correctly, did she sing "your lyrics are dumb like a linolium floor?") all add up to make a wonderful song. I'm also fond of ex-Texas boys Secret Machines' previously released "What Used to Be French," The Rapture's "Olio," and, heck, even the Yeah Yeah Yeah's alter-ego the Unitard's sad acoustic closer, "Year To Be Hated."

Though I'm still not convinced about some of the bands on Yes New York, all in all I've got to say that it's been a fun listening experience. If you've not heard the This is Next Year comp, I recommend you get it, and put all three on your stereo, as Yes New York certainly serves as an excellent companion piece. Yes New York also is a benefit record for a most interesting New York-based organization, Musicians on Call, who you should check out.

--Joseph Kyle