September 29, 2003

Slipside "The World Can Wait'

Matinee mastermind Jimmy Tassos says that Slipslide's debut album, The World Can Wait, is one of Matinee's best albums to date. Once again, I find myself totally and utterly concuring to his opinion, because not only is The World Can Wait one of the label's best records, it's also one of the best indie pop albums to come out all year. Seriously--it's that good. (It's better than Belle & Sebastian's new one, but, then again, that's not really saying much any more.) It's a heady mix of pop melody, intelligent lyrics and smart musical arrangements. It's all quite tasteful and engaging.

The World Can Wait (nice Smithsesque title!) starts off on a sublime note, with the lovely "Sleeptalk." The minute lead singer Graeme Elston opens his mouth, you'll realize that you're in the presence of pop greatness. It's a quiet little rocker, one that recalls a time not so long ago (okay, 1988 seems like it's 15 years ago), where bands like Slipslide were loved and nutured and treated with respect, regardless of album sales. (Was it really so long ago when labels respected their artists and invested in a band for the long haul? Seems like a dream..) Heck, these four well-kept young men even look like they have the capability of making great pop music. Typecasting? Judging a book by its cover? Why, of course--why do you think they make covers so pretty?

The great thing about The World Can Wait isn't that it has a wonderful retro sound. No, in fact, it doesn't sound 'retro'; it sounds so contemporary to bands like The Mighty Lemon Drops, Go Betweens, Aztec Camera and Ocean Blue. If I wasn't at this point in my life where I eagerly await each and every Matinee release with baited breath, I would easily be convinced that The World Can Wait was a lost album from 1986, held up in major label limbo, and just now seeing the light of day. Though I know better, I'm still not entirely sure that this album wasn't made in 1986. I've been hitting repeat on the lovely, shoulda-been-hits of "Signs of Life," the wonderful "The World Can Wait" and the bedroom dancer "The Right Time."

For a label that's released many wonderful albums, The World Can Wait is easily Matinee's crown jewel. I've been listening to it over and over and over and I've written and rewritten this review several times over the past few weeks, but I can't really capture how much I love this album without overwhelming my review with typical fanboy fervor. Instead of pontificating about this or that, I'm just gonna say that this is the best album that Sire never released in 1987, and hope that you understand that such a statement means only one thing: high quality. A great debut album from a record label who have helped to redefine quality in pop music. (They've already surpassed Sarah in my book, and are now on the way of being the next Sire Records--well, sans Madonna. Unless there's something we don't know about...)

--Joseph Kyle

September 28, 2003

These Arms Are Snakes "This Is Meant to Hurt You"

What on earth is this? These Arms Are Snakes' debut mini-album, This Is Meant To Hurt You, is one impressive debut record. Of course, these guys have been around for years, in bands such as Botch and Kill Sadie, but let's not look at the past. We've got a future to talk about, and the present evidence of their future is clear. These Arms Are Snakes are going to make some really damn good records--I can feel it. After about one minute, you'll feel it, too. Maybe you won't run from fear, but I bet you will, because This Is Meant To Hurt You is a haunting, disturbing record that doesn't really like you.

How do we know? Well, let's look at this record. Apparently, somewhere along the way, these guys learned a valuable lesson: you can be more intimidating when you don't say anything, and you don't have to yell to get your point across. Sure, they do get a bit emotional (I believe the word here is 'passionate') about things here and there, but they never get...well, you know...they never get all At The Drive-In about things. Yeah, I can see that band being mentioned in reviews of this record...but that's just wrong. These guys are too good for comparisons to them. Not that ATDI were bad, mind's just that ATDI were one band and These Arms Are Snakes is another band and they've got their own sound and if you think they sound like the Drive-In then you're just lazy, or you've never actually heard much music. Which is it, slappy?

And what a sound it is! It's never gonna be easily pigeonholed, so let's just discuss what we can discern, and we'll allow you to make up your mind about what it sounds like after you go out and buy it, okay? This Is Meant To Hurt You has some pretty harsh whelping but it's not about how fast they can sing, or how much they can jam into one song. In fact, they spend more time on the actual music--this weird, tripped-out experimental meets metal meets hardcore meets whatever it is they want to call it because nobody sounds like this, really messed up yet somehow soothing MUSIC--than they do on the words. It's a big package packed in a little parcel, this record. Throw in some really messed up synth lines on "The Blue Rose" and "Drinking From the Necks Of the Ones You Love" and you HAVE WON ME OVER.

There's no good word, no journalistic pigeonhole for These Arms Are Snakes. They've got the capacity to shatter your illusions and to hammer home the point that WE ARE NOT LIKE THE OTHER CRAP IN YOUR RECORD COLLECTION. Like a snake, These Arms Are Snakes will bite you in the ass with zero apologies, and it will leave you in a poisioned daze, waiting and wondering how and when their next strike of noisy venom will enter your bloodstream--and you can't/won't/don't complain, because, well, you want it. If you're lucky, it won't kill you. Much.

And when it strikes you in the heart, you cannot complain.

After all, you knew it was a snake when you took it home.

What did you expect? Love?

--Joseph Kyle

The Desert Fathers "The Spirituality"

Tim Kinsella once remarked of his band Joan of Arc that its music “raises more questions than answers.” Although there’s nothing wrong with a band that wants to provoke thought in the minds of its listeners, most bands of this ilk often force said listeners to ask the wrong kinds of questions. For example, “Why the hell am I listening to this?” Joan of Arc at its worst, which is admittedly about half of the time, often provokes this question. At their best JOA, along with a couple other bands (Cheer-Accident and Need New Body are the first two that come to mind), craft music so listenable and engaging that even when I’m scratching my head in confusion, I have no urge to reach for the stop button on my CD player. If the meager half-hour of music found on The Spirituality is any indication, the Desert Fathers have that same elusive quality that enables even their most esoteric experiments to demand repeated listening.

The cover art, which consists mainly of crude drawings of dogs wearing white robes and angel wings, betrays a surreal religious bent. The liner notes contain a very long piece of prose in which the band, with the help of an elderly priest, consults a wild beast for Biblical wisdom. “Peace in That” envisions a heavenly afterlife filled with “dogs with graceful wings.” Four songs later, “Pitbulls” delivers a slowed-down spoken monologue about hell, which is interrupted by random bursts of furious canine growling. “Agnus Dei” begins the record with a two-minute symphony of looped, disembodied voices that sounds like a warped vinyl recording or a Catholic mass. “Gloria in Excelsis Deo,” which comes five tracks later, is a similar ambient piece driven by choral washes. This is definitely the first time I’ve heard an art-rock album that sounds explicitly tailor-made for pet-loving Christians.

The guitar playing on this album is incredible. Six-stringer Acquaman (sic) gets more mileage out of his whammy-bar than anyone since My Bloody Valentine’s Kevin Shields. Whereas Shields’ playing was more serene, Acquaman’s whammy technique is more jarring and severe. On “A Practical Joke,” the two guitars don’t even sound like they’re playing in the same key as each other. How the vocalist manages to extract a convincing melody, a Middle East-influenced one at that, is far beyond me. He does it, though, and on various songs his tuneful caterwauling complements the pitch-imperfect guitars seamlessly. “Peace in That” is the closest the album comes to a conventional rock song. It’s built on the kind of Hum-style drop-D riffage that Steve Albini’s production was made for (you didn’t think I’d get through this review without mentioning him, did you?). Even that song, though, derails itself with a brief snippet of ranting from a toothless old man about evolution.

The Spirituality only gets more unhinged as it progresses. “The Age of Reason” begins with a guy arguing with his whining dog, and quickly turns into the kind of rousing anthem that the Swirlies forgot to put on Cats of the Wild, Volume Two (which is still an awesome record; don’t get it twisted). The last three songs form a sort of trilogy based on a simple drumbeat. “Focus” layers pretty guitar harmonics on top of each other until it feels like the song was recorded in a malfunctioning clock factory. “Life After Life Everlasting” is a slower version of “Focus,” with the guitars replaced by piercing synthesizer tones and more choral washes. The final song, “Transmorph,” chops the instrumental track of “Life” into smaller samples, completely rearranging them and forcing them to do battle with Acquaman’s guitar grinding.

At the CD’s end, I wondered why the Desert Fathers left me hanging without a couple more songs to pull the music back into normalcy. After a couple more listens, though, I realized that they probably meant to leave me hanging like that. The Spirituality is way too short and way too weird, but it’s also way too good to miss out on. Also, Acquaman just happens to be the drummer for the Forms, whose EP Icarus you should’ve bought already if you read my review of it. Threespheres released both of these records, which makes them two for two so far --- give me more, guys!

--Sean Padilla

Greenlawn Abbey

On their self-titled debut, the members of Columbus, Ohio’s Greenlawn Abbey dish out twelve songs of toe-tappin’ rock and roll, reminiscent of Superdrag, Urge Overkill, and Big Star. With such great melodies, such great hooks, these guys make writing awesome pop songs seem so easy. The band members take turns on the songwriting, and as the disc plays, you can hear how they all come from completely different school districts of rock. Guitarist Anthony Norris can write songs that fall somewhere between Micky Dolenz (“Cigarette Girls”) and Nash Kato (“Tori and the Cat”, “Enter the Cowboy”). While Norris’ songs are sweet, guitarist Milan Karcic’s songs that land a tad more on the edgy side. His voice rocks like Ozzy, and his “Park Hotel” is just one of the many songs on here that will knock you on your ass.

If I could change one thing about this album, it’d be the recording. It seems too clean. Turn up those guitars, dudes! This band writes some sweet pop songs; I really think they are strong enough and have the potential to rock a little harder than this recording represents. But that’s just one man’s opinion. On the upside, this is one hell of a debut album; the band has definitely proved itself worthy of finding out what they’re going to do next.

--Kyle Sowash

Label Website:

September 27, 2003

Fort Lauderdale "The Chilling Place"

Now this is a fascinating glimpse into a new kind of sound. Fort Lauderdale mix up baroque pop, folk and electronica into an interesting pop combination, and it's a wonderful mix! "The Chilling Place" mixes up passionate vocals with saxophones and horns and strings and organ and it sounds as if it's a shambiotic mess, but yet it all makes sense and it sounds even better. Jarvis Cocker, be jealous. Now. "She's In Bloom" is a brief number that's more of a 60s British R&B rock style, but it's merely OK, and it suffers from a muted sound. "Incantation" is a cover of a song by electronica weirdo Bruce Haack. It's robotic and quite futuristic and enjoyable, too. Fort Lauderdale is someone you should definitely check out; this comes in advance of a full-length, which promises to be nothing if not interesting. You read about it here first, folks...

--Joseph Kyle

Eisley "Laughing City"

Eisley's debut EP, Laughing City, is a troublesome little record. I've been listening to it all week, and it's left me quite torn. This family act (four of this quintet are siblings, three of which are sisters) from the little East Texas town of Tyler is being hailed as a 'band to watch,' 'the next big thing' and other meaningless music industry terms. Personally, it's hard not to listen to this EP without triggering my mental 'reviewer proceed with caution' siren. After all, shouldn't an astute music critic be wary of all the forms of hype that often accompany young bands like Eisley?

Of course they should.

On one hand, it's extremely hard to dislike Eisley. You want to root for them, and I'll admit I'm a sucker for family acts. Even if I don't care for their music, I still think it's really nice when siblings would want to music together. There have been some great family acts in the past (personal faves are Cowsills, Beach Boys, Danielson Familie, Jesus & Mary Chain, Redd Kross and Bee Gees), and the chemistry between brothers and/or sisters cannot compare to a regular band. The young ones in Eisley (and they are young, ranging in age from 14-21) are cute, adorable, and more than a little vulnerable looking. It's hard not to want to root for Eisley; their smalltown history tempered with innocent charm easily makes Eisley the cute little underdog you want to succeed.

Too bad, though, that it sounds utterly contrived.

For a young and new band, Laughing City seems too slick, too glossy, too....soulless. It is painfully apparent that someone has invested some grand expectations in Eisley, and that these five kids are being prepped for greatness. It's also painfully obvious that such investments are to the detriment of the one thing that's truly important: the music. Sherri DuPree sounds like an East Texas-via-Boston-circa-1990 version of Coldplay's Chris Martin as interpreted by Juliana Hatfield and/or Belly. (It should also be pointed out that they're managed by Coldplay's 'people.') It's all a bit too clean-cut, too nice, too...plastic. The sheen and polish sucks the life out of the songs, and it really is a shame. "Tree Tops" could have been a great folky little number that could have given Mirah a run for her money, but it's just been gilded with studio time, effectively extinguishing any spark that might have caught fire. About the only song that's really worth the price of admission is the final cut, "Laughing City," but by then, the damage is done.

You really have to wonder if Eisley's handlers are looking past the obvious dollar signs. Laughing City has the feel of a record by committee: glossy sound, hip pseudo-'indie' label, photo shoots, expensive clothes, hip producers--notice the tip of the hat to the currently hot Omaha scene. It's too bad, too, because I'd like to hear what the real Eisley sounds like. I'd hate to think that they're only being groomed for popularity for the obvious financial benefits of three cute sisters, but Laughing City leaves me with the impression that they're nothing more than that. Gone are the good things that I've heard about them; that they're a good live band, that they've got a raw power to them onstage, driven by some excellent harmonies and their sense of humor. Instead, they seem to be a band that's nothing more than an executive's wet dream for conquering the 'modern rock,' pop and 'indie' scenes with one fell swoop.

I just hope Eisley don't get screwed over when the axe drops on them--and it will drop on them if the kids don't bite. Seems like there's more to them than their record lets on--and others have certainly tried to inform me of that--but as I have yet to see them live, I'm simply going to have to rely only on their record, and I have to set aside the opinions of my friends. Sorry, guys, but I can't judge them on that yet.I'd like to, though.

I want to like you more, Eisley, I really do. As I have nothing to base my impression on except for this record, I can't help but feel as if I've lost eighteen minutes of my life to another (soon-to-be) disappointing major-label hype machine record. In a world where The Strokes and The White Stripes are the new generation's Nirvana and Pearl Jam, you, Eisley have all the ingredients to be the new Eve's Plumb. If you're lucky, you might even be the next Letters to Cleo.

And that's a shame. It really is.

--Joseph Kyle

September 26, 2003

Beauty Pill "You Are Right To Be Afraid"

You can't rush genius. Sometimes, a brilliant mind needs solitude and a hands-off policy, so that the boy or girl wonder can produce their next masterpiece. Of course, such a policy is a very risky one to take; isolation can often go to the head of the isolated, leaving them convinced of their own brilliance without having the vision to see the flaws and failings of their masterpiece. Let's not get into the question of mental health, either.

I'm not worried about the mental state of Beauty Pill's leader, Chad Clark, but it has indeed been too long since he last released a record--or a full length. His previous band, Smart Went Crazy, released perhaps one of the best albums of the 1990s, Con Art. Mixing profound political and poetic statements with challenging and interesting music, Con Art should have been the rocket that sent Clark and company into wider acclaim. It didn't happen; the band imploded on tour, with members regrouping as the merely OK math-rock band Faraquet. Clark went on to work on his own project, Beauty Pill. Four years after Con Art appeared, he issued the good but way too brief Cigarette Girl of the Future, which hinted at greater things, but left the listener wanting more.

To be fair, Clark has since become a studio wizard of much acclaim, and it's probably his busy schedule as an in-demand producer that has delayed Beauty Pill's progression and growth. Though the list of bands he's worked with is too long to go into here, just listen to the Dismemberment Plan records for a taste of his magic, and bands such as Q and Not U and The Caribbean also owe a thing or two to Clark's magical touch. It's because of his track record as a musician and the results of his own studio experimentation that makes any new Chad Clark project welcome here at Mundane Sounds, and the minute I saw You Are Right To Be Afraid, it became mine.

I knew things were going to be interesting when I put the CD in and the 'found sound' piece "The Ballad of Leron and Lele" came on. It's a brief snippet of a Caribbean children's record, about a young boy, Leron, who shows off for his girlfriend, and in his machismo, he attempts to show off to her, by climbing up a tree to get her a papaya. "When he got to the topmost branch, it broke. Tsk tsk, too bad, well, Lele just looked for somebody else," the tape says, as it slows down in speed. Gee, Chad, I wonder what that meant? A commentary? A scathing statement towards some unknown individual? It's none of our business, really, but this brief snippet that reassured me that Clark has not lost it. In fact, I think it's that little bit of weirdness that leads me to think that, if anything, Clark has found it.

The rest of the EP is brief, but it cuts to the point. "Copyists" is a slow ballad that finds vocal interchange between Clark and Basla Andolsun and Rachel Burke. It's a device Clark has used in the past--the contrast of male and female. "You Are Right To Be Afraid" is the real shocker here; it's a straight-up punk rock number, relentless in delivery, and over quite quickly. Clark as hardcore hero? Who knew? He does it quite well, too--even if the vocals are kind of muffled. "Quote Devout Unquote" is a throwback to the Smart Went Crazy era; again with female vocals, and though it's nice, it's the weakest of the lot. Plus, it just seems as if Clark should be singing it, too.

The best song on You Are Right To Be Afraid is the closing "You, Yes You." When he sings "You remind me of the Jackson 5, Back when Michael Jackson was still alive/Skyscraping afro in the bloom of youth/And being insulated from the truth/You remind me of everything good," it's revelatory. Not only is Clark back, he's only just beginning. Throw in some tape manipulation towards the end, and the song's one of the most powerful and affecting numbers--and possibly one of Clark's best compositions. True, it's a brief little song, with just Clark on guita and some interesting little effects, but it's a mindblower. It certainly makes up for two years of silence!

You Are Right To Be Afraid will leave you with a sense of hope and anticipation for their upcoming full-length record.Yes, that's right, apparently Beauty Pill will release their debut album this fall. You are right to be excited, my friend. I know I am.

--Joseph Kyle

Brandston/Camber/Seven Storey "Split CD Single"

A CD-single with value and economy in mind! Legendary emo-rock label Deep Elm has changed over the past year or so, but these three bands really hint at what made the label great: loud, powerful rock music with more than a hint or two of all that 'emotional' stuff. It's a bit different, though; Brandston offer up a new song, "Dead Animals," that's a nice little maturation from their previous EP. Camber offer three songs, all of which are excellent, but I'm most fond of "I Could Not Care Less." though I also like the acoustic, kinda GBV-ish "Goodbye Mr. Spalding," too. Seven Storey offer up two songs, and while I'm neither unimpressed or overwhelmed by "New Day," I really like "Covers." Might like to hear more from them. All of these are radio-friendly rock, too--great for the CD changer, six pretty good songs by three bands for cheap...can't beat that!

--Joseph Kyle

September 22, 2003

Twilight Singers "Black Is The Color Of My True Love's Hair"

Greg Dulli returns! This little EP is a precursor to their upcoming album, and this single is, in true Afghan Whigs style, a cover of a great R&B classic, Nina Simone's
"Black Is The Color Of My True Love's Hair." It's an utter stunner, my friends--doing the late, great Simone much justice, yet Dulli and company makes the song all their own.
Another classic cover for one of the most undervalued R&B singers today. "Domani" is a new number, and is as good (if not better than) the Twilight Singers' debut album. It's Quiet Storm,
with a hint of electronica, and it sounds wonderful. "Son Of The Morning Star" is nice too--even if it pales in comparison to the previous two songs. All in all, this is a wonderful
little taste of the Twilight Singers' magic, and hopefully, just hopefully, their upcoming album will make this limited-edition single pale in comparison.

--Joseph Kyle

East River Pipe "Garbageheads on Endless Stun"

East River Pipe's F.M. Cornog is a man who has nothing to prove. He's made several of the best records that you've never heard, and he's also written a number of classics that have been recorded by friends (and labelmates), Lambchop. He's got a keen sense of humor, and his words are both profound and enjoyable. He has a lot to say about the human condition, and his records have been a wonderful documenation of the down-and-out. Heck, he even had a big label offer him a million to be on their label, but was dropped without playing a note--though he still got paid for his trouble, and he walked away the winner. All from a guy who, several years ago, was down-and-out on his luck. Ya gotta love the underdog.

That said, it's been a LONG time since the last new East River Pipe album, and that, my friend, is too long. 1999's The Gasoline Age was a wonderful, interesting concept album that intertwined the subject of society and automobiles, adding a new depth to usual fare: love songs and tales of the broken-down, downtrodden and down-and-out. Mixing atmospheric ambience with classic-rock sensibility, The Gasoline Age is a hazy, dense-fog commentary on society. Or something like that. Listen to it on a Saturday morning after a heavy drinking session and you'll totally understand where Cornog's coming from.

What, then, to make of this new album? Garbageheads On Endless Stun isn't really much of an artistic growth from The Gasoline Age as it is a continuation of that great album. Heck, at times it almost seems to be a second volume of the Gasoline Age saga. Think I'm joking? Consider this, then: of the eleven songs on the album, eight of them contain references to cars, highways and other automobile-related subjects. The subject's not as heavy, though, so it's not as if he's retreading the same ground (highway?). Instead, he focuses on the street-level view of humanity, one that has nothing to do with The Gasoline Age, but has everything to do with Taxi Driver.

I'm not too worried about it, though. Even though the album seems to be less cohesive than previous albums, it's still got the one thing that Cornog does best: the songs. When the album starts off with the happy-go-lucky sounding "Where Does All The Money Go?," a commentary on wealth in society, it's as if an old friend has returned. The classic sound is all there; the atmosphere, the drum machine, the guitar, and Cornog singing his songs of a society that's wrong. Occasionally he gets a little bit funky with the drum machine ("Monumental Freaks" and "I Won't Dream About The Girl") but it's all done tastefully. Songs like "Girls on the Freeway," "Stare The Graveyard Down" and "Arrival Pad #19" clearly show that Jason Lytle owes Cornog at least a thank-you card. I haven't heard a mixture of synthesizer and sad lyrics since I last heard "I'm Not In Love."

F.M. Cornog doesn't make bad albums, and while Garbageheads on Endless Stun might not seem as immediate as his past releases, it's far from a clunker, and it doesn't blemish his impressive discography. I'd rather have a Garbageheads on Endless Stun than no East River Pipe record, and this one's a keeper. True, it may take a listen or two for it to all sink in, but don't worry; it will sink in, and you're all the better for it. Not many artists can make a bad record that's still one of the better records of the year--unless you're F. M. Cornog. A nice record from a proven talent.

--Joseph Kyle

September 21, 2003

Radio Berlin "Glass"

As loathe as I may be to admit it, I've liked some of the post-punk/new wave-inspired bands that have come to the spotlight. True, a lot of these bands are being propelled to prominence by nothing more than pure hype, and for many of those bands, they won't be around when the hype machine moves on. Like the first time this kind of music was popular, many of these bands simply do not have the creative energy or ability to make anything more than one good record. When you mix your music with fashion, when the fashion is forgotten, your music probably will be, too.

What saves Radio Berlin? It's simple, really. They don't base their entire sound upon synths and dance rhythms, and, ultimately, they don't sound like the Eighties--at least not the trendy view of the Eighties. They're not really trying to be anything other than an indie-rock band who happen to own a few records by Joy Division, The Cure, Falco, and New Order, and who like the sound just enough to base their overall style upon it. Unlike The Faint, who are nothing more than a new-wave novelty act (there's a reason they're taking a long time for a follow-up), Radio Berlin haven't invested their muse in fleeting fads.

True, there are a few things about Radio Berlin that irk me more than a little bit. First, they could have lived without releasing "How Fast Can You Run?" While it's true that their sound is inspired and not indebted to the post-punk era, this song is the only time where they slip up and actually imitate Joy Division. It's a bit annoying, but as this is the only time where they cross over that fine line between inspiration and imitation, it's forgiveable. It doesn't hurt that it comes at the end of the album, so it's not that big of a deal. Also, it might not hurt to do a little editing. Two great songs, "D.E.S." and "Aftermath," run a little bit long; neither would have been hurt by taking out a minute or or so out of them.

I really cannot place Radio Berlin on the same level as bands like The Faint, Hot Hot Heat or Radio 4. Like a few of these bands, Radio Berlin appeared back when yesterday's trends were still months away from being 'the future', which gives them the advantage of musical maturation at the peak of genre saturation. Their sound, while inspired by the past, doesn't sound terribly contrived. Unlike the boring Faint, though, I think they'll have a career when the hip spotlight moves on to whatever it is that will be big next week. Still, I like these kids. They're not overly pretty and they don't seem to be pretentious--and they're trying. One or two little slip-ups here and there ain't a bad thing, and Glass is a rather fun listen. Put it on your car radio, and you'll be awkwardly angular and arty for the next half hour. Better still, you'll enjoy it. (Just don't tell anyone that you did.)

--Joseph Kyle

Growing "The Sky's Run Into the Sea"

Growing is a funny group. When I read that they were from Olympia, I though--"oh, these guys are related to Landing." Turns out Landing is a band on K Records who hail from Connecticut, whereas Growing, a band from Olympia, is making it big on a Chicago label. Okay, so I guess it wasn't that funny, but it's an important point, so pay attention. It's kind of shocking that they were not embraced by any one of the many diverse Olympia labels. Growing have followed the same path of beauty and noise that the city is famous for, and though someone in Olympia might say "oh, great, not another band like that," Growing shouldn't be dismissed because of it, because there's something different about them.

The Sky's Run Into The Sea, Growing's debut, is a very busy record. This trio have packed quite a lot into their songs, and you really have to pay attention, lest you miss something. "Subtle" is more than an adjective; it's apparently a major rule in Growing's code of conduct. On the surface--and it's really easy to think this when you skim the record--you could come to the false conclusion that The Sky's Run Into The Sea is just another ambient record. Scratch just below the surface, and you'll see that Growing is anything but another band.

They like to play the opposites game with their music, and they do it quite well. Loud vs soft, peaceful vs. violent, beauty vs ugly, calm yet schitzophrenic, relaxing vs unsettling--all of these things combine to create one extremely unique record. Underneath the sheets of noise and waves of beautiful drone. "Tepsije" bravely steals the main riff from the Beatles' "Norwegian Wood (This Bird Flown)" and quietly tucks it underneath a loud barrage of sound that could, at best, be described as a Black Sabbath-style metal. Indeed, at times Growing seems to be a much more refined, polished realization of ex-Hum mastermind Matt Talbot's flawed Centaur project, which was all riffs and no cohesiveness.

The songs on The Sky's Run Into The Sea are nothing if not challenging. "Life in D" is a perfect example of this. The song starts off slightly peaceful but then introduces some extremely loud drones. Under the surface of this horrible noise, you can hear the soft twinkle of bells. Later on, it fades into absolute silence, which is broken by the crash of a cymbal. The fact that this crash is done at random and during periods of absolute silence makes the loud sound even more ominous and even more disturbing than it already is. At the same time, it's a sure sign of brilliance if you can make a record that's both challenging and enjoyable, and though Growing can be disturbing, it can also bequite relaxing.

If epic rock music (and yes, I think of Growing as a rock band) bores you, then Growing migh not be your cup of tea. Five songs in an hour means that the music is going to be long, and indeed, three of the five songs on The Sky's Run Into The Sea stretch way past the ten minute mark. Still, you shouldn't be put off by that, because you really would be missing out on one of today's more interesting band; Growing's music is so massive and intricite that you really won't notice any kind of song change. The Sky's Run Into The Sea is not just a wonderful new addition to Kranky's roster--it's a great addition to the world of music. Here's to the future, and further growth of Growing.

--Joseph Kyle

Carla Bozulich "The Red-Headed Stranger"

Over the last decade and a half, Carla Bozulich has been responsible for some excellent, interesting albeit painfully obscure music. From her days as the sultry industrial diva of Ethyl Meatplow, to her seductive country crooning in The Geraldine Fibbers and Scarnella, anything with Bozulich's name on it promises to be nothing short of interesting. Bozulich's been kind of quiet as of late, and during a recent bout of work with the Nels Cline Singers, she and Cline decided to record a cover of Willie Nelson's watershed album from 1975, Red Headed Stranger.

Red Headed Stranger was released in 1975, and was the watershed release that made Willie Nelson a household name. Of course, nobody believed that it would be anything more than another Willie Nelson flop. Nelson recorded the album in a quick flash of inspiration after a family vacation, and the album was a stark, stripped-down affair. His record label at the time rejected it, saying that it was not commercial, and Nelson made a wager: if the album was not a success, he would relinquish full artistic control to his record label for the rest of his career. Luckily, Nelson was right, and the album was a massive success, (as well as the signature tune "Blue Eyes Cryin' In The Rain") and Nelson's been known as "The Red-Headed Stranger" ever since.

Red Headed Stranger is a concept album--of sorts. It's the story of a preacher whose wife leaves him for another man, and in a fit of anger, pain and jealousy, he kills his wife and her new lover and then goes on the run. That's about it, really. It's a rather weak storyline, and though the music is quite good, the story just doesn't really hold up. It's because of this major flaw that makes its overwhelming success even more puzzling. Nelson's version of the album is a song cycle complete with small, minute-long songs, instrumental passages and a recurring theme, and listening to it now, it's an extremely incongrous record, even for 1975.

It's no shock, then, that a record with such a history would appeal to Bozulich, a woman with the same kind of stance towards her music as Nelson's. (Considering her past life in The Geraldine Fibbers--namely Get Thee Gone--it's a little bit of a shock to note that this is her first-ever cover album of country songs. ) It's also no surprise, that Nelson took an interest in Bozulich, and upon hearing some of the recordings, invited her down to his home studio in Texas to record. (Well, what did you expect--after all, that's the kind of man the Red-Headed Stranger is!) He sings and plays on two songs ,"Can I Sleep In Your Arms" and "Hands on the Wheel," and also appears on "Time of the Preacher."

In the hands of Bozulich, the updated version of Red Headed Stranger is as spartian as the original, yet it takes a full band to make it that way. True, the story line still remains a rather weak one, but, once again, it's the music that stands out. Full of creaks and drones and haunting passages of atmospheric noise and slide guitar (courtesy of longtime creative partner Nels Cline), Bozulich's update, while technically more complex than the original, is actually quite faithful to the original. Plenty of highlights are to be found on Bozulich's version; I'm most taken by her haunting version of "Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain" and her duet with Nelson, "Hands on the Wheel." The most haunting moment on the update is the instrumental version of the hymn "Just As I Am." It's a spooky instrumental, complete with slide guitar, and it simply cuts into your soul.

Bozulich is a first-rate talent, and this rather faithful update has made me want to pull out my copy of Nelson's album and compare the two. While it seems a bit auspicious to release a cover album as your debut solo album, it's a nice diversion for the moment, and it's also a nice little tribute to one of the best Country musicians of our time. An album that will haunt you and move you--she's made her own classic album, while reinforcing the legacy of the original, and it never once falters. Then again, when treading over sacred ground, how could it?

--Joseph Kyle

Daniel Johnston "Time And Pain"

Sometimes, we music reviewers get bored. We get tired of hearing bands that are trying way..too...hard... to be innovative, interesting and original. Don't get me wrong, there's nothing wrong with having a new sound or style--but when you're talking about a third-rate band imitating a fifth-rate band, well, my could you expect someone to not get cynical. I mean, guys, Pavement was great, but let's try something that's original now, please? Please?? I don't really want to hear a piss-poor imitation of a record that wasn't really all that great five years ago. Okay? Thanks.

I'll let you in on a little secret. It's easy to get disillusioned. It's easy to think, "well, great, music's not good anymore. Everyone just wants to sound like everyone else." So, you see, I get excited when I get a record like Time & Pain. Yeah, it's not 'indie' but so what? Daniel Johnston (not THE Daniel Johnston, mind you), is a guy who makes unassuming, pretentious-free rock music that cannot (and sadly would not) be embraced and classified as "indie-rock." He's not making anything but genre-free rock music, and I really do enjoy it. It's a bit refreshing to know that there are people out there who are making music just because they want to make a great sounding record.

And Time & Pain indeed sounds great. In fact, if I didn't know any better, I'd think that this was a 'lost' record from the late 80s or early 90s, of some guy who had a deal but the label dropped him and held onto his record, or perhaps the album was released, but it was such a minimal release in the eyes of the label that he just was allowed to drown in obscurity. It just seems a bit odd that a record that sounds this good could be produced by a guy on a shoestring budget. It doesn't hurt that he has a strong yet unassuming voice, either. In fact, Time And Pain reminds me why it was that I love Crowded House and Aztec Camera so much--guys who know how to write a great song, and they just want to write play their great songs, with no fancy gimmicks to distract you from the actuall songs.

Time and Pain is certainly an ear-perking listen. True, it's not going to win any awards for being the most innovative record of the year, but, you know what? That's perfectly fine with me. It's not as if it's the most derivitive record I've heard, either. Sometimes it's good to be unassuming and unpretentious, and Daniel Johnston is certainly that. It's good to have artists who still write and produce great, likeable songs such as "Wait and See," "The Great Confession" and "Captivated." Time & Pain is smart adult pop that would play quite well in your local coffehouse or bar, where good music is the soundtrack to good times, memories and friendships. Music for the moments when you don't need to be overwhelmed by music. Yeah, that's it. Bottom line? I like this record. Yup. It's a good one.

--Joseph Kyle

September 20, 2003

Red Hot Valentines "Summer Fling"

Ah, summer! We're gonna say goodbye to you soon, but I don't think I've ever thanked you for inspiring thousands upon thousands of summer songs. From the Beach Boys to The Cowsills and Jan & Dean to Smashing Pumpkins, Green Day and Buffalo Tom, there's nothing better than a really red-hot summertime record. A great record captures, in three minutes or less, the essence of of youth and what it means to be young: free of responsibility for tomorrow and to have no loyalty to anything except the pleasure principal. It's the essence of innocent love fading upon the coming autumn of adulthood. (Sorry for gettin' all My So-Called Life on you there, but I think you know what I mean.)

Champaign's Red Hot Valentines have created one of the best summer records I've heard this year. Their debut album, Summer Fling, is pure fun-in-the-sun from the get-go. From the beginning guitar riff of "Wait for Summer" (hint, hint) , you realize that Red Hot Valentines will be a band best experienced on a car stereo, with the volume cranked and the windows rolled down and the sunglasses on. Certainly nothing wrong with that!

The rest of Summer Fling never varies much from the new-wave-punk-rock-emo-style formula set by bands like Weezer, The Cars, and Get Up Kids--you can see where this is going, can't you? Let's not fret over that, though; like their name, these kids are RED HOT, and their songs are so cuddly and warm and loving, you know they're somebody's valentines. More importantly, it's quite obvious that these guys have got some massive power in their performance; their sound on record is already red-hot, and Summer Fling has an undeniable live feel. I get this feeling, though, that they've made a record that accurately documents their red-hot live show.

I've also gotta make a mention of Summer Fling's packaging. It's made to look like a red theme notebook, complete with scribbles, doodles and the name of the band etched into the cover via pencil eraser. That's all nice, but when you open it up, you'll find that the lyric book has been pasted onto the cover, and that the lyrics are printed up on notebook paper. The packaging fits into the whole summertime youth school feel, and it really takes you back to a younger, youthful time--and it makes you feel as if you're skipping school if you're listening to it before 3:30.

Summer Fling is the perfect snapshot of what it's like to be young. It's not too deep, too philosophical or too smart; it's not too depressing or lovelorn. The Red Hot Valentines have really captured what it's like to have fun in the sun, with no cares or worries about tomorrow. Songs about crushes, heartbreak and just having fun have never sounded so...vital. Too bad I missed it until now; this summer could have used such a wonderful soundtrack. Ah, well, with winter coming up, I'm sure it will serve quite well as a postcard of the forthcoming summer...

--Joseph Kyle

September 17, 2003

Brazelton/Naphtali "What Is It like To Be a Bat?"

I want to begin this review with a confession. Until this point, I’ve never listened to a single record with John Zorn’s name on it. Yes, I know that he’s a very big name in experimental music, and that he’s been involved in many ensembles (Naked City, Masada) that I should have checked out a long time ago. I also know that he is the figurehead of Tzadik, one of the most prominent labels for music of a similar bent. There are many people on this planet who shell out their hard-earned money for anything with this man’s name on it, and I give him the benefit of the doubt by assuming that he deserves this kind of loyalty. I make this confession so that all of the art snobs reading this won’t absolutely despise me after this review is finished. They can merely shrug their shoulders, mumble to themselves that I simply don’t get it, and move on to the next piece of pricey pretension in their record collection. For the rest of you, I humbly admonish even adventurous listeners not to buy this CD unless you can find it used. John Zorn’s name might be worth its weight in gold, but most of this record is barely worth the paper and plastic that was used to press it.

The spine of the CD is adorned with a piece of paper promoting Tzadik’s Oracle series, which is designed to celebrate “the diversity and creativity of women in experimental music making, bringing to the foreground the ongoing accomplishments of some of the most forward looking musicians working today.” It also describes this collaboration between Kitty Brazelton and Dafna Naphtali as “complex, visionary weirdness from two of the strangest minds in contemporary music.” Whoever wrote the previous sentence is LYING and seriously needs to be ashamed of him/herself. I refuse to call any album “forward-looking” when even its best songs were already done better by Yoko Ono more than twenty years ago. (I use the term “best songs” lightly because the eighteen-track album doesn’t even begin to show promise until track fourteen.) Neither would I call this album “creative” or “complex” simply because it sounds as if the process used to make it was quite simple, almost to the point of laziness. Brazelton, Naphtali, and two other musicians simply jammed around for a couple of days, and ran everything through the thickest possible cloud of ProTools manipulation. Granted, both of these women are technically skilled musicians with a powerful four-octave vocal range. You’d think, though, that people this talented would come up with something that wasn’t such a chore to listen to.

“Batch 1-2” begins with a snippet of studio chatter that gives way to
banshee wailing and blast beats almost drowned out in reverb. Only a minute long, it would serve as a great introduction to the album if most of the record didn’t sound EXACTLY like it. “Batch 3 (Madrigal)” is a humorous choral piece about eating spaghetti, but only ninety seconds pass before it is interrupted by “Batch 4 (Ha!),” which consists of even more shouting and effects pedal abuse. “Batch 5” gives us forty seconds of jazz drumming, wordless harmonies before “Batch 6” drags the album right back into pointless sonic cutups. “Batch 7-8” is four more minutes of banshee wailing and blast beats. The sixteen-minute “Trance” goes through the same tug of war between music and noise, and therefore could’ve been divided into smaller tracks just like the previous six. When the two women actually sing, the band sounds as if it’s about to launch into a something killer, but every single time the momentum is squashed by more DSP wank and irritating breathing exercises. The few good ideas aren’t allowed to develop for longer than a minute or two before being steam-rolled by digital noise, and the bad ideas are allowed to last for up to three times as long as the good ones. These seven tracks comprise the first suite of the record, which is called “She Said---She Said, ‘Can You Sing Sermonette With Me?’” I have no idea what the title has to do with the music, or what any of the individual tracks have to do with each other. I don’t think that Brazelton or Naphtali has an idea either.

The second suite, “5 Dreams; Marriage,” has even more spectacular lows, but manages to gain some coherence toward the end. The first half of the eleven-track suite alternates between more banshee wailing and cutup studio chatter. Was the jam session THAT boring that we all needed to hear about the shows that Brazelton and Naphtali attended the night before? Track fourteen, “Aria 4,” is where the band actually starts playing SONGS…you know, the kind that I could put on a mix tape and say “Hey, check this out” without feeling like a moron. “We work, we sleep, we argue about everything,” the women sing, finally making SOME sort of capitulation toward the title’s stated theme. The music rocks, the lyrics are good, and the ideas are allowed to develop for longer than two minutes. It segues into “Answer 4,” a harpsichord-driven lamentation that further expounds on marital drama. “We work, we sleep, we watch the TV,” they sing, “with no desire, no eye to eye; we don’t wish to agree.” This gives way to “Aria 5,” in which the guitars start screeching, the drumming gets more shambolic, and the banshee wailing returns. However, by this point the band has gained enough momentum that the cacophony actually makes the music STRONGER instead of weaker. “Answer 5” finally gives us the killer heavy-metal breakdown that the better parts of ‘Trance” hinted at, and the appropriately named “Glory Chorale” finally showcases the women’s beautiful voices in a flattering light, with a gala of harpsichords droning on behind them.

Unfortunately, the fact remains that I’ve just informed you of about sixteen minutes’ worth of good music on a fifty-five-minute CD. Brazelton and Naphtali refuse to adhere to any structure that would actually engage listeners for very long, and the back-loaded sequencing ensures that most listeners won’t have the patience to sort through the chaff to get to the wheat. Even from “Aria 4” onward, all of the ingredients that make the music work can be found on Yoko Ono’s first couple of solo albums. The jazzy drumming, the guitar noise, the strangled vocals, the plainspoken lyrics, and the disjointed structures are combined in a much more accessible fashion on Plastic Ono Band and Fly. I’m pretty sure that the other entries in the Oracle series by people I’ve actually heard of (for instance, Yuka Honda and Susie Ibarra) piss on What Is It Like to Be a Bat? from a GREAT height.

---Sean Padilla

September 16, 2003

Brian Michael Roff "A Sweet Science"

Brian Michael Roff is a high-tech computer whiz during the day, folkie country-rocker at night. It makes for an interesting point of discussion: is the artist who holds firm to an image that doesn't suit them more honest than the one who admits that it's but a hobby for them? The college graduate who wears overalls and sings about being a soldier in the civil war is one thing, but going about as if you've been toiling the land all day long since the day you were walking is another--espeically if you've never lived anywhere outside of a big city. There's a certain level of credibility that I demand when it comes to my 'country' singers. I do not believe Joe Indie Rocker With a Banjo is more country than the pretty-boy on CMT; both of them look extremely foolish in my eyes, and they both seem less than honest. Just because you can quote Hank Williams doesn't cut it anymore.

What does this have to do with Brian Michael Roff, then? Nothing, really. I have nothing to complain about when it comes to his third record, A Sweet Science. I just don't call it country, and neither should you. Instead, you should call it what it is: a pretty good collection of songs from a young-but-daily-growing singer/songwriter. Roff sings without pretention and with a sweet, seductive croon. Thankfully, he doesn't fall into the traps of lesser musicians of this style; never once do I think "Will Oldham," and that's enough to give the boy a thumbs-up review right there. It doesn't hurt that he's assisted by TW Walsh, another soon-to-be well-known up-and-coming heir in the country-folk family tree.

I'm happy to report that A Sweet Science is a fine little record. Though it's a bit brief, and the formula never really seems to change, I can't argue with his formua, because it works quite well for him. The only problem is that this closely-followed formula occasionally makes the songs sound a little samey, but it's not that much of a problem. Tasteful guitar, with occasional flushes of piano, violin, banjo, saxophone, drums and even some beats, the album is a wonderful little blend of folk, country and singer/songwriter fare. Roff never leans too heavily on any of those three styles, making him just short of being labelled any of those styles, which frees A Sweet Science from any kind of classificable trap, making the album a pleasant, free-from-pretense listening experience. rock has enough problems these days, but Brian Michael Roff isn't one of them. Songs like "Beach Street Blues," and "I Thought The Swans Were Fake" are good enough to make you come back to Roff, and they certainly are a sign that Roff is a man who is just coming into his own. Personally, I'm looking forward to it; A Sweet Science needs little work to make it perfect, and as this is a young man just starting out on his career, it certainly makes his future look quite appealing.

--Joseph Kyle

Scout Niblett "I Am"

A large percentage of the music released either by independent labels or DIY artists justifies its existence with the following tenet: that while it is good to possess creative inspiration and technical skill in equal measure, the former trait is definitely more important than the latter. This means that if given the choice between listening to the music of an artist who doesnít play or sing conventionally well, yet presents a fresher or different artistic viewpoint from his or her contemporaries and listening to an artist who stays in tune and on beat all the time, yet doesnít bring anything particularly new to the table, the former choice is the better of the two. Put simply, a Stephen Malkmus or a Tim Kinsella is worth as much to the average indie-rock fan as a thousand John Mayers. If the last three sentences struck any sort of chord in your heart, I would like to introduce you to your new musical heroine: Scout Niblett.

This English troubadourís second album couldnít have had a more appropriate title: I Am. As a document of self-actualization it is utterly perfect, as everything that makes Scout worth listening to is present here in spades. The album can be divided roughly into thirds. One third consists of the songs in which Scout is backed by a full band. These songs are the closest in spirit to those on Scoutís first album, 2001ís Sweet Heart Fever. Early Cat Power comes to mind when listening to these songs, but even then there are noticeable differences. Scoutís singing is higher and more assertive than Chan Marshallís, her melodies are more pronounced, and her arrangements are more dynamic and less repetitive. Some of it, like the screaming heavy-metal climax of ìDrummer Boy,î even ROCKS, which one could never say about Cat Power. When Chan Marshall raises her voice, it sounds like an introvert in a silent room trying to figure out whether the walls will echo the words back to her. When Scout screams ìI canít wait ëtil the morningÖI want to go now,î she sounds like sheís in your face with her hands around your neck. You will listen to her, damn it, and you will do what she says RIGHT NOW.

The second third of the album consists of songs which she performs solo with ukulele accompaniment. The ukulele sounds as if all of the strings are out of tune with each other. When Scout sings, though, her notes are in tune with the ukulele, and everything achieves some sort of indescribable consonance. Scoutís got a pitch-perfect voice and ten yearsí worth of experience playing guitar, and because of such, the full-band and ukulele songs sound comparatively normal. The songs in which she sings while playing drums are the wild card. Theyíll either make you run screaming from the stereo, or theyíll make you fall in love with her. There is no middle ground. About half of I Conjure Series, the EP she released earlier this year, consists of drums-and-vocals songs, but I Am makes it clear that those songs werenít mere experiments or flukes.

Scoutís been playing drums for less than two years, and you can tell from listening to these songs. Put simply, her drumming makes Meg White sound like Jimmy Cobham. Sheís got rhythm, but her beats are unsteady and peppered with screw-ups. Instead of covering up her technical deficiency, though, she embraces it. She specifically sought Steve Albini to record I Am because, in her words, heís ìthe king of drum sounds.î These songs are recorded crisply and cleanly, and it makes me feel as if Iím eavesdropping on one of her practice sessions as she plays and sings whatever comes to her head. Upon interviewing her, it didnít surprise me that a number of the drums-and-vocals songs on I Am were made up on the spot. These songs, though, are what truly put Scout Niblett in a class of her own. They find her at her most direct and enthusiastic, singing about the things that most frequently occupy her mind: love, music, death and America. Theyíre mantras that will play on endless loop in your brain for hours on end. ìBoy, show me all the love that you know!î ìYour beat kicks back like death!î ìHey America, in your first shoesÖwalk into me!î

Upon listening to these songs, most people would remark, ìTheyíre, but maybe she should wait until she really learns how to play.î They, of course, would be missing the point. If Scout waited that long, weíd miss out on the joy of listening to someone caught up in the rapture of spontaneous composition, the moments in which the compulsion to create outruns the desire for technical polish or perfection. Itís the same reason that critics creamed over all those ìlow-fidelityî bands back in the mid-1990s. So what if it doesnít sound professional: the happiness in her voice is palpable and the songs are GREAT. Scout Niblett has arrived, and youíd better pay attention.

--Sean Padilla

September 15, 2003

Honeybunch "Honeybunch"

Jeffrey Underhill, former Velvet Crush drummer, has been quietly making music as Honeybunch for well over a decade, even though he's been dormant musically for several years. Still, his 'comeback' is most welcome, and it's really quite nice, too. It's fitting that it's on Bus Stop, too--considering he was one of the first artists on the label some fifteen years ago!

For a man who's made pretty, sweet indiepop, Honeybunch is both a nice continuation of--and a new direction for--the Honeybunch sound. This return to form starts off on a bit of a slow note-"Throwaway" is a pretty yet appropriately-titled number; and, surprisingly, is a thinly-veiled rewrite of Eric Clapton's "Wonderful Tonight." Don't worry, though; Underhill's not turned into the Slow Hand, and "Fear of Dating" quickly picks up the pace with a new-wave beat and detatched singing from his wife, Lisa. "Light Enough To Fly" and "postcardfromeverettruess" are two jazzy, mellowed-out pop numbers that are quite pleasant to the ear. "Our Secret Life" is a pretty little number that throws in some pretty nice guitar and drum-machine interplay. All of these songs feature a lovely boy-girl vocal play. Most interesting, though, is that in the time since he's been gone, Jason Lytle's voice has become famous, and could it be that Underhill was a master of this coy, innocent singing style long before Mr. Grandaddy came to fame?

Honeybunch is a nice little comeback from someone who's been gone a little too long. It will be interesting to see which direction Underhill will take from here, but I'm pretty sure that no matter which route he takes, his music will remain consistently excellent. Once again, an unsurprisingly nice few minutes of my time and my life have been given to Jeffrey Underhill, and I'm not complaining.

--Joseph Kyle

Terence Trent D'arby "Wildcard! (The Joker's Edition)"

I wonder if the average Mundane Sounds reader would even recognize the name Terence Trent D’Arby upon seeing this review. History declares him to be a two-hit wonder who spent 1987 riding a wave of fame spurred by “Wishing Well” and “Sign Your Name,” the singles from his debut album Introducing the Hardline. The album sold at least fifteen million copies worldwide --- twenty-two million if you believe his accusations of accounting fraud on Sony’s part. Pretentious enough to fake a British accent in interviews even though he was born in New York, and arrogant enough to claim that his debut was even better than the Beatles’ Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, D’Arby seemed like the perfect candidate for an ego-crushing downfall. So it came to pass that two years later, his sophomore album sank like a dead weight, selling maybe a third of the amount that Hardline did, and his music ceased to be a pressing concern ever since. It sounds harsh, but may I remind you that I wrote, “history declares him,” and my job as a rock critic is to take history and shape it as I see fit. Here’s where I begin the rewriting of history.

Yes, it’s true that Terence’s ego was super-sized by his brush with fame, and it’s also true that he hasn’t had a real hit single since 1987. What most pop music buffs won’t tell you is that D'arby did and still does deserve all of the acclaim that he heaped upon himself. Introducing the Hardline was a gem that announced the arrival of a major talent nearly on par with Prince and Todd Rundgren. Like the aforementioned artists, D’Arby is a one-man band who plays, like, a billion instruments well and can make entire albums on his own if he wanted to. He has both Prince’s knack for internalizing almost every genre of music into his own stew of rock-flavored R&B and his tendency toward nonsensical quasi-mysticism, as well as Todd Rundgren’s easygoing sense of humor and mastery of Beatlesque melody. However, D’Arby is much more grounded than Prince, is more stylistically versatile than Rundgren, and can sing better than either of them. The only reason why I say that D’Arby is “nearly on par” is because Prince and Todd have been around longer and have more of a legacy. Give D’Arby another decade, though, and the “nearly” will be removed. How do you know this, you might ask, on the basis of just one album? I’ll answer that unlike most people, I’ve heard his other four albums.

Although all of the man’s albums are worthy of your money, it has to be said that his career has taken an up-and-down trajectory artistically. His first and third albums (Hardline and the amazing Symphony or Damn) are much better than his second and fourth albums (the flighty Neither Fish Nor Flesh and the erratic Vibrator). His latest, Wildcard, continues his pattern of odd-numbered killers, but a number of things have changed between his previous album and this one. D’Arby has since eaten a huge slice of humble pie, freed himself from Sony, moved to Italy, and changed his name to Sananda Maitreya. Yeah, it’s a weird name, but at least he’s wise enough to keep the D’Arby identity for name recognition, and it’s still comparatively easier to pronounce than the symbol that Prince used to go by. His musical skills haven’t changed a bit, though, and with Wildcard Maitreya has probably crafted the best R&B album that no one will hear this year. If you haven’t figured it out by now, THIS AIN’T NO STINKING INDIE-ROCK (although it did come out on Maitreya’s own label). Quit complaining and keep reading.

“O Divina” begins with Sananda strumming a banjo and singing sweet nothings in a falsetto that suggests what an Alfalfa serenade would sound like if Alfalfa actually had talent. Once the horn section kicks in, his singing becomes much more assertive, and you officially know that Mr. Hardline is back. This is one of many songs in which Sananda uses women as extended metaphors for other concepts. He praises “Divina” for boosting his self-esteem and extending forgiveness unto him. In “SRR-636,” he compares the music industry to a woman trying to seduce him (or get him to sell out): “Get your wiggle on/Be sexy like Lenny [as in Kravitz].” “Let your mind move on,” Sananda replies: “It sells for a penny/Like a record groove gets scratched by a needle/Telling kids the truth about the Byrds and the Beatles.” “Shalom” uses feminine personification to describe the concept of peace, and that’s about all the sense I can make out of it. The “Diane” in “Goodbye Diane” presumably represents the music industry, as Sananda obliquely admits to both hubris and drug addiction. “My lamb was getting trampled,” he sings, “but now his bleats are getting sampled.” Then there are the songs that address women directly, be they man-eaters (“Designated Fool”) or ideal yet secret loves (“What Should I Do,” “And They Will Never Know”).

A number of the songs can be interpreted as self-help tomes. In “The Inner Scream,” Sananda cautions listeners not to hold negative feelings inside of them, lest their “anger becomes a disease.” “Ev’rythang” makes plain his desire to become one with the universe (whatever that means). “Be Willing” seems to be a motivation screed for frustrated artists. “A masterpiece of promise is what you are,” he sings, “so never let nothing stand between heaven and your heart.” Yes, these lyrics are often corny, but Sananda sings them with sincerity and a conviction that rebukes ridicule. I repeat: he SINGS them. Let me make this point quite clear: SANANDA CAN SING HIS BUTT OFF. I’m not talking about the over-compensatory gospel runs that R&B singers love to throw away to compensate for the song’s lack of real melody. This is a man who writes songs that cannot be sung convincingly without a technically skilled voice, and he merely sings them how they’re supposed to go, with a few unobtrusive embellishments. When Sananda pleads with his lover to help him cast out his demons on “My Dark Places,” his singing feels like he’s standing in front of you with one hand on your shoulder and the other on his microphone, his dreadlocks whipping you all over your face. There’s no Pro-Tools auto-tuned cyborg crap on this record --- just pure, soulful SINGING.

The arrangements on this record are frequently stellar. Check out the
humorously melodramatic “Suga Free,” in which Sananda backs his lament “My baby’s gone sugar free/I think my sweet tooth is missing a cavity” with samples from a choir singing Mozart. The sadness is laced with an irony that keeps the song from becoming trite. Many of the songs have exquisite close vocal harmonies, “Be Willing” a shining example thereof. Unexpected instruments such as accordion, sitar, and the aforementioned banjo make appearances in many of the songs, but they’re subtle enough not to draw “look-how-diverse-I-am” attention to themselves. The ascending jazz chord progression of “Shalom” makes the whole song seems like it’s slowly levitating in mid-air. There are a few too many songs that rely on stock drum loops, like “Driving Me Crazy” and “The Inner Scream,” but that might be due more to budgetary limitations than anything else. Sananda’s voice deserves to be backed by the most florid and organic instrumentation he can manage. Of course, not every song is a classic; very few 75-minute albums lack what Beatles producer George Martin used to call “potboilers.” However, one of the Beatles’ strengths was that due to the strength of their melodies and musicianship, even their potboilers had moments that made them worthy of repeated listens. The same case can be made for D’Arby, as his voice makes even standard love songs like “Driving Me Crazy,” “Girl,” and “Sweetness” (whose lyrical content can be gleaned just from paying attention to the titles) more than palatable.

Not only has Sananda made the best R&B album of the year, but he’s also been generous enough to post it in its entirety on his
website so that you can “try before you buy.” You’ve received adequate warning for me to lay the following choice before you. You can keep on suffering through tuneless and repetitive R&B songs with weak vocals, weaker lyrics, stolen beats, and wack guest appearances by mediocre rappers. On the other hand, you can let Wildcard take you back to an era in which R&B artists sung, wrote, and played songs with actual and original verses, choruses, bridges, and melodies without a computer around to mask their deficiencies. You can take your “Thoia Thoing” and “Rock Wit U” (and even your “Crazy in Love”) and shove it. Terence Trent D’Arby rocks, rules, and owns in all kinds of ways. This time around, though, he’s allowing critics like me to say it FOR him.

--Sean Padilla

September 14, 2003

Semiautomatic "Wolfcentrci"

It’s very common for rock musicians who want to start a band but lack a rhythm section to do early demos of their songs using programmed drums as backup. Nirvana started this way with Kurt Cobain’s “Fecal Matter” demos. The initial lineup of Chavez consisted of two guitarists and a drum machine. The first couple of Jesus Lizard releases used drum programming as well. Usually, though, musicians just use the machines to tide them over until they can find a human drummer. In my opinion, a real drum kit recorded with good microphones gives the music a momentum that even the best drum machines fail to produce. Of course, Big Black utilized drum programming for its entire career, yet managed to rock just as hard as any band with an organic rhythm section. However, Big Black are the exception to the rule, and it must be noted that its founder Steve Albini is also the king of making real drums sound good. Most rock bands wouldn’t go the Big Black route, and I don’t blame them. On the other hand, Brooklyn duo Semiautomatic stubborn relies on a drum machine named Orbit for its rhythms. They put a picture of Orbit on the cover of their latest album Wolfcentric, and even credit it as the album’s “executive producer.” It’s obvious that the band is using Orbit as their main gimmick.

Unfortunately, this gimmick is also one of their biggest hindrances. On many of the songs, the musical interplay between guitarists Ropstyle and Akiko is nimble enough to really get a listener’s blood racing if only there was a human drummer backing them up. Unfortunately, Orbit’s rhythms are simply dinky, and they’re often pushed to the back of the mix. It doesn’t help that the mix is extremely over-compressed; as soon as the vocals come in, most of the music seems to disappear. The preset drum programming and mid-fidelity production ensure that even at its best, Wolfcentric sounds like a collection of Bikini Kill demos. The singing alternates between breathy cooing and guttural growling in the same manner that characterizes almost every stereotypical “riot grrl” band of the last ten years. The vocals and instruments are frequently out of tune with each other, and occasionally out of time with the drum machine. How can a musician possibly lose track of a groove laid down by a drum machine? Listen to “30 Seconds for Orbit” and see for yourself.

Another hindrance is that Semiautomatic doesn’t really say much lyrically. “This Place Does Not Exist” tries to evoke an atmosphere of danger and violence through clumsy references to Baghdad and Palestine. The protagonist of “Marion Barry” longs to do drugs in order to escape the harsh reality of impending war. Although the title makes the song sound very anachronistic, Semiautomatic manages to make a much subtler political statement in the lyrics. The high points of the record come when ex-Slits member Ari Up guests on two tracks to do some dancehall-style toasting. To say that her ranting about the “evil system” on “Execution” is cliched would be an understatement, but the personality she injects into the song transcends the cheesy beats and synthesized saxophones that surround her. Ari’s chastisement of cowardly men in “Stushpuss” is funnier, but only half as intelligible. She’s no Bounty Killer (or even Sean Paul), but her contributions to the record keep Wolfcentric from getting monotonous too quickly. However, above-average guest appearances from punk rock legends aren’t enough for me to recommend purchasing this record. I’m just amazed that it took this long for 5 Rue Christine to release an album that I don’t like. Here’s hoping the second Hella album makes up for it.

---Sean Padilla

The Shins "So Says I"

As sad as it makes me to say it, this record just was not any good. "So Says I" was nice enough, but it was so inoffensive and so much like Oh, Inverted World, that you could have fooled me into thinking it was on that one, as opposed to being on the forthcoming Chutes Too Narrow. "Mild Child" is an acoustic ballad that's so muddy in sound, I can't understand a word of what is being said. "Gone For Good," I couldn't reallytell you much about it, because about thirty seconds into it, I turned it off, because I wanted to listen to something that was a little less mediocre. I hope that their album's better than this, because the songs on here are a major, major disappointment. Better luck next time? I hope so, because I want this album to be good...

--Joseph Kyle

September 13, 2003

The Foxgloves "Lives You Didn't Leave"

These guys have that whole Smiths obsession thing going on, and though I thought at first such a thing would prove to be a bit annoying, I was gladly proven wrong. Shows what I know, eh. The Foxgloves are Stephen Papercuts and Joe Pines (hello, internet search engine) and their pop roots show through this lovely four-song EP. "I Dreamt That Love Was A Crime" starts off this fine little affair, though it borrows heavily from The Cure's "Lovesong," it still is a wonderful sad song, with a sad little harmonica bit that adds nicely to the whole rainy day vibe. The full-band arrangement is set aside for the sad ballad "You're The Dream I Can't Wake Up From." Wah-ho, an obscuro Morrissey cover follows, "I Know Very Well How I Got My Name," though the only thing that could make their version better is Vini Reiley. They pick up the beat (!!) on the closing "G.U." and automatically I'm waiting, hoping, and upset that the Foxgloves have no more to offer. Oh well, I can't complain much, for you couldn't ask for a finer first-date of a record, really. Can't wait to hear more!

--Joseph Kyle

Zuzu's Pedals "Zuzu's Pedals"

First things first: this is not the same band as the early 90s punk band on Twin/Tone. I'll admit that I was extremely excited at the prospect of a new Zuzu's record, but was disappointed upon learning that this trio was not that well-loved trio. It's okay, though; I disappoint frequently, so my rebound time from such a thing is quite quick.Good news, though: Zuzu's Petals are pretty cool. They're young and new and still working on determining their voice, but there are quite a few hints as to the direction of their next musical step

On first listen, it's quite obvious that they've got a goal to make a bigger, bolder, more atmospheric sound. Even though they don't quite reach the heights that they've got in mind--probably due to budget constraints, truth be told--you just get the feeling that Zuzu's Petals want to really, really explode in a wall of sound and melody, yet they don't quite know how to go about doing it--or simply cannot afford it right now. Songs like "Lost & Found" and "Venus, Maybe Mars" sound like demos that are a session or two away from having an orchestra overdubbed to make the grander. Lucky Lew, an associate of the esteemed Grandaddy, helped out with Zuzu's Petals, and I wouldn't be surprised if Grandaddy is the direction that the Petals want to go.

Secondly, Zuzu's Petals are young. I don't know how much they've played out, but their sound leads me to believe that they've not performed out much at all. While their musicianship is top-notch, time and experience is going to be a really, really good for the Petals, and I have a feeling that the differences between this first record and their next will be great. Lead singer Steve Charbonneau already has a really strong singing voice, but with a bit of time, and a few road trips under his belt, that voice of his is going to be even more powerful. Same thing with the rest of the band. They're pretty darn good now, and a little workin' out will make them even tougher.

Still, I can't muck about Zuzu's Petals. If anything, it's a nice little snapshot of a band who, given a little bit of time and some maturity, could easily make an excellent rock album. I also have a feeling that this pretty good debut will be seen as weak and inferior a few years (and albums) from now. Personally, I can't wait for that moment in time where I can revise my opinion of this record.

---Joseph Kyle

Xiu Xiu/Jim Yoshii Pile-Up "Insound Tour Support"

Ah, yes, the tour support CD. A chance to make a little extra cash on tour, offering up your small, loyal fanbase something new and unheard--and something they'll cherish, if you never acknowledge its existence outside of tour. Calexico, His Name is Alive, Dirty 3, Saturday Looks Good To Me--these are but a few groups that have taken up this practice. Insound had a good idea with this one, even if it's been a bit sporadic over the past few years. Initially treated in the same regard as a singles/subscription club, it has been a bit more hit-and-miss, with releases coming infrequently. I did not get this on their tour, but, luckily for me, I snagged this little curiosity in hopes of finally hearing two really hyped-up indie-rock bands.

Jim Yoshii Pile-Up are a Seattle-based indie-rock/emo band, and they sound like it. Really, now, they don't really do much but reaffirm the fact that Death Cab For Cutie are one extremely influential band. It doesn't help much that Chris Walla produced these four songs, either, so comparisons to DCFC should be taken without complaint. Sure, their songs are pretty enough, and I guess I can't fuss about them too much, but I'm neither impressed or unimpressed. Jim Yoshii simply are, and you can make of that what you will. "Seattle" and "The Conversation Stalls" are the best of the bunch, and the other two, "Birthday Cake" and "Xmas Card" are merely OK.

Xiu Xiu, what to do with you? Comparisons to Joy Division and any other group of depressing, moody folk certainly seem to be appropriate. Good lord, though, you're depressing and obsessive! I mean, you're a group that polarize people: you're either loved by people who think you're so dark and depressing and brilliant, or you're hated by people who think you should just jump, as opposed to simply talking about it. I like "Bunny Gamer," though, and though I'm not really keen on your whole folkie type of thing on "Fabulous Muscles," "Little Panda McElroy" and "Nieces Pieces," I guess I can understand why people like you. Not my thing, I guess, but I think that has to do with the St. John's Wort I'm taking these days.

Okay, so it's a bit of a mixed bag, but for the price (six bucks) the songs aren't really that bad; it's a pretty good little mini album, even if you don't like emo and/or suicidal California art-rockers. It sure saves you the guilt from downloading their album, and in a few years time, after the fame thing happens, you can get a few extra bucks to pay off your student loans from selling it on eBay.

--Joseph Kyle

September 08, 2003

Drums & Tuba "Mostly Ape"

There's a certain economy in Drum and Tuba's name; unlike a regular band, you know what you're going to get from the get-go. If neither drum nor tuba were present, then you'd certainly feel ripped-off. As a result, you can't help but feel that Drums & Tuba had better deliver the goods. Thankfully, they do. Mostly Ape, their second album for esteemed eclectic label Righteous Babe, finds the band moving further away from their early, math-rock novelty act and forging a tight, can't be beat sound.

There's not a single moment on Mostly Ape that reeks of math, and that's a great thing. Theirs is a drumhead-tight jazz-rock/funk sound that will quickly pull you in, and their music never ever sounds like a quirky novelty act. While the tuba is prominent throughout, it's never quite the heavy imposition on the songs as you'd probably think. In some songs, such as "Air Con Dec" and the guitar-funky "The Metrics," you never actually think about the tuba, as it simply folds in nicely with the bass line.

Oh my, there I go, talkin' about technical things, and avoidin' the feelings that Drums and Tuba give off. Mostly Ape is a very warm record; at times, you can feel their presence in the room; if you've seen them live, then you know that they can totally draw you in with their friendly, funky sound. You can bounce a nickel off of their tightness, and even though they're becoming well talked-about in the nouveau-hippie jam-band scene, it's comforting to know that for once those folk have it right, becaus Drums and Tuba are an awesome live act.

Perhaps their sudden tightness comes from their recent obsession with touring; if you squint when you look at the inside of Mostly Ape, you'll see a very, very long list of dates for the past sixteen months. Mostly Ape feels like a live show, and that's probably due to the fact that the album was recorded in one week with, according to the notes, "a bare minimum of overdubs." I've seen them twice over the past two years, and both times, they took the ideas that make up Mostly Ape and their previous work, Vinyl Killers, and improvised from them, creating new sounds that were different and new, yet warmly familiar. It was great, because they simply carried on and on and simply jammed for two hours. Mostly Ape sounds a lot like those shows, it's true, and the only thing missing from the album's live feel is Goat in the corner, gettin' into the groove.

--Joseph Kyle

the goslings "perfect interior"

Asaurus Records is a little label I'm fond of, because their lo-fi, put the music before commerce aesthetic is admirable, even if it makes them an underdog. In a way, The Goslings' Perfect Interior is the perfect release for a label that specializes in CD-roms and handcopied sleeves, because theirs is a music that's pretty and interesting yet a bit of a financial risk if you're just some kids in a bedroom. Besides, why spend all your time working to get a record for release when you could just make the music and put it out yourself? Why it's taken me so long to review this little record is an indictment of how swamped we music editors can become, but that doesn't really affect the music any, does it?

Anyway, the music on Perfect Interior is, in a word, gorgeous. It's haunting, it's dark, and the songs all flow together into one long, seventeen-minute frightfest. They've got plenty of reverb, lots of hazy, impossible-to-understand vocals, and the same vibe that makes Windy & Carl and most of the Kranky label rather wonderful. From the haunting drone of "Landing"--which changes midsong and feels like two songs put together---to the threatening, dark "Sthenno" and the underdeveloped "Herons," Perfect Interior is a soundtrack to something scary. While I wish that some of these songs were more developed--occasionally the songs just fade out, as if there was more to them, and I wish they'd just let loose for ten minutes, instead of playing it safe and cutting them off at safe levels. Still, this is a great little record, and it's just in time for Halloween! (Gettin' ready for Halloween gets earlier and earlier each year...)

--Joseph Kyle

Label Website:

September 07, 2003

Colin Clary "The Only Boy In Town"

Just because you're not strong doesn't mean you're weak. Take, for instance, Colin Clary's debut album, The Only Boy In Town. Some might say that "hey, this guy's voice is pretty soft," and they would be correct, but if they were to say "his singing is weak," they would be wrong. True, he might not win any Charles Atlas awards for vocal muscle, but let's not see that as a criticism; if the songs on The Only Boy In Town were sung by someone with a stronger set of pipes, then they just wouldn't be any good.

Let's step away from that paragraph, shall we? It's making me slightly uncomfortable, because the implication is that he's not a very good singer, and that is simply not so. While Clary's vocal range might seem a bit limited, it certainly does not affect his music. Clary's a smart guy, and it certainly seems obvious that he recognizes his own limitations. Instead of trying to make his weaknesses appear stronger, he took the opposite approach and made songs that utilize every bit of muscle he already has. There's really no need for grandstanding, for that would make him look foolish. It's better to write songs that embrace everything you have than to fake it and be obvious about it.

Really, though, how could anyone not like him? His music is a quite quiet little symphony of indiepop and folk; indeed, The Only Boy In Town is perfect music for a cold, rainy Friday night in a coffee house in the big big city. Oh, and he's got some really talented friends helping him out, too--notably Jeff Baron and Sasha Bell from Ladybug Transistor, so you know the music's gonna be soft and pastoral. He's thrown in a handy-dandy cover of "Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want," and he's performed it with so much of his own natural charm that you'd swear it's his own. Heck, the boy even references The Stone Ponys in "I'm Not Saying," too! (Personally, I'm hoping he gets around to covering "Different Drum," because I think he could easily make it his own!) Clary's a master of grammatically correct indie-pop, and if you don't fall in love with the clever "Selfish Aims," "Sleep With Whomever You Want," "Just a Little One" or the heartbreaking "End of an Era," then, my friend, I feel for you.

Ah, I like Colin Clary. He's a really nice guy and he makes the music you'd expect a nice guy to make. Smart, friendly, affable, sleepy, clean, wholesome, pleasant, thoughtful, well-mannered, virginal--these are ten adjectives that describe The Only Boy In Town, and they are ten adjectives that describe Colin Clary. The man and the music are one in the same, and it's that wholesome, small-town sensibility that's gonna win over the world. Good job, sir!

--Joseph Kyle

Holiday Rain "No Sound Like The Present"

Finally--someone gets it right! I've always been under the impression that bands like Apples in Stereo and various other Elephant 6 bands have been good bands who are too damn weak, and lo-fi rock bands like Guided By Voices are strong, yet are ultimately lacking in true sweetness. If only someone could strike a happy balance between the two...oh, wait, somebody do! Yeah, for their second album, No Sound Like The Present, Holiday Rain have thrown the best parts of two distinct styles together, mixed it up and strained out the crap.

If you have reservations about lo-fi psych-pop, you're probably justified for being a little bit cautious about No Sound Like The Present. Too many good artists have perpetuated a whole bunch of crap under the guise of "lo-fi psych," and after years of mediocrity, the last thing you'd want to hear is another album that fits such a description. I mean, really--thirty two minute songs doth not a good album make, no matter how odd or unique you make the concept seem. Too much crap like that has been released, and you really cannot blame the indie-rock listeners for turning their fickle noses up in the air.

No Sound Like The Present may be brief, but it's never short of melody, hooks, or simple pop craft. Yes, they never break any of the Pollard Commandments, yet they never throw any kind of skronky experimental junk into the mix, either. Only three songs break the three-minute mark, and of those, only one breaks the four minute mark--the positivly epic album closer, "Timeless Clock," a stoned-out closing song that clocks in at...heheh...4:20! The only problem with No Sound Like The Present is that occasionally their simple songwriting style produces a monotony that can be rather grating. It's too bad, though, because the undeniable power behind real jewels like "Let Them Sleep," "I Heard the Message," "It's My Fault" and "Pointless" could easily and rather unfairly be lost. It's a shame, too; such songs deserve a bit better than that. Holiday Rain's sound is raw, rocking and real; how could a sound like that not produce some really good music?

I like No Sounds Like The Present. It's pleasant, enjoyable and never too heavy. It's just the right combination of classic and indie rock. True, it's not the most original sound out there in indie-rock land, but at least Holiday Rain give it an honest, sincere try. I have this feeling that Holiday Rain's sound translates MUCH better in a live setting, where many variables are at play, and ideas aren't weighed down by the limitations of being a lo-fi garage-rock band.

--Joseph Kyle

Cannonball Jane "Street Vernacular"

Sharon Hagopian, a quiet and reserved elementary school music teacher, has an alter ego, Cannonball Jane. When she's not teaching the younger set about quarter notes and treble clefs, she's making music that's a wonderful hybrid of 60s harmonies and modern-day electronica. Comparisons have been made to Solex and Julie Ruin, and while those are certainly apt, I'd like to think that she's much more of an electronica-version of Aislers Set--you know, punk rock noise met with indiepop sensibility and classic pop stylings thrown in to boot. Hell, it would be a great crime if Hagopian and Linton never collaborated.

"Deceptively simple" is the best phrase to describe the music of Street Vernacular. While you would be easily tempted to think that this was just another case of a kid with a computer making electronic music in their bedroom, you'd be wrong. Terribly wrong. Hagopian assures us that no computers were used in the making of this record, and if you can't tell that she's telling the truth, then you're either jaded or...well...stupid. That's not a nice word, and we apologize for using such an insulting word, but it's true. Of course, when the musician in question is a music teacher, why would you think that she'd be incapable of making such a wonderful record on her own?

Hagopian was wise to keep Street Vernacular short. It clocks in at less than thirty minutes; normally, that's a pathetic amount of time for a 'full-length' album, but she obviously knows that brevity is the soul of wit. Plus, she perhaps realized that her songs--which do go all over the place, yet stick to a basic formula--are best enjoyed in small samples. Electronic musicians often don't realize that it's better to say something in a short amount of time than to utilize every ounce of time you've got, especially if your style is very basic and not terribly complicated. It's better to produce an album that's excellent yet too short than to produce an album that's tedious after twenty minutes but still a half-hour away from finishing. Hagopian obviously understands that it's best to leave them wanting more, and Street Vernacular is a musical peanut-butter cracker on an empty stomach.

Kicking off Street Vernacular is "Slumber Party," with a piano riff that's very much a mid-60s creation. Of course, she modernizes everything with an electro-beat that is quite similar to her self-referenced influence Solex. Hagopian then turns the beat around with "Hey! Hey! Alright!," a song that Le Tigre could take a few lessons from. The chug-chug beat is complemented with a riff that borrows heavily from..."Freeze Frame?" Yes, that's it! My favorite mixing of styles has to be "Brave New World," where she deftly makes a medley of Mozart and Missing Persons!

See, that's the magic of Cannonball Jane's debut. You can listen to it, and you'll find something new each time, and you'll love it even more. I've listened to Street Vernacular almost every day for the past month. It's that wonderful; it's totally fun, and it's quite smart, too. I mean, what can you say about an artist who makes a melody of Mozart and Missing Persons ("Brave New World")? She pulls it off with grace, and if there's any artist that makes me excited about their future, it's her. Big things for the schoolteacher who can? I sure hope so! Not only am I excited at the prospect of her next record, I'm secretly wondering what kind of influence she has on her students. If Street Vernacular is any indication, then the future of music is secure and safe...

--Joseph Kyle

Margo "The Catnap"

My cat has been acting strange today. I've been listening to The Catnap, and my cat--who usually sleeps in a box next to the computer, has been entranced by this record. She's acting all hypnotized, too--she's twisting her head in some sort of cat-dance type of thing, and it looks awesome, my friend. She's all dopey-looking, somewhat trancelike, and she's really affected in a way that she's never been before. It's the most amazing thing, too; Mary (the cat) has listened to some pretty harsh stuff in the past year, and she's listened to some pretty dance-worthy stuff, too, but none of those other records have caused her to have such a reaction.

Really, though, there's not that much to Margo's music. It's very simple--almost childlike---and it's quite innocent. There's nothing hard or weird or strange or peculiar about Margo's m.o.; I wouldn't be surprised if they indeed made music to satisfy all cats, and nothing more. It's very much a European record, too; Margo fits easily between such wonderful artists as Donna Regina, Hermann und Kleine, Ulrich Schnauss or just about anything else on the Karaoke Kalk/City Centre Offices labels. Though like most electronica/ambient albums, the music is rather anonymous, enjoyable, and non-descript. No one song stands out above the other, but, really, with albums like this, are they supposed to?

I haven't had a single complaint about The Catnap, though. It's exactly like I like my electronica--smooth, easy on the ears, enjoyable, with just a hint of beat. There are some pretty sweet, innocent vocals on here, too, (all sung with a sweet English-via-French-accent girl voice) but it's not one of those records--no divas here! I like this record, even though I'm really at a loss to what I can say about it. It's pretty electronica that makes my cat dance, and if you like pretty electronica that will make your cat dance, I can easily say that The Catnap is the record for you--and your kitty.

--Joseph Kyle

Zykos "Comedy Horn"

I want to smack Zykos lead singer Mike Booher. I just want to place the backside of my hand upside his head. I feel as if I have a duty to do so. In fact, I have a moral code of conduct that will not allow me to let him get out of a smack upside the backside of his head.


It's simple. He has one of those singing voices that's torn between being smart, smarter than you and utter smart-ass. I hesitant to say 'arrogant,' because, well, that's a given. His style--like Ryan Adams, Johnny Rotten or Issac Brock--it's an utter smug croon that tells me immediatly that this is a man who doesn't think he's superior, he knows it. If it were you child, you'd swat his bottom and send him to his room until he got over his little attitude.

Actually, I don't think Zykos would be as awesome as they are if Booher wasn't this way. See, take away any part of what Zykos does, and you'll have Standard Indie Rock. When you put everything together, though, you've got something extraordinary. It isn't exactly indie rock; it isn't really rock music--it's a new sound, Zykos style. Taking hints from punk, alternative-rock and a little bit of math, throwing in a little bit of herky-jerky squanky indie-rock 'dance music' notions, and you've got Comedy Horn--though, of course, you can't really pigeonhole this record that easily. One minute, it's lovely melodic melody ("Listening Pills") then it's kind of aggressive rock and roll ("Moviehome"), but yet Comedy Horn has subtle hints of dance music ("The Gambler"--not the Kenny Rogers song, darn it!) and indie-pop ("The Dip," "Hilarious Proof").

It would be really easy for this reviewer to go absolutely nuts over Comedy Horn, but I'll refrain from being a little bit odd. I will say this, though--it's a sure sign of greatness when a reviewer can't think of anyone to compare you to, and Comedy Horn has caused me a restless night or two. About the only band I can compare them to--Spoon--is obvious, simply because Spoon's Jim Eno is the producer! You've never heard anything quite as wonderful as Zykos, yet you'll swear you've heard them before. It's post-postrock, if that makes any sense; I'm personally befuddled about them.

Zykos, welcome. The music world needs you--we really need you. You're the antidote an emo-ridden world needs right now, and I just hope that you're heard outside of Austin's city limits. (And no, I wouldn't really want to hit you, Mr. Booher. Hug you, maybe, shake your hand--but never hit.)

--Joseph Kyle

Sentridoh "Lou B's Wasted Pieces"

If you’re an avid reader of this site, I don’t think that much background information on Lou Barlow is necessary. Both he and Eric Gaffney are cofounders of Sebadoh, arguably one of independent rock’s most influential bands. Sebadoh began as a series of collaborations recorded on a cheap four-track, but it slowly congealed into a three-piece “professional band.” (Anyone who’s familiar with the band’s scattershot nature knows why I put those words in quotes.) As the band made its way into proper studios, Barlow kept releasing collections of solo four-track doodles on various labels. Through his prolific recordings, Barlow did just as much as Guided by Voices’ Robert Pollard to give birth to at least two generations’ worth of DIY musicians. On one hand, the “low-fi” movement gave many broke and talented people a reason to express themselves through whatever means they had available, instead of waiting around for a label or patron to fund their studio time. On the other hand, it also gave many broke and untalented people an excuse to concoct intentionally sketchy and poor sounding music. After a while, there were so many bedroom musicians around that it got tough to separate the wheat from the chaff, the “reasons” versus the “excuses.” It didn’t help that even the best of these musicians (Barlow and Pollard included) were poor self-editors.

Nowadays, your average critic flinches at the prospect of reviewing yet another interminable album of home recordings. It’s safe to say that Lou Barlow’s popularity is declining, as everything he’s released since 1999, from Sebadoh’s final album onward to his Loobiecore and Folk Implosion side projects, has been met by the public with general indifference. This CD, an expanded version of a cassette that Barlow released nearly a decade ago on the Shrimper label, might not even be of interest to anyone who doesn’t already own the original cassette. However, there is enough great material on Wasted Pieces to suggest that this would be a fine starting point for people to reevaluate Barlow’s past work, as well as for neophytes to see what they missed the first time around. Wasted Pieces is perfectly emblematic of both the strengths and the weaknesses of the music that came out of the “lo-fi” movement of the mid-1990s. Running through thirty-one tracks in almost fifty minutes, it can be an exhausting listen, but judicious use of the “program” button on your CD player will yield a masterpiece.

I’d like to divide the tracks on this CD into four categories. First are the “proper songs,” which take up a bit more than half of the track listing. In these songs, Barlow accompanies himself primarily on acoustic guitar, strumming in his characteristic Sentridoh style. He strums on the downbeat instead of the upbeat, a beat displacement that takes a bit of getting used to until you realize that almost every Sentridoh song has that rhythm. I remember reading in an interview that Lou likes recording on four-track because it captures the overtones of his acoustic guitar nicely. Couple that with the frequent alternate tunings he uses, and what you get are a series of droning chords that sound totally beautiful. Barlow sings in a plaintive, sonorous tenor about matters of the heart. “Broken II” chastises an emotionally damaged slut, “Nitemare” describes the pain of going to sleep without his girlfriend by his side, “Albuquerque ‘89” grossly recounts a porn and masturbation session, and the brilliant “Suede” rebukes the live-in lover who moved out and left him. When Lou sings on the a capella track “I Can’t Wait,” “He can take you away because he needs you/His love is brand new, but I need you more,” I can visualize Dashboard Confessional’s Chris Carabba taking notes while curled up next to the stereo.

The second category is the “sketches,” songs which start to go somewhere promising only to abruptly end in mid-thought (“Be Nice to Me,” “Rather Die,” et cetera). Surprisingly, there aren’t as many of these as one would expect. The third category is the “noise.” Every once in a while, Barlow drops furious onslaughts of tape manipulation, most of which are indexed as untitled tracks. Wasted Pieces’ opening track begins with a collage of distorted voices and bells, which gives way to a cacophony of rewinding tapes that sounds like something Pimmon would come up with if he didn’t have a computer handy to make noise with. The fourth track is a snippet of harsh Sonic Youth-style guitar drone. The twenty-fourth track is a warped keyboard solo that sounds like a beat-less Boards of Canada song run through a mountain of tape hiss. The fourth category, then, would be the songs that don’t fit into the other three. There are songs that start off normally and then venture into noise territory; “Conspiracy,” for instance, drowns Barlow’s voice completely in radio static. The harmonium-driven “It Might Be” sounds like a number from an old-style radio play. There are two or three spoken-word tracks, all of which are uniformly horrible; the man’s certainly no Mark E. Smith, that’s for sure. There’s also a funny recording from an early Sebadoh show in which Barlow chides the audience for talking too loudly while he’s playing.

The most obvious criticism that I can make about Wasted Pieces is that it could have easily been whittled down to a more digestible fifteen (or even twenty) tracks. I also wonder if Barlow’s future home recordings will incorporate elements of tape collage a bit more smoothly. He could make a name for himself as an experimental composer if he wanted to. I listen to the pure noise tracks almost as much as I do the proper songs, whereas the ones that hover uneasily between the two poles leave me cold. Overall, I recommend Wasted Pieces for purchase, if more as a historical document than as a cohesive listening experience. There are too many good bits on the CD for it to be ignored the second time around.

---Sean Padilla