December 27, 2003

The Ios "Chattanooga"

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

--Joseph Kyle

December 17, 2003

David Byrne "Lead Us Not Into Temptation"

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

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

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

--Joseph Kyle

December 10, 2003

New Harmony Indiana "Parlour Music"

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

I like music that is funny.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

--Joseph Kyle

December 08, 2003

The Marlboro Chorus "Good Luck"

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

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

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

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

--Joseph Kyle

Modern Day Urban Barbarians "The Endless Retreat"

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

In fact, it explains a lot.

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

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

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

Depending, of course, if they want it.

--Joseph Kyle

Trembling Blue Stars "A Certain Evening Light"

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

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

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

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

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

--Joseph Kyle

Desert City Soundtrack "Funeral Car"

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

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

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

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

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

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

--Joseph Kyle

Six Organs of Admittance "Compathia"

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

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

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

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

---Sean Padilla

December 07, 2003

Various Artists "The Matinee Records Autumn Assortment!"

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

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

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

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

--Joseph Kyle

December 06, 2003

Entrance "Honey Moan"

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

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

An instrumental.

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

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

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

--Joseph Kyle