February 28, 2004

Metal Urbain "Anarchy in Paris!"

Maybe Metal Urbain didn’t get the memo, but 70’s reissues are so 2003. With Television reissuing its remastered catalogue plus Live at the Waldorf and The Clean releasing its anthology on Merge early last year, it was definitely the year for punk and post-punk acts to reissue in global context. That said, the 80’s reissuing craze continues with Echo & the Bunnymen re-releasing their first five albums complete with studio alternate takes and live tracks. Add to that the beginning of an indie “I Love the 90’s” featuring the reunion of Sebadoh, the reissuing of the long out-of-print Dinosaur Jr. discs on Merge (and possible one-off reunion in Massachusetts), and you’ll quickly believe that Metal Urbain missed the critic’s boat.

But then they didn’t after all. Thanks to excellent liner notes, the obscure French synth-punk act gets help from a possibly apocryphal “fifth generation cassette” and Steve Albini’s seal of approval, along with the au curant Jesus & Mary Chain tie-in (their stuff was reissued last year too, fyi), and the commercial clout of Michael Azzerad’s Our Band Could Be Your Life. In spite of all the hype, Anarchy in Paris! still reigns supreme and as far as compiled reissues go, it’s quite good.

The only way to describe this album is by comparison. While Big Black maintained Metal Urbain’s austerity, they couldn’t match the texture and dynamic tack of this particular influence. Instead, Anarchy in Paris! sounds more like Jon Savage’s Wire comp, On Returning. Although On Returning sounds better as an album, if one takes into consideration how committed Metal Urbain are to their aesthetic, attempting to combine synthesizers and punk riffs, along with Situationist lyrics and titles like “Lady Coca Cola,” you’ll understand that this is an album that reaches distinct demographics: the people who get what a Situationist is, and the rest, well, they’re completists who’ll probably dump this in a used bin in three weeks.

Look for Metal Urbain to do a ClearChannel free tour this spring across the U.S.

--JT Ramsay

The Atlantic Manor "Failing By The Second"

R. Sell is The Atlantic Manor, and he's just gone through a divorce. Failing By The Second is his divorce record. Divorce produces art--some of it brilliant, some of it not. I do not feel it appropriate to critique an artist for something that's obviously pointed and difficult for them--heck, I even question the need for an artist even releasing a record that's wrought and heavy with such pointed emotional pain. He works through his issue in a lo-fi, country, folk and occasionally rock style, and titles such as "Every Thing Can Die Today," "No One Cares About Your Feelings" and "Broken Bones Heal" should clue you in to Sell's feelings. I know that while Failing By The Second is not an easy listen, I do sympathize with Mr. Sell, and I want to say, "I feel ya, brother--it's gonna be OK, man." Not for everyone, but if you want a snapshot of a man obviously going through great pain, Failing By The Second won't let you down.

--Joseph Kyle

February 27, 2004

Hanalei "Hurricane We"

This EP starts out with an amazing sadcore travelogue of the US in song form. It fully elaborates on the miles involved when missing someone far away. There is some great songwriting on this record, most notably 'Hopeful Hands' which, sadly, is the EP's weakest track musically. This track sounds like a Books song with Brian Moss singing over top of electronic samples. Unfortunately, it seems as though he can't quite keep up with the beats laid down. The other tracks are far stronger offerings and contain traces of Neil Halstead, Denison Witmer, and American Analog Set. "John Hughes Ending," the closing track, reminds me very much of Owen, both in lyrics and guitar work. I predict that the next release by Hanalei will blow this already very solid release away.

--Leigh Kelsey

Artist Website: http://www.theghostband.com/hanalei

Early Day Miners "The Sonograph EP"

They say brevity is the soul of wit, and that's certainly true about Early Day Miners' The Sonograph EP. Over the course of an album, music as slow and delicate and dark and pretty can get a bit monotonous, but in small doses, it's really powerful and moving. This little EP, released by Spanish label Acuarela (who seems to have the market cornered on excellent EP releases as of late) is perhaps the best thing that Early Day Miners have released. Sure, their albums Let Us Garlands Bring and Jefferson at Rest were beautiful slice of sadness, but honed down to twenty minutes, Early Day Miners waste no time in filling the songs with as much beauty as possible.

Instead of the grand epics of the past, they've kept the songs brief--and, for these guys, anything under five minutes is 'brief'--and have regulated the grand, epic instrumental passages to individual songs. This might seem a bit choppy on the surface, but this shows a rare level of restraint, and it's forced them to be much more focused on the finished product. But, really, you notice it all that much--The Sonograph EP flows so seemlessly that unless you're paying attention, you won't notice songs changing. If you can stay...well...sober and alert through the record, then you've got some really strong constitution.

With a mix of piano and harmonica, "Albatross" quickly sets The Sonograph EP in the warm, dusty Southwest--or your bedroom, circa 4 AM yesterday morning.. As it drifts into the folky "Perish Room," the vibe gets even mellower, and the very drowsy singing that starts off the song drifts into a blurry, stoned out instrumental haze, which carries over into the instrumental "Bijou." When Daniel Burton breaks the instrumental flow on "Bedroom, Houston," if you're misty-eyed, you might just miss his vocals. When the chirping crickets and faint sounds of the night air come in during "Mosaic II," if you're still awake, you'll certainly be propelled into a dreamlike state. The final song, "Misrach," breaks the silence and the sleep like a thunderstorm at dawn; it's a loud, violent noise that will break you from your slumber, and as quickly as it arrives, it dissipates, and you're lulled back in to sleep by the silence after the storm.

This is an all-too brief affair, yet its terseness is what makes it so wonderful. In six short songs, spread out over twenty-six minutes, Early Day Miners have delivered a record that's as good as most bands full-lengths. The Sonograph EP is well worth seeking out, especially if you need something to make you sleep...

--Joseph Kyle

Label Website: http://www.acuareladiscos.com

Seal Boy "Escort Service"

Escort Service, the debut release by Seal Boy (a.k.a. multi-instrumentalist/producer Kevin Alexander), is a wonderfully eclectic affair drawing upon a host of styles ranging from contemporary classical (“Subway Rodeo” and “Third Rail”) to Cuban jazz (“Treehopper”) to dub (“5:14 [Sunrise]”) to just about everything in between. Displaying a remarkable knack for atmosphere, melody, and groove, Alexander uses a vast sonic palette consisting of synthesizers, horns, samples, and percussion, among other aural bric-a-brac, to create dense soundscapes that range from the whimsical to the downright ominous. Alexander’s influences are especially hard to pinpoint as the tracks that constitute Escort Service genre-hop like an ADD-riddled toddler in a candy shop, but according to fellow Mundane Sounds writer Sean Padilla, a few songs- particularly “Treehopper”- could pass for Hood outtakes circa Cold House.

The only misstep Escort Service seems to take is on the song “Fogging Up My Window”. Opening with a bland, piano-plucked melody and then segueing into a lurching, rather uninspired chord progression, the track moves along sluggishly, anchored by embarrassing teenage poetry and a vocalist with virtually no presence whatsoever. Seal Boy’s one faux pas aside, Escort Service is a frequently outstanding debut from an up-and-coming talent with a ton of potential to boot. If this is merely the beginning for this versatile musician, I’m terribly anxious to hear what’ll come next.

--Jonathan Pfeffer

artist website: http://www.sealboy.net

February 26, 2004

Califone "Heron King Blues"

At about the seven-minute mark of the title track from Califone’s Heron King Blues, you will begin to hallucinate. Don’t fight it. It first happened to me as I was driving, and I had to pull my car to the side of the road to avoid a wreck. I was in another place, polluted by odd sensations.

There is so much happening on Heron King Blues, even during the simplest moments. When lead vocalist and chief songwriter Tim Rutili sings alone, it sounds like harmonizing (sometimes it is). A cello shares the sonic landscape with a wurlitzer so inconspicuously that one must be reading the liner notes to catch it. What sounds like the distant clanging of a packed garbage bag of recyclables becomes a fast approaching army of pots and pans. Live instrumentation, loops and programming are fused together until the differences among them vanish. What is happening is much more than a mastery of musical forms; it is the harnessing and control of sound.

Play this record softly in one room and listen to it from another room. It will not make sense. The singing will seem hesitant or bashful. The songs will feel directionless, or not like songs at all. You may lose interest. This is a record to be listened to closely. Each speaker will demand full possession of an ear, and each ear will be told something slightly different from what the other is hearing. The record knows this, and it tucks itself away, deep inside a menacing, thorny thicket, far from distraction. The place where it exists contains an exit portal as difficult and undesirable to discover as the entry was. This music may own you entirely if you get too close.

“Wingbone” introduces the record with the line, “Fill my belly with your whispering.” The line seemingly calls out to the inspiration for this collection, a half human-half bird entity planted into Rutili’s dreams by the ancient Romans, and Rutili sings it as though recently awoken from a refreshingly debilitating slumber. “2 Sisters Drunk On Each Other” commingles metallic mid-tempo percussion, lyrics like, “Red foot cold floor / You’re the root / You’re the hanging tree / You’re Easter in the Philippines,” and sneering brass on a perspiring wade through gator-ridden swamps. “Trick Bird” supplements a cozy organ with (among many other instruments) the plucking of a Turkish violin and something referred to as a shinai reed, and yet the piece could easily be described as minimalist. The effect is that of a body at rest, continuing to work but not making a racket.

Some music is pieced together over months or years, and is developed with mathematical precision. Other music is so spontaneously formed it is as though it always existed in the air around us, waiting to be gathered and molded into song. Heron King Blues is that rare recording that interweaves the finest characteristics of both approaches. There is a staggering array of disparate sources, yet no sound is out of place. Even so, this record was a product of the absence of planning, only the twisted imaginings of one man providing the framework for creation. The mystery of its existence can be explained conveniently in religious terms or in more depth scientifically, but you may just want to appreciate this record without contemplating the “why” or “how.” You’ll also want to leave a trail of breadcrumbs for when you’re done.

-Andrew Ullrich

February 25, 2004

Gainer "You Say That Like It's A Bad Thing"

Amazing. This album is simply amazing, and it's even more amazing to think that this pairing seems so illogical. Terry Hall--a pop man at heart--is best known as the frontman of the Specials, Fun Boy Three and Colourfield, and Mushtaq, formerly of Fun*da*mental, is a master hip-hop/world beat manipulator. Would you expect the two of them to get together and make a primo, club-ready ethno-pop record that's as intriguing as it is enjoyable? I know I didn't.

The fruits of their collaboration, The Hour of Two Lights, is an addictive--and unexpected--mixture of Western and Eastern sounds, and you really won't know what to expect next. From the pounding, erotic beat of "A Gathering Storm" to the poppy "Ten Eleven" (co-written by Damon Albarn) and the 'you are there in the streets of Morocco' feel of "This and That," this fusion of pop and traditional middle Eastern sounds never once sounds kitschy or novel. Even though they occasionally get political, such as on "Stand Together" and "Epilogue," it's never preachy, it's more of a 'we're all in this world together' type of message. Though a lot of the lyrics are in Arabic, (and no translations made, sadly), the words need no meaning; they transcend language and go straight to your soul.

It's good to see someone actually taking the time to travel to exotic lands and making an album with real musicians, as opposed to simply relying on 'modern technology' to accomplish the same thing. I mean, sure, some guy with ProTools and a few Mickey Hart records could create the same kind of record, but I'm of the opinion that the real deal still sounds a whole lot better. Besides, when's the last time that you've heard a Real Live Pop Crooner collaborating with a band that consists of centuries-old instruments as the oud, shehnai, dhol, ney or darabuka? Terry Hall's in excellent voice, too; his voice is strong, confident and it really sounds nice when accompanied by such a unique backing band.

The Hour of Two Light sounds like it was a lot of fun to make. Just look at the pictures of the musicians in the artwork: they're all smiling and happy. You will be, too, after giving this album a spin. As reverend as it is rude, and as righteous as it is erotic, The Hour of Two Lights is out of this world, something familiar yet alien. A sensual and aural pleasure, and one of the best records I've heard in ages. (It also makes road trips really nice, too.)

--Joseph Kyle

Howard Hello "Don't Drink His Blood"

Hello again, Howard Hello!

It seems as if it's been a long time since I last wrote to you. I'm sorry about that. It gets kind of busy around here these days--I'm sure you understand. But I wanted to write to you about a few things that have been circulating in my mind. I've thought a lot about you. I've wondered about how things were going--and if you still remembered me. I worried I was a little too harsh in my last letter, or maybe I was being a little too sarcastic. I wasn't meaning to do so.

I don't know what's up with the title of your new record, Howard. Don't Drink His Blood?? I worried that you'd gone all goth on me, and I was concerned about your health. When I saw the record art--in crayon, I started to think...what's up with Howard Hello? Simple artwork plus odd title must mean that you've gone wrong somewhere, that someone has led you down the primrose path to sinnin'. To be honest, I was a little bit afraid to give this record a spin. I mean, that is a little bit of a scary title. I get afraid easy.

But how you've grown up so! I almost don't recognize you now, and that's a good thing! You've lost a lot of those complex polyrhythms that so many of your 'indie-rock' colleagues get trapped in, and you've replaced them with a healthy serving or two of melody. I'm glad you and melody got together. You two look so good together, and I think she's mellowed you out. Best of all, she's made you more you than you were before. She's given you a healthy dose or two of originality, and no longer can I say, 'oh, Howard Hello sounds like (insert band you've been referred to as sounding like here)' because now you sound just like Howard Hello.

And I like the direction your music's taking! I really, truly dig the gentle, simple children's cartoon-like "My Friend" and its sister song, "The Parasite,"--it's a nice, friendly rhythm; it reminds me of childhood, and "The Parasite" really reminds me of the Rentals. Did you like the Rentals, Howard Hello? I know I did. I didn't care much for that last album of theirs. And who's the girl singing? She sounds really pretty. And this direction towards more accessable pop music? I like it, too. I really liked "Giving Up," too. Have you been listening to Daniel Johnston, too? I hear a little bit of a Big Boy Danny vibe here, too, but it's never too WEIRD, ya know? Just something I noticed.

I'm so happy for you, Howard Hello. You've grown up quite nicely. I like that. I like how you've blended 70s pop and 80s pop together with 90s complicated indie-rock--the result makes the double 00's decade a lot more interesting. You thank Temporary Residence's Jeremy for putting out your records, and then you say "which we will do more of..." YAY!!!! I'm glad! I can't wait!

Until then, I send you my love,
Joseph Kyle

February 24, 2004

Hinterland "Under the Waterline"

When I first started college, I was a heavy-duty shoegazer-lover; anything and everything that held any ties to bands like Lush, Pale Saints, Slowdive or labels like 4ad and Creation I automatically held with high regard. It wasn't until I moved in with my first roommate that I discovered the joys of more experimental/music theory-minded music-makers. Sure, I loved Harold Budd, and I really dug Brian Eno, but I didn't really know much about people like John Cage, Kronos Quartet and Morton Feldman, and I started to lose my taste for shoegazer-style music. Of course, I still have a nice, healthy respect for people who continue to mine the musical landscapes and plunder those 'cathederals of sound' in the name of their creative muse.

Canada's Hinterland is one such band. Though I wouldn't go so far as to say that they're mere imitators (and, believe me, there are a TON of imitators in the shoegaze-world), their debut record Under The Waterline is a record I would have really loved ten years ago...sheesh, has it been that long ago? The album starts off with "wasnteverwinded," a soft, beautiful drifting ambient piece that flows in and out of utter bliss perfection, and after two minutes and fifty-seven seconds, the bliss is broken by the awkward vocals of Michaela Galloway. On this particular song, her precious, childlike singing isn't what you'd expect--it's a bit too much like Cranes' Alison Shaw for my taste---and it's a bit of a shock.

This shock is quickly corrected with "Lethe Lights," because Galloway doesn't sing in such an affected manner, and the rest of the album continues the trend of nice, gentle, soothing atmospheric rock, never too heavy on the vocals or overwhelming with the music. The music just floats quietly; the waves of sound softly colliding with Galloway's lovely singing. It's all a bit gentle, simple, and lulling; like a healthier version of the Cocteau Twins--though, to be fair, it's more like Violet Indiana; Galloway's singing is much more akin to the heartier, soulful style of Siobhan de Mare.

It's this blend of lovely vocals and depressing yet soothing instrumental backing that really makes Under the Waterline a joyful noise; this is the kind of record I listened to years ago, but haven't heard in quite a while, because nobody's making music quite this nice, this lovely, this dark and poppy any more--bands these days either get caught up with the singing, or they get hung up on being as 'weird' as possible with the music. Hinterland has found the perfect balance between the two, and this debut album is a pure joy.

---Joseph Kyle

Burden Brothers "Buried In Your Black Heart"

Yeeeee-haw!!!!!! The Toadies ride again!

Don't try to argue with me that this ain't the Toadies, because you ain't gonna win that one. They were nothing without the unique blues/hard rock crooning of Todd Lewis, who belted out song after song with all of the intensity of a fire-and-brimstone preacher. "Possom Kingdom" was a really great, well-deserved hit, made even nicer by the fact that the Toadies were the kind of band you wanted to succeed. Well, long story short, the Toadies got screwed, not the least of which was the fact that their record label forced them to wait an unfair and utterly pointless seven years to release their second album. Though they toured during that release-drought, it wasn't until 2000 that their fans got their long-awaited follow-up. It was a damn good record, too; had it been released when it should have, the Toadies would probably be together, and would probably have even more hits in their back catalog. Of course, the fire in the 'alt-rock' engine had long since burned out, and it is no surprise that they disbanded not long after the album's release.

If Lewis had decided to completely walk away from music, it would have been quite understandable. But considering he did wait out his record label for seven long years, quitting just doesn't seem to be a word that Lewis understands. He's a tenacious bugger, and he announced that his new band, the Burden Brothers, was going to do things a little bit different. Instead of rushing out to find a new label and start the game all over again, they were going to do things on their terms. They self-released several excellent EP's, and though it's a bit of a shock to find them on a major label, I'm neither surprised nor taken aback that he's decided to get back on the horse again. Besides, if you've got such great skills, there's no reason to reside in the ghetto of obscurity.

Buried In Your Black Heart is a nonstop rock storm of blues-rock, hard-rock and just plain ol' good time ROCK AND ROLL. Yes, it probably would have been the third Toadies album. It sounds like a Toadies album, and this, my friends, is a GOOD thing. Hell Below/Stars Above, their ill-fated second album, was a real shitstorm of hard rock, and it was a relentlessly AWESOME record. But little promotion and the band being dropped afterwards meant that nobody heard it, which is a damn shame. If anything, the years of self-releasing their own records has served them well, as Buried in Your Black Heart has a hard, rootsy vibe to it that comes only from working hard. From the opening "Buried in Your Black Heart," you, dear listener, are given nothing more than the best of Todd Lewis.
Then, it only gets better; with such wonderful tracks as "Beautiful Night," "Shadow," You're So God Damn Beautiful" and "Do For Me," Lewis and company never let up on the rock onslaught.

Sure, some might accuse Lewis of being like AC/DC, but like AC/DC, the Burden Brothers have a formula. It's a great formula. It works. End of story. Buried In Your Black Heart--debut Burden Brothers album or really the newest Toadies album? It's your choice. Either way, it's a winning prospect for you, dear listener. Now, how's about a tour, dear Brothers, so I can get drunk and rowdy?

--Joseph Kyle

February 23, 2004

Live Report: The Fiery Furnaces, w/The Black, Pack of Lies and The Arm, Emo's, Austin, Texas

The Fiery Furnaces, arguably the best brother/sister duo to come along since the White Stripes (tee hee), were recommended to me by members of an Internet mailing list dedicated to British post-punk institution the Fall. The appropriately named Fallnet list introduced me to both Beachbuggy and the Country Teasers, and I can now add the Furnaces to the winning streak. I downloaded their album Gallowsbird’s Bark off of my file-sharing network of choice (calm down, Joseph, and keep reading) and LOVED what I heard. I was dismayed when Quasi’s music started displaying stronger blues influences (particularly on their latest album, Hot Shit). However, the Fiery Furnaces seem to have improved on the sound that Quasi’s been aiming for. At the very least, I wanted to come to the show to put my money where my mouth was and buy their CD. My second incentive for attending the show was that one of the opening acts was the Arm, a band fronted by ANOTHER Fallnet member. I’d seen the Arm play live twice before, and was certain that they wouldn’t disappoint this time around.

The first act on the bill, the Black, was MUCH better than I expect the first band on ANY Austin bill to be, especially after having to sit through crap like Rubble at previous shows. They play lovelorn indie-rock that practically begs for a spot on the Barsuk Records roster. The singer looked like a male version of Penelope Cruz and sang in a pleading, reedy voice while simultaneously playing piano. You could tell that the songs were built off of his piano parts, unlike many bands that use keyboards as embellishments or afterthoughts. The rhythm section, particularly the drummer, was tight and assertive, and the guitarist did his best Sterling Morrison impersonation. They did covers of John Cale’s “Big Black Cloud” and JJ Jackson’s “It’s Alright.” For the latter cover, the singer switched from piano to guitar. Unfortunately, he refused to tune his guitar, which made the song sound like a mess. Nonetheless, the band hammed it up, and even this weak spot in the set managed to charm the audience. For a band that seemingly came out of nowhere, the Black are surprisingly cohesive and professional. If they keep playing, I could easily see them getting big.

The second act, Pack of Lies, was terrible. Singer/guitarist Jason McNeely started this band after leaving another local outfit, the wonderful (and wonderfully named) I Love You but I’ve Chosen Darkness. Like McNeely’s former band, Pack of Lies can be accused of listening to way too much Joy Division (or maybe Interpol) for their own good. Unlike Chosen Darkness, though, Pack of Lies lacks the ability to pen memorable songs. They have little in the way of strong riffs or melodies. McNeely’s mumbling makes the Adams brothers of Hood sound like Freddie Mercury in comparison, which makes their already listless songs disappear into the ether. Every song was repetitive and boring for about three or four minutes, until the band settled on ONE good idea, which they played for about 30 seconds before the song finally ended. The keyboards and drums were barely audible in the mix, and someone needs to tell the second guitarist that thrashing your guitar around like it slapped your mama is NOT the same as playing lead. I urge the remaining four members of Chosen Darkness to stage an intervention and take McNeely back so that he can stop playing this garbage.

The Arm, as usual, put on a great show, with a few noticeable changes. For one, they played on the stage instead of in the standing area (where they normally play, Lightning Bolt style). This meant that the soundman could actually mike the instruments without worrying about the audience kicking the microphones around. Second of all, there was a new drummer and a new guitarist. The new drummer hits harder and faster than the previous drummer did. The new guitarist isn’t as sloppy as the previous guitarist was. Both of these are definitely good things. If only singer/organist Sean O’Neal can do something about the bass player, who looks compulsively bored and sometimes doesn’t even bother to audibly strum his instrument.

The Arm are blessed and/or cursed with the trait of complete transparency. Sean O’Neal wishes he was Mark E. Smith, and loves the electronic music and New Wave of the 1980s. He even has the Duran Duran hairdo to prove it. Thus, he started a band with an intentionally limited stylistic range. Take your pick: it’s either Pitchforkian dance-punk or Williamsburg art-punk. He makes sure that the guitarist and bass player never play in the same key at the same time. He never sings; he only shouts. He writes a song called “Song Automatic 1-2-3” in which he admits to being unoriginal. “Good evening. We are NOT the Fall! I speak in calculated tones (a homage…the French call it ‘frommage’), rather than take a new direction.” Yes, those words are actually in the song. By all means, the Arm should suck. Against all odds, though, the band ROCKS, the songs are catchy, and the crowd is wowed.

The Fiery Furnaces capitalized on the Arm’s intensity by playing an hour-long set that had all of Emo’s in the palm of their hands. Singer/guitarist Eleanor Friedburger looks and sounds like a helium-fueled Patti Smith. When she’s not strumming basic bar chords on her instrument, she’s prowling the stage and singing Beefheart-style couplets like “I pierced my ears with a three-hole punch/Ate twelve dozen donuts for lunch” (from “I’m Gotta Run”) with so much authority that you don’t even notice how little sense the lyrics make. Her brother Matthew one-ups Quasi’s Sam Coomes with an overwhelming supply of hot guitar licks and jazzy piano noodles run through the ugliest wah-wah, distortion, and modulation devices ever. The drummer navigates the constant stops, starts, dynamic shifts, and tempo changes with an almost scary ease. The band grouped their songs into medleys, with one song transforming into the next at the most unexpected moments, without any sort of discernible logic. I was familiar with almost every song on Gallowsbird’s Bark, and I still couldn’t figure out how far they had progressed through the set list until they were almost through playing. The last band to take me on a roller coaster ride that wild was Deerhoof, and I can easily see the Fiery Furnaces reaching that level of greatness quickly. Both bands make music that feels like a soundtrack to a surrealist radio play for children with slightly macabre imaginations. Unfortunately, the Fiery Furnaces had sold out of copies of their album before they got to Austin. Fear not, file-sharing Nazis: the next time I visited Austin I headed STRAIGHT to Waterloo and did the right thing.

---Sean Padilla

Interview: The Like Young

The Like Young are Illinois newlyweds Joe and Amanda Ziemba. They used to be one-half of Wolfie, arguably one of the cutest and most audience polarizing (I seriously don’t know of anyone who has a lukewarm opinion of them) bands that indie-pop has ever produced. Now, though, they’re going it alone and giving the genre the kick in the butt that the bar-band aspirations of Wolfie’s last couple of records aimed for, but couldn’t deliver. The Like Young’s debut Art Contest runs through eleven elliptically autobiographical power-pop songs in twenty-four minutes, with a hooks-per-minute ratio that would shame Rivers Cuomo. Live, though, is where the band really shines. They strip the overdub-rich studio versions of their songs down to just guitar and drums. Joe’s guitar only has two settings --- loud and louder --- and he thrashes his instrument around the stage so vehemently that I think he’s going to accidentally hit himself with the microphone. Amanda pounds out simple rhythm with a ferocity that would make Meg White blush.

The couple manages to recreate the pristine vocal harmonies of their studio material live, but otherwise the Like Young live are as close as we’ll ever get to hearing TWEE METAL. Last but not least, they do a mean cover of Smokey Robinson’s “You Really Got a Hold On Me,” too! I was so impressed with their set (opening for Mates of State in Austin on February 17th) that I approached the band after the show for an interview. Amanda couldn’t participate because she was busy selling merch, and far be it for me to stop bands I like from making money. Fortunately, Joe did more than enough talking for the two of them!

The one thing that I did know about the Like Young before ever hearing your music is that you and Amanda were once half of Wolfie. What prompted the two of you to continue making music after Wolfie’s breakup? Did you plan to continue making music all along, or did you have to make a concrete decision to do it afterwards?

When Wolfie ended, Amanda and I weren’t sure what we were going to do, but I knew that I wanted to keep writing. I stopped writing for a little while, but then I kinda realized that I had to do it. When we wrote for Wolfie, it was more of a “fun” thing because we loved playing music. After Wolfie ended, I realized that there was a lot that I wanted to say about what was going on in my life, and singing about it made me feel better. I started writing more, but I didn’t have any idea what we were going to use it for. It developed into the Like Young the year after Wolfie ended. It was more of a way to get back into what we were initially into. The idea came to play for fun again and just enjoy it, without any outside worries. Playing as a duo developed out of necessity. We really couldn’t find the right people to play with, so we decided to just play together.

Did the two of you make a conscious decision to make the live show different from the record? I notice that on record, the songs are more fleshed out, whereas live it’s just pure rock.

Yeah, there was a definite decision. For me, the Like Young’s shows and albums are totally different. There are two different aspects to us playing together. I want the albums to be fleshed out and have more instrumentation because they’ll last forever. I think that with the kind of pop/rock that we play, all of the instrumentation needs to be there. There needs to be bass and a full sound on the record. Live, though, I feel that it’s the purest form of the song, with just the two of us playing together. I enjoy it being two different things, and I like it a lot.

How much input does Amanda have in the song-writing process?

She’s kinda like the decision-maker. Her opinion counts a lot. I write the songs and demo them, and then she comes in and says “this is bad,” “this isn’t working,” “this is cheesy”, or “this is not up to par.” She takes out the bad stuff and keeps the good stuff in. Typically, for an album I write a ton of songs, and we choose from there. From those, we discuss what’s good, what’s bad, what needs to be improved, and what’s not there that needs to be.

Does Amanda write any music by herself?

No, not for the Like Young. Actually, there’s “Freddy” on our EP, which she wrote in college on guitar, about midway through Wolfie just for fun. She wrote the chords and melody and I did the lyrics, and we found it and reworked it for the Like Young. She hasn’t written anything for the new album, though.

How many songs were written for “Art Contest”? Were the EP and the album recorded during the same sessions?

The EP was recorded a bit before the album, but all of the songs were from what I’d been writing after Wolfie. There were probably more than twenty songs that we didn’t use, most of which don’t sound like anything that ended up on “Art Contest” because we were still figuring out what we wanted to do.

Do you have any plans for future recordings, as far as where you want to go next artistically?

We just finished recording our second album, and it’ll be out at the end of May. We just have to master it when we get back from the tour. If you liked the first album, you’ll like this one. This one’s a bit more personal and confrontational. It’s more aggressive. We’re really, really happy with it and we’re excited about getting it out.

What have been your best and worst experiences while playing live, touring, or otherwise trying to get your music out to people?

The best, I have to say, was being able to open for Mates of State. We’re so grateful to be here, and this has probably been one of the best weeks of our lives. I’m so happy to be here. The worst would probably be when we left our jobs and decided that we wanted to tour full-time and see how it went. The first month was pretty decent; we actually made some money and were able to pay our bills for a month. The second month was a complete disaster. We weren’t making enough to stay afloat and we ended up in a lot of debt. There weren’t any shows that have been bad, but it was just that the second month was such a bummer.

At what point did the Like Young become something that you felt comfortable doing full-time while managing to stay financially afloat? When did the course become stable?

Well, it’s really not stable yet. This tour is actually the first time that we’ll be able to stay afloat and pay bills when we get back. The dream would be to break even. It was just a decision that this was the thing that we enjoyed the most in our lives and wanted to do. It made sense for us to try to do it full-time, but if it doesn’t happen, it doesn’t happen. If this is the best that it ever gets with our band, then so be it. We’re just very happy with how it’s going.

I sense a big parallel here. I interviewed Mates of State two years ago for a ‘zine that I used to do, and they said almost the exact same things that you’re saying. I just think that it’s a brave and courageous thing for any musician to do, especially when you add the relationship dynamic to it. There are so many variables that come into place, and for the two of you to step out and say “We’re going to do this” is admirable to me. You and Mates of State are great touring partners, not just because the music’s good, but because your lives seem to parallel in so many ways.

Thanks. It’s amazing.

How did the two of you come up with the name “The Like Young”?

It was actually a club in Chicago during the mid-to-late ‘60s. It’s a garage rock type of club that my parents knew of and used to attend. I just came across some pictures of it in a box that they had in their house. I thought it was really cool, and I had it in the back of my mind that it would be a great band name. When the time came to start a new band, that name was the name that I chose.

Did your parents tell you any weird stories about the club?

I don’t even think that I asked them about it. I do know that they saw New Colony Six there, and a lot of the second-tier Chicago-area garage bands of that time. That’s all I know about it, though.

What jobs did you and Amanda have before doing the Like Young full-time?

Amanda’s a pre-school teacher. When we’re not touring, she’s a substitute teacher at the school she used to work at. I’m a graphic designer, and I had a really horrible job, which was one of the main reasons I decided to do the band full-time. I was working for a huge corporation, a really bad place. I do freelance design now when we’re not touring. We both have really flexible jobs, which is great.

You said that a lot of Like Young songs are inspired by things that are going on in your life. Are there any songs that are so tied to a specific person, place, thing, or time that you can’t possibly separate the song from its subject?

That’s a really good question. The songs on Art Contest sum up our general feelings toward what was going on, whereas on the new album the songs are very specific to my life. Art Contest, on the other hand, is more diffuse…like every song is a piece of the same puzzle. All of the songs were working toward the same goal.

Well, I think that’s it. Thanks for the interview, be safe, and keep rocking on the rest of your tour!

Blue Orchids "The Greatest Hit"

Reissue label's LTM's greatest gift has been introducing the world to the left-for-dead pop band Blue Orchids. They would have certainly been forgotten had the label not made a case over two archival releases. Tempered with the 'greatest hits' record A Darker Bloom--reissued in 2002 on Cherry Red--LTM have practically proven the case that Blue Orchids were one of the better bands of the early 1980s. The Greatest Hit is an expanded reissue of Blue Orchids' only album, and it's a welcome addition to the canon. Though a majority of the material found on The Greatest Hit was included on A Darker Bloom, several album songs were omitted. The missing tracks have been added, as have the classic "Disney Boys"and "Work" singles and excellent EP Agents of Change. As an added bonus, LTM have unearthed a super-rare Nico updated version of "All Tomorrow's Parties" from 1982, featuring Blue Orchids drummer Toby and guitarist Rick Goldstraw--even more incredible because it was long assumed that no recordings existed from the time when Blue Orchids served as her backing band. The Greatest Hit is a nice addition to this missing piece of Blue Orchids' history, setting the stage nicely for their well-deserved comeback.

--Joseph Kyle

Cex "Maryland Mansions"

Last year's Being Ridden clearly established Cex as the bridge between electronica, indie rock and hip-hop. After years of making challenging music, he offered a record that was a honed-down offering of experimental ideas and fun and accessable pop. Yes, that's right: pop. So instead of trying to top Being Ridden, Cex has wisely played a more conservative hand, releasing an EP that expands on that album's ideas instead of looking for new themes or playing around with new styles. He's fucking with the formula, folks--you knew he would, and he's just giving the people what they want.

As befits this mini-album's title, the music is definitely dark, perhaps darker than anything he's released before. "He sounds like Nine Inch Nails!" was one of the comments made about Being Ridden, and though such comparisons are somewhat offbase, it's easy to understand the mindset, especially considering how sinister he sounds on several tracks. Cex's brooding might be a bit disheartening--a song called "Kill Me," even if it's the happiest in the world, is gonna create a hostile environment. It might seem as if one rant and rave doesn't really sound that different than the next, but the best songs, "The Strong Suit" and "Stop Eating," make up for such weakness, and are simply killer Cex tracks.

Maryland Mansions proves two things: that Being Ridden was not a one-off fluke, and that Kidwell is quickly becoming an artist to contend with. Though it sheds no light on the path that he will take next, it proves that, at the very least, his next musical journey should be interesting.

--Joseph Kyle

Stars "Heart"

"I am Joseph and this is my heart."

It's addictive, that band introduction. Everybody I know who has heard Stars' new album Heart makes the same comment. It may seem a bit of a silly way to introduce a record, but it's a nice little ice-breaker. Because of the recent press focus on the Toronto music scene, Stars' visibility has been increased (in fact, Amy Milan's membership in Broken Social Scene has been one of Heart's selling points), but it's best to remember that Stars was together well before the hype spotlight came around, having released an album and a few EP's since 2001. Milan and Campbell also released a most promising EP together as Memphis--who will soon release their debut album.

So it's good that Stars have an increased visability, because they deserve it. Their debut album Nightsongs was a nice--though not particularly spectacular--slice of indie-pop, indebted to bands as Momus, Magnetic Fields and Saint Etienne. In the past, Torquil Campbell has been accused of having a Stephin Merritt fixation, but Heart finds a Campbell who's clearly worked through his inspiration. Also gone are the obvious Momusisms that popped up every now and then; now, it's all jazz-pop, new-wave and a little bit of techno-pop, but thankfully they play around with all of these styles enough to not be devoted to one particular sound.

And how mature they sound, too! From the opening "What The Snowman Learned About Love," it's clear that they've spent a lot of time in the studio; because this song--and the rest of Heart--sounds as if it's the product of a big budget production circa 1986. No, no more of that whole lo-fi indie ghetto for Stars, thank goodness. "Elevator Love Letter"--with an intro that sounds a little bit like Coldplay's "Yellow"--highlight the best part of Heart: the transformation of Amy Milan into a pop diva. While Torquil has also improved as a singer, it is Milan who captures the..erm...heart of the listener. No matter if she's singing lead a breathy jazz-pop song or providing a countervocal on a pulsing dance number ("Death to Death"), Milan's the album's main attraction.

Heart is an impressive little record; it says much about the band's talents when they have the confidence to regulate a really awesome song to 'secret bonus track' status. Though I'm a bit cautious of local scenes being hyped to mediocrity, I'm glad that Toronto's getting the credit it deserves, and for delivering Stars from obscurity. One of the nicest records I've heard all year; it's lovely, it's lush, it's friendly, it's pop, and, after repeated listens, you'll find it in your heart.

---Joseph Kyle

Dean Roberts "Be Mine Tonight"

Whenever I read the words “New Zealand” in a music review or press kit I either think, “this must be some weird-ass indie-pop” (see the Clean) or “this must be some weird-ass noise-rock” (see the Dead C). When I actually listen to the record being discussed, I’m usually not far off the mark. I’m sure that there are Kiwi acts that play other genres, but I don’t know about them because either their records don’t come to these shores or I’ve become sheltered from reading too many indie magazines. Because of such, it’s nice to hear a record like Dean Roberts’ latest break the mold a bit. I first heard of Roberts through Thela, a rock trio that wasn’t too far removed from the “no-fi/no-rehearsal” aesthetic of the Dead C. I haven’t heard any of his work either with White Winged Moth or under his own name, but judging from Be Mine Tonight he’s chilled out A LOT since Thela. The four songs on this record are glitched-out slow-core journeys that suggest what it would sound like if the most solemn and spacious moments of Rustic Houses-era Hood were stretched out to the point of collapse, like rubber bands a millimeter away from completely snapping. Roberts has made a short album that almost seems to make time stop, which is no small feat. The average song length is eight and a half minutes, but the songs sound even longer than that. However, they’re so soothing that I don’t mind it at

“All Pidgins Sent to War” begins with digital signal processing that
sounds like a hissing sprinkler on a lawn. Scraped cymbals and droning guitars slowly creep into the mix. Around the two-minute mark, two pianos come in, playing in simultaneous yet independent motion as if the pianists were in separate rooms, unable to hear each other. The instruments finally fall in sync with each other once Dean starts singing. He sings in a tortured, tremulous tenor that rarely rises above a whisper, like a man afraid to get saliva on the microphone. The guitars are slightly out of tune with each other, and the vocals sound as if they’re recorded at the bottom of a well. Even at the song’s climax, when Dean croons in a falsetto over a majestic swell of guitars, the song sounds as if it’s in soft-focus, intentionally obscuring its own structure to provide the listener with an auditory equivalent of blurred vision. The song ends as it began, with the instruments falling back out of sync and the DSP sprinkler noises asserting themselves.

The other three songs play similar tricks on the listener. Guitars are bowed, beaten, and otherwise prepared in ways that make them sound like anything but guitars. However, the treatments are so unobtrusive that you’d need headphones and serious concentration to notice them. Dean often sings and strums so listlessly that the songs often sound like they’re being made up on the spot. The star of the show is Antonio Arrabito, who makes his recording debut as a drummer on Be Mine Tonight. His steady brushed drumming keeps the songs from falling into oblivion. He adds polyrhythms, plays behind and ahead of the beat, and uses random percussion such as bicycle wheels to add tension to already uneasy music. The end of “Palace of Adenaline V and E.E.” is where he shines the brightest. Antonio lets out a series of rapid yet subtle snare fills that have the quiet propulsion of a nation of ants running up a hill. For an ensemble that plays as if it’s cramped into a small apartment, afraid to wake the next door neighbors with their jamming, there sure is a lot going on in these songs.

Be Mine Tonight puts a sort of hypnosis on the listener that’s
only broken once. At the end of “Smash the Palace and What Nerves You Got,” a bit of feedback sneaks into the mix and is followed by four loud thwacks. The song threatens to turn into a full-blown rock assault, but the thwacks give way to complete silence. It’s the only concession on the album that Roberts makes to his noisier past. It’s a tease, a trick thrown in to ensure that the listener hasn’t fallen asleep yet. By the time album closer “Letter to Monday” begins, the spell is broken and you’re fully awake again, but the music slips right back into its torpor. Fortunately, Roberts rewards the listener with what is the album’s most cohesive song. The lyrics consist mainly of a chant revolving around the days of the week. His voice is prominent enough in the mix that you can make out the words, and the words are repetitive enough to form the album’s only real hook. I have occasionally sung this song in my head while walking around campus during these rainy winter days.

Be Mine Tonight has been the album that I’ve fallen asleep most often to over the last month, which is definitely a compliment. The album has the kind of title you’d expect a collection of love songs to have, and the music could definitely be the backdrop for a melancholy hipster couple’s make-out session. I guess I can make a new New Zealand stereotype based on this record: “weird-ass art ballads.” If there are any other Kiwis out there making music like this, send your stuff on over!

---Sean Padilla

February 22, 2004

Myracle Brah "Treblemaker"

I have realized a secret about Myracle Brah, and I'm shocked to tell you, because I know you are not going to believe me. They're fronted by John Lennon. That Andy Bopp name? Come on, doesn't it sound fake to you? The evidence may not be as overwhelming as it is about McCartney's tragic death, but believe me, it's here. Just listening to Treblemaker, their fifth album, proves it. Since he's been living in America since the 70s and he's older, the accent's kinda become less obvious. If "Be Your Lover," "Think About You" and "When She Comes Around" (which sounds a bit like "Drive My Car") don't sound like the witty Beatle, consider this lyric from "Climbing On A Star": "The moral of the story? There is no story." It's a bit absurd, isn't it? Not unlike Lennon, my friend.

And if by some rare chance that Andy Bopp isn't John Lennon, that's okay, because he's talented, and his music has that same kind of crunch--the kind that's missing from a lot of power pop today. There's more to being sensitive and romantic and emotional than 1-2-3 chords and a sentimentality that even Eric Carmen would turn his nose up at, and thankfully Myracle Brah doesn't succumb to the tendencies of pure and utter mediocrity of most post-1980 power pop. Too tough to be wimpy, I'm a bit reticent to call this 'power pop,' because that term automatically labels the music as 'weak,' which, my friend, is the last adjective I'd use to describe Treblemaker.

Myracle Brah possesses one of the worst band names ever, but don't let it prejudice you against the music, because that would be a major disservice to both you and main Myracle maker Andy Bopp. Treblemaker is a wonderfully confounding blast of fresh Sixties pop, made with nary a trace of that evil 'irony' thing. No, my friends, this isn't just another band with all of the records by the best of the 'B' bands, you know: Beatles, Beach Boys, Badfinger, Big Star. No, Myracle Brah is the real deal.

Of course they are. After all, Bopp is really John Lennon!

--Joseph Kyle

February 21, 2004

Jason Collett "Motor Motel Love Songs"

Bowling is a challenging enterprise, and no doubt difficult to master. Going a step further, with the right people and a few pitchers of inoffensive domestic lager, bowling is fun. Here’s the thing about bowling, though: I am not compelled to do it more than once every couple of years, and watching masters of the sport perform appeals to me in no way. Rolling a ball forward to topple some pins is just too literal a form of entertainment for my tastes.

Speaking of literal forms of entertainment, what about Jason Collett’s Motor Motel Love Songs? I mean, these are really good songs and it took a significant amount of sheer talent to craft them. “Gabe,” with its pedal steel, lyrics about longing and a vocal that’s been around the block a few times, resembles the best alt-country you’ve ever heard. Midway through “Tiny Ocean of Tears” I half expect to hear some jostling behind the microphone and a haggard Jeff Tweedy - circa Summerteeth - to finish out the tune. “It Won’t Be Long” and “Honey I Don’t Know” establish Collett as an upper echelon balladeer. The latter’s line, “But sometimes faith just hides / What you don’t want to see” hits its mark with inches to spare in a song about lovers who can’t help being mean.

For all the technical proficiency, though, the element of surprise is noticeably absent from this collection. Collett being a key member of Broken Social Scene and managing to produce something so safe and sterile is the only stunner here. While there’s no “I’m Still Your Fag,” there’s cello right where you would expect it. A female vocal chimes in just when and how you knew it would. The overall vibe approaches 70s singer-songwriter, to the extent that the opener “Bitter Beauty” kicks off with the same one-two drum pop that ushered in “Maggie May” all those years ago. The lily-white, soft rocking Mrazian in your life will bob head accordingly, but the more discerning music fan is bound to pull a muscle digging for a distinguishing feature. Statistically speaking, this record is the musical median.

Jason Collett may have picked up a 7-10 split with Motor Motel Love Songs, an accomplishment solely within the realm of only the most skilled of bowlers. Each song on Motor Motel Love Songs bears the mark of an expert. The harmonies are pleasant. The lyrics, at a minimum, scratch at meaning’s surface, if not occasionally reaching its core. The production, arrangements and musicianship ooze professionalism. But while Motor Motel Love Songs achieves a certain kind of proficiency, it’s still just bowling, and Earl Anthony never did it for me. And really, if you’ve found your way to the bottom of this review, he shouldn’t be doing it for you either.

--Andrew Ullrich

February 20, 2004

Boyracer "Check YR Fucking Hi$tory/Acoustically Yours"

2003 saw Boyracer, who are eternally tied with Guided by Voices as MY FAVORITE BAND IN THE UNIVERSE, in a state of hardship and flux. Boyracer head honcho Stewart Anderson saw his record label 555 slowly lose financial and distribution support. Flaky band members disappeared in mid-tour with neither reason nor explanation. Anderson has vented in numerous forums about these things, from the Indiepop List to this very website to Boyracer's own liner notes. Even the people who sympathize with him (at this point, who wouldn't?) have got to admit, though, that Stewart should be used to it by now. Boyracer's ALWAYS been in a state of hardship a flux. Over forty members have passed through the lineup in the last fifteen years, and the band's never released an album on a label that didn't go under shortly afterwards. Hope still remains, though, because even in the midst of constant trials, the music keeps getting better. At the end of 2003, Boyracer raised its collective fist once again to fight the good fight, and released a double whammy of minor releases to tide fans over until they could find a label brave enough to put out their next full-length.

The Boyracer discography is filled with EPs that serve as between-album bookends and compilations that serve as a clearinghouse for rare older material, and the band's two newest releases don't buck the trend. Check Your Fucking Hi$tory is Boyracer's first real EP since 1996's Racer 100 (both versions of which rank among the band's best material). From the first few seconds of opening track "You've Squandered Your Talents," Hi$tory boasts the cleanest production that the band's ever had, as well as unusually strong and assertive musicianship. Both of these things are remarkable when you consider that at this point, Boyracer is basically Stewart, his wife Jen Turrell and their 8-track. As befits an EP with such a profane title, the songs on this EPare full of reflection, spite and speed.

"Talents" is self-explanatory, with Stewart chastising a potentially brilliant person who's settled for a life of mediocrity. It's even faster than the mp3 version originally posted on the 555 site, and it proves once and for all that Stewart is really the best drummer Boyracer's ever had. (For more proof, listen to their 1994 EP Pure Hatred 96.) His wife Jen backs his crooning up with exquisite "ba-ba-ba"s, and the swells of feedback in the chorus are
perfectly timed. This song ranks as one of Boyracer's best ever. "New Plastic" quickly matches it by pairing the spastically strummed guitars of the Wedding Present with the lopsided chord progressions and androgynous vocal harmonies of the Swirlies. In this song, Stewart is forced to make the difficult choice between burning out and fading away. "A History of Snakes" has the galloping tempo of an Irish jig, and manages to cram two verses, two choruses, and two full-fledged (if barely audible) guitar solos into a mere sixty-two seconds. ("Talents" and "Plastic" don't reach the two-minute mark either!)

The final two songs on Hi$tory are surprisingly self-indulgent oddities. "Nature Boy" is one of the few Boyracer songs that Stewart had nothing to do with. The music is performed entirely by part-time band member Ara, and two members of a band called Bears and Satellite sing the vocals in Japanese. The song epitomizes almost everything that's bad about current indie-pop. Poorly recorded, sung, and played, it's much more concerned with being cute than being listenable. Nonetheless, the song gets by on its charm and by sticking out like a sore thumb. After a couple of listens, you'll have it stuck in your head FOREVER. "When I Was Blonde and You a Brunette" is arguably weirder, building a great seven-minute song out of little more than guitar harmonics and a killer chorus. Instead of letting the song end at the 7:00 mark, though, Boyracer tack on an extra TWENTY-ONE FRICKING MINUTES OF FEEDBACK. It's harder to listen to than the last Dead C and Sightings albums COMBINED. I managed to get through it, though, and discovered low-quality recordings of two extra Boyracer songs buried beneath the feedback. My ears are still ringing from the treasure hunt.

On to the old stuff, then: Acoustically Yours is a 22-song cassette that lives up to its title by taking a much mellower route than standard Boyracer fare. By forsaking feedback and distorted guitars, Stewart attempts to prove what most of his fans already knew: he's a fantastic songwriter. As much as I want to applaud him for pulling a "punk rock" move by releasing a full-length album on a nearly-outmoded format, Acoustically Yours really deserves to be pressed on CD and given better treatment. Opener "On Bleached Grass" has "stupid chord changes," according to Stewart in the liner notes, but I beg to differ. The frequent key changes add tension to what could have been just another slice of nostalgic melancholy. "Vinegar Evenings" is a choppy ditty that Bob Pollard would have killed to write; "I Thought Even More of You When You Told Me You Wanted Me Dead" is an even choppier ditty that David Gedge would have sold his soul to write. Of course, not everything on the cassette is golden. One song uses the same distorted drumbeat from "Present Tense" that the band have utilized on seemingly a thousand boring out-takes, and the 4-track demos of older Boyracer songs are clumsy and leaden. However, the best tracks from Acoustically Yours (and there are at least ten) could have been bundled together with Hi$tory to make a killer full-length. The cassette's REAL revelation is the last four songs, which were recorded live on the radio during the band's brief time span as a quintet, with electric guitars and drums blazing. This lineup's renditions of classics like "Doorframe" are faster, noisier, and (in the case of "False Economy") sloppier than the recorded versions. Although the genius of the songs is far from lost in the translation, the performances go a long way toward explaining why Stewart felt it necessary to release a tape of acoustic material.

Regardless of the motives, every Boyracer release is a cause for celebration, as they are all necessary reminders of Anderson's unstoppable commitment and unquestionable talent. No one does noisy melodic punk for bitter people with short attention spans better than Boyracer, and at their current rate of productivity and quality, no one ever will.

---Sean Padilla

Rhythm Fantasy "World 2003"

One of the drawbacks of my life is that I don't get out to Japan as often as I should. I really would like to spend more time in Tokyo, where the kiddies have pocky and you get salutations from kitties. They also love music over there, especially music that nobody would give the time of day to over here, and they are prone to overwhelming devotion, too. It's fun to listen to Japanese groups, because it's interesting to hear their approach to our music.

Rhythm Fantasy is a duo, Marilyn Lo and Reiko Nishida, accompanied and produced by pop conniseur and Penelopes leader Tatsuhiko Watanabe. Upon realizing that the artwork was designed by legendary indie-pop artist Mike Alway, it shouldn't take you too long to determine what this record is going to sound like. Looking at the duo's bright, smiling faces on the cover also leads you to believe that, at the very least, the music on World 2003 is going to be happy. Very, very happy.

Indeed, you can judge a book by its cover, and the music is indeed very happy-sounding pop. Blending a nice mixture of harmony and keyboard-driven melodies, Rhythm Fantasy are indeed a dreamy delight of English synthpop. They follow really close to the Saint Etienne/Beaumont formula, and that's okay, because the world needs more bands following close to that formula. Though occasionally they have a sad-eyed sound, such as on "You Deserve The Best In Life" and the Carpenters-meets-Abba grand finale, the utterly beautiful "Til The End of Time," they're never too sad or too moody or too depressing. In my mind, "Miracle" and "Skyscraper" have already been hits. I swear I've heard them before, sitting in the hair salon in the mall circa 1989.

Though this record is criminally brief--seven songs in twenty-eight minutes is not enough!--I have enjoyed every moment of it. I've forgotten how romantic and sweet music can be, and these songs are utterly, utterly tender. They make me want to fall in love again so that I can make mixtapes and put their songs on them. I am now officially in love with Marilyn and Reiko, and after a few spins of World 2003, you will be, too. A great record that may be hard to find but is worth seeking out!

--Joseph Kyle

Label website: http://www.jttk.zaq.ne.jp/penelopes/
Artist website: http://www2.odn.ne.jp/rhythm-fantasy/

February 19, 2004

The Books "The Lemon of Pink"

The Books are difficult to categorize. The components can be described objectively as an act that specializes in collage and found sounds, incorporating influences ranging from Neu! to Vince Guaraldi, classical cellos to country finger-picked banjos thus constructing dynamic melodies syncopated with ephemera. And yet they’re not pretentious. This is not a “challenging” listen in the sense of many acts critics tout so as not to be the one in the crowd to say that the emperor isn’t wearing any clothes. But what are the Books about really?

There are two old literary critics named Wimsatt and Beardsley. They’re formalists who conceptualized two important fallacies regarding criticism, namely the intentional and affective fallacies. The former happens when a critic seeks to determine the author’s intent, often resorting to autobiographical overlap or pseudopsychoanalytic projection to accomplish the historical heavy lifting usually left to hermenauts. They portend to understand the author’s place in history through a variety of exegetical and hermeneutical backflips so as to get at what the author actually meant without succumbing to sociological inquiry. They marshal evidence in such a way as to suggest causation where correlation presides, and it results in a scholastic babble without placing the reader any closer to the source, simply hypothesizing in the name of hard fact-after all “authorship” derives from all important authority and more importantly (to paraphrase James Miller) authors have texts, and texts have authority-a tautology that makes the critic insulated and unassailable.

On the other hand, the affective fallacy transposes the same question. The fallacious function here is to assume a normative, value-neutral response common among all readers. This not only denies the author any sophistication, but also the reader’s dignity to interpret facts, tone and mood as an individual, instead of the critic’s preferred mode, that of the solipsist’s straw man. The critic seeks to say what you’ve read, or heard, and arbitrates the sublime. Not only is this undemocratic, but its not useful to those of us who live on budgets, with records and CDs occupying a space disproportionate to income.

Across disciplines, its as though Heisenberg rendered the humanities inertial, leaving critics to fret over insignificant details of the avant garde. But this isn’t the case. With an act like the Books, and an album such as this, it can be interpreted in stereo, with the analog elements instructing the digital on what it means to be real. In the midst of electro-ontology an album plays, at various times rococo, and others like lonesome robots learning to pluck banjos for a sequel to Deliverance, if not to march in the Mummer’s Day Parade.

The opener stuns: it finishes with a question-“arewelikemajororminoranyway?” It’s both at different times. “Tokyo” is the song that escaped Kevin Shields as he compiled the Lost in Translation soundtrack, it’s ethereal beauty found in strings that sound like raindrops on a koy pond. “S is for Evrysing” is the disembodiment of the annual family reunion and summer picnic, with voices that ring out in white-tiled kitchens and on crowded patios as the badminton game winds down. Side 2 begins with “Take Time” and it exemplifies the difficulty of deftly combining found pieces of spoken words and manipulating both the sample and the music to create something beautiful. “Don’t even sing about it” has a lyric that M. Ward might’ve written: “get used to hanging if you hang long enough,” but “The future, wouldn’t that be nice” expresses the hope of Miles’ “If I were a bell” with its deliberate bass and keys, hopeful and poignant.

The Books offer something to everyone. It’s an accessible record, even for people who are staunch pop fans. The music ranges from jazz to bluegrass and even a little country western at points, but hooky enough to make it difficult to listen to just once. The final track has the poignancy of a meeting of close friends seeking to reacquaint themselves, pregnant with excitement and anticipation, but too embarrassed by their joy to commit to any particular conversation. When they say “bye” you feel amiss, as if they had secrets to share that were too private even after baring themselves to you in song.

--JT Ramsay

Clearlake "Cedars"

Clearlake is a product of the 1990s Britpop era. There's no other way to say it. If it hadn't been for Suede, Pulp, Oasis and Blur, then a band like this wouldn't have been possible. (Well, okay, it might have, but still...) The music is spot-on, torn between lush arrangements and driving rhythms. Occasionally, Clearlake turns bombastic--not as bad as Suede, but still overbearing--but such moments are few and far between. Still, such obvious facts should not stand in the way of something that's quite obvious: Clearlake's a great band. "Almost the Same," which kicks off the album, has such a wonderfully frantic pace, and tempered with some rather apologetic lyrics. Lead singer Jason Pegg is downright sincere when he croons "Fine, I'll admit I may be wrong/But I never knew that we'd get along/It's hard to believe although now I can see/That you're almost the same as me." It's a wonderful start to an album that explores regret, sadness and heartbreak, and other songs such as the rocking "Can't Feel a Thing"--with a vocal melody that's reminiscent of "(Don't Fear) The Reaper"--and the heartbreaking "Keep Smiling" keep the melancholy alive and the mood thought-provoking. All in all, Cedars is a nice little bout of British sadness and fog. Recommended for those moments when you need to be pensive and Morrissey's too strong.

--Joseph Kyle

Various Artists "Compulation, Volume One"

Have you ever been in a situation where someone likes you, and by the time you've caught on that they like you, they've moved on, because you didn't notice their signals? I've been guilty of that, and because I have missed out on some really great opportunities by blindness, I can't help wondering about what might have been. Would I have been happier? Would I have been better off? Would my life have improved? Such questions can really cause you to go into a funk.

"But Joseph, where are you going with this?"

I say these things because, listening to Pox World Empire's excellent compilation of North Carolina bands, Compulation, I feel bad. I've had this record sitting on my desk for a while, but for some reason I never gave it the attention it deserved. After all, compilation records are somewhat sticky and tricky for us reviewers; it's hard to do a track-by-track rundown, and reviews of them can often be rather stiff and workmanlike. Sure, occasionally I'd listen to one or two tracks, like the Rosebuds' opening "Governor's Daughter," or would skim through it, not really paying attention to its signals---until this morning, that is.

This morning, I listened to it again, and I noticed something about it. I was drawn into the record after listening to Gerty's "Silver Balloon." It's one of those hit-repeat songs that I really fall for; it's a fresh blast of new-wave sweetness that's instantly likeable, and after hitting repeat again, I decided to take a swing through the record again, and it was a totally new experience. I fell for this record hook, line and sinker, and even the songs that other reviewers might have considered 'stinkers' are worth repeated listens, and the fact that I'd only heard of three of the acts on here (Ben Davis, The Rosebuds and Portastatic) didn't matter to me. From the weird "Profiles" by Cold Sides, to the classic (indie) rock of Schooner's "Long Long Time" (think Mark Kozelek singing upbeat songs), Compulation really covers a lot of ground, and, surprisingly, the quality level's really rather high. My favorite, though, would have to be "Smaller than Life" by The Sames. It's one of the better songs I've heard this year, and it makes me anxious to hear that full length that's forthcoming.

Compulation proves there's more to North Carolina than Merge Records, and the fact that many of the better bands featured here are also signed to Pox World Empire also says a lot about this little, previously unknown little label. I feel bad that I dismissed this record for so long--a love affair was right under my nose and I missed it. I hope Pox World Empire can forgive me.

--Joseph Kyle

February 18, 2004

Maritime "Adios"

The last year of the Promise Ring must have been extremely hard for Davey von Bohlen. After overcoming many difficulties with his health as well as changing record labels, Wood/Water should have been their moment in the sun. They hooked up with legendary British producer Stephen Street, and they actually focused on their songcraft, and the end result was a record that sounded great. Even more importantly, it was a clear break from their past, and it was the record that they'd probably always wanted to make.

The critics and fans hated it, of course.

It comes as no surprise, then, that they quietly disbanded, and their passing was met with apathy and a general attitude of "oh well." After all, the Promise Ring had turned into a band that was expected to jump through hoops (rings?) and simply relive the glory days of their best album, Nothing Feels Good. I really felt for him, because you can't expect to grow as an artist if you're stuck in the past.

But let's forget about those days, shall we?

Maritime is his new project, and he's joined by Promise Ring Dan Didier and former Dismemberment Plan bass player Eric Axelson. The first thing you notice about Adios is how happy Davey sounds. Why shouldn't he sound happy, though? He's in a great position. He's in a new band. He's playing with his friends. Best yet, he's got Mnothing to prove. He doesn't have to live up to anything, and, most importantly, he is now free to make a record on his terms.

Starting with "Adios" (a funny title for the first song on your debut record, if you think about it--the first thing you'll feel is the warmth of the sun, as it's a breezy, upbeat blast of sunshine pop, complete with a perky, upbeat horn section. If the fact that he worked with Stephen Street led you to believe that he's a Smiths fan, "Adios" clearly shows that van Bohlen is more than inspired by Morrissey. It's a wonderful song that would make even the most dour face smile.

Think that's a great start? The next song, "Someone Has To Die," is even more powerful. It's even more upbeat, and it's a hundred times better than the 100 percent pop perfection that came before. The horns are back, and both songs are as close to AM-Radio perfection as you're bound to find in 2004. "Down To The River" is reminiscent of his acoustic side project Vermont, and though it's the slowest song on the record, stuck between one slice of upbeat pop and the lovely "Birds of Ireland,"it works quite nicely. The record closes with "In Your Arms," which is a mellow dance number with a melody that's a quite obvious ripoff of George Harrison's "Something." Still, it's as lovely as it is different, and it reminds me a little bit of mid-80s Everything But the Girl.

This is one of the most promising records I've heard in ages. I'd like to personally welcome you back, Davey. It's good to have you back. Due to all the hardships and disappointments, you could have easily turned your back on music, and nobody would have blamed you. But you didn't, and in so doing, you've proven that your best record wasn't Nothing Feels Good. Maritime feels good, it feels real good. This record is not only recommended, it's essential. It feels good to start over, and Adios is one of the best feel-good records you'll hear all year.

And it doesn't sound a thing like New Found Glory.

--Joseph Kyle

Artist Website: http://www.maritimesongs.com

Snoozer "Winter Stops All Sound"

Snoozer is the singular vision of one Susie Ghahremani, and it's a really nice vision, too. Winter Stops All Sound is her first new record in some time, and it's the first I've heard of her. Apparently she's prolific in a Boyracer/Bob Pollard kind of way, she specializes in a nice little lo-fi new wave/indiepop mix, at times not unlike the gone-but-not-forgotten Godzuki. Don't let the 'lo-fi' bit scare you off, though, because these songs sound REAL good. "Labor Day" kicks off the record with a really nice pulsing drum beat, tempered with an even nicer keyboard melody. Even though she's recorded most everything by herself, she doesn't fall guilty of the traps of many one-man bands. "Write You" sounds like a long-lost Breeders outtake, and "Winterclothes" reminds me of another one of my favorite musicians, Mirah. She's got a keen ear and a great voice, too. Even though it's criminally short (thirteen minutes for six songs?? Oh Susie how you do tease us!) Winter Stops All Sound is an all around great record, and it makes me want to hear more!

--Joseph Kyle

February 17, 2004

Various Artists "DFA Compilation #1"

Dear hipster college kids--

It is not a crime to dance. Getting down and dirty is not going to kill you. It's not going to be your end. When your fav-o-rite bands play live, what do you think these band members think about when they see a blank, sullen audience just STANDING THERE with all the reserve of a group of sixth graders at their first boy/girl dance? I can guarantee you one thing: the bands feel the rejection, even if you love 'em.

Well, the dance produciton/remix team of DFA really want to make your day. They've been making music that's hip enough for you, yet groovy enough for people who just so happen to not like you because you're boring and you can't feel the groove. One half of the duo used to be a kingpin of indie-rock legends that never were Speedking, so he knows how lonely and cold and emotionless you indie-rock audiences can be. They understand how hipsters can't dance, and they really want to correct it--haven't you been drawn into by the hip reference to Jimmy Webb in The Juan Maclean's "By The Time I Get To Venus?" Anyway, these fellows want to make the indie world dance again, and I'm all for it. Don't worry, it really works out for the best, too; the duo understands how you need to move your body, shake your body body body, feel the groove and get in the mood SHAKE IT GIRL SHAKE IT NOW get down low down low let me in to your body of sin.....oh, I'm sorry about that, the rhythm is addictive, more addictive than crack, when I listen, I don't know how to act...

DAMN IT, Joseph, get back on track here!

Okay, folks, I hope you don't mind; I've had to turn off the CD so that I can talk about it. It's easy to get lured into its sexy, seductive beat; like the siren songs of yore, once you are drawn in, you can never leave, and this little compilation clearly proves that all of the hype around DFA is most deserving. These songs are all collected from several 12" dance singles they've put out over the past year or two, and it's a stunningly cohesive work. About the only time they're not totally dance-oriented are the two Black Dice cuts; even then, there's a new rhythmic pulse that their music didn't have before. The other bands include The Rapture, LCD Soundsystem and The Juan Maclean, and all of them are fine, fine artists.

DFA. Short for 'dance for America.' Or is it "Dancing Fixes Anything?" Maybe "Dancing For All?" Yeah, I like that last one. But you know what makes DFA stand out? It's the fact that they don't want to be indie-rock chic--they would rather be Chic. (Would someone please call Nile Rodgers? These three need to get together!) DFA Compilation #1 is a great little mixer, fun for all you indie kids and you ravers who want to boogaloo. Or electric slide. Or moonwalk. Or the Robot. Or Harlem shuffle.

Joseph "Can't Dance" Kyle

Jad Fair & Jason Willett "Superfine"

I like consistency. Do something well, do something right the first time, and you'll always want to go back. Why mess with the formula if it works? Such is the way of life; you can't argue with results, and you'll never convince me that it's not okay to sometimes set the old creativity on autopilot. You wouldn't want to fly the plane all the way, of course, but sometimes an artist should stick to what they do best.

Such is especially true when dealing with Jad Fair. To say he's an acquired taste is not merely an understatement, it's actually part of his appeal. The guy's a bit silly, okay? Nothing wrong with that. His music crosses the line between auteur and self-indulgent, but in only the best possible way. I have always had a soft spot in my heart for a lot of his Half Japanese releases, but, to be fair, I haven't really liked a lot of his more recent stuff. That's okay, I like my world with a little Jad in it, and the occasional record is better than none at all. Besides, when he gets hooked up with the right collaborator, the results are excellent; I wouldn't trade his records made with the Pastels or Daniel Johnston for ANYTHING. (Still, I wonder why he never hooked up with the Sebadoh guys...always seemed like a natural thing to me.)

Because I haven't really kept up with Jad Fair in a few years, I'll admit I wasn't sure of what to expect from Superfine, his second collaboration with Jason Willett. I'll tell you why it works, and it's quite obvious: Jason Willett produced and wrote all the music. The music itself is pretty unique; from lo-fi cowboy ditties ("Take Your Place") to crazy jazz rhythms ("Movies," Superfine"), difficult indie-rock ("Give It A Go"), utter weirdness ("Hooray For Life") and just downright silly songs ("Summer Sun"), it's good to hear that not only has Fair not ceased to be weird, he's also got a really good musical collaborator, as Willett's music really gives Fair's lyrics a depth they've not had in ages. It's good to hear Fair working with someone that can both rein in his more self-indulgent moments that have plagued the past, all the while giving him the ability to grow as an artist and experiment with different musical accompaniment.

But, of course, I must mention to you that I've only been able to listen to the first twenty songs on the record. See, there's 135 more songs on here, stuck away in the multimedia section, all in mp3 form. Wow! Other than the song that sounds like an answer to a Daniel Johnston song ("Walk Your Own Cow"), I really can't tell you much about these songs, but I can see one obvious theme, as many of these songs are given the names of really bad b-movies---many of which were featured on a famous little comedy show. Is it possible that Jad and Jason got together one weekend, drank a bunch of coffee and Mountain Dew and had a MST3K marathon? I really wouldn't put it past him...

--Joseph Kyle

February 16, 2004

The Paper Champions "s/t"

The Paper Champions' self-titled debut EP is a nice little taste of that ubiquitous modern-rock sound. Though I could see some people saying, "ohhh...those guys are emooooo....ewww.......," that would be a bit unfair to these guys, because they're actually pretty good. Opening "Words & Inaction" is the best of the lot, a clean mix, nice and tight guitars and harmonies, and a really friendly sound. "Burning Quiet" and "Dieseling Days" are pretty good, if not a little bit lesser than the first number; "Dieseling Days" burns with a nice, quiet intensity, before releasing all of its angst/anger/pain/emotional goo in a powerful little finish. Some may scoff at emo, but a good song is always the most important thing, regardless of genre. A nice, promising little record (if not a bit limiting due to its brevity) from a young band. Good job, guys!

--Joseph Kyle

Artist Website: http://www.thepaperchampions.com

Starlings, TN "Between Hell and Baton Rogue"

I have little time for a lot of music that's passed off as "alt.country." For those who may not know, the term means 'alternative country;' it comes from some country-loving computer types from the turn of the century, and 'alt.country' was an online discussion area for people who enjoyed bands like Uncle Tupelo and The Jayhawks, among many, many others. In other words, it's music that's too 'weird' (or too 'rock and roll') by those who like traditional country, and too 'cool' to be straight-up country. Sadly, like 'grunge,' 'alternative' and 'emo,' the term's been played up beyond usefulness by both bands and journalists. There's more to being a country band than having a cover of 'Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way' in the setlist and a scratched-up copy of Still Feel Gone in the tour van. I have little interest in keeping that antiquated notion alive; it's 2004, let's move on, please.

Though I can't vouch for them, I'm pretty sure that Starlings, TN would agree. Though information on the band is vague at best, this Tennessee foursome are more interested in gathering up all those really cool olden-days instruments like banjos, jew's harp, dulcimer, and pedal steel guitar and making a genre-bending debut album that, at the very least, is really damn cool. Instead of going the 'traditional' route, Starlings, TN decide to get just a little bit heady, and in so doing, they have accomplished something that's quite rare: a thoroughly modern-sounding record that is built on the foundations of the past.

It would be easy to dismiss the purple prose of a reviewer who would say "this is the sound of Grandaddy gone bluegrass," but in the case of Starlings, TN, such flights of fancy are about the only way to capture the magic of Between Hell and Baton Rouge. The opening electronic drone of "Tramps Rouge" would easily lead you to think that you've just stepped into a blessed Jason Lytle mess, but when the banjos and vocals come in, you soon see that, nope, you've been duped. Best part? The realization that the instruments of the 21st Century can play nicely with instruments that are often dismissed as being 'backwoods,' and the sound of songs ancient and modern sounds...real..good. But the biggest surprise is this: when listening to "Burnin' Up The Blacktop/Lazyana," the epic that concludes the album, you realize that these guys are also influenced by another, less obvious style: shoegazing.

For an album that's so traditional on the surface, Between Hell & Baton Rouge promises nothing, gives no loyalty to anyone, and is all the better for it. The rest of Between Hell and Baton Rouge follows very close to that formula, through songs such as the heartbreaking "Lonesome Road Blues," the joyous hoedown of "Last Five," the brooding "Every Day is Sunday." Along the way, lead singer Steve Stubblefield throws in some twisted, pointed humor, on songs such as "Forbidden Fruit Makes a Sticky Jam." I've always wished that the Handsome Family would stop flirting with technology and actually do something like this, but Starlings, TN have beat the Sparks to the punch, delivering a record that is funny, sad, depressing and utterly breathtaking.

Yeah, breathtaking. You've probably never knew that 'country' music could sound this way. Thank goodness, then, that Starlings, TN, have taken the time to sacrilege, because the fruits of their labor are certainly worth the damnation. Between HEll and Baton Rouge is an album that sounds like everything you've always hoped for, even though you didn't expect anyone could have done it this well. It's a fitting and promising start for Starlings, TN.

Are you sure Hank done it this way?

I know he didn't.

And thank God for that.

--Joseph Kyle

Damon Albarn "Democrazy"

If you're the frontman of one of the best bands of the 1990s, and your first 21st Century release is mercilessly slaughtered in the press, what do you do? Do you retreat to safe, common musical ground? Do you disband your band? Do you damn the critics and go about your own merry way? Do you just not give a toss to what the critics say? Do you let it get to you, do you let it bring you down? Do you find a way to balance past glories with future success? Surely these questions must have passed through the mind of Blur's Damon Albarn. Their newest record, Think Tank, was torn to shreds upon release. Many said that when Graham Coxon left, he took the band's brilliance with them. This really isn't the time or place to analyze Blur's track record, especially considering I'm not that much of a Blur fan, anyway.

In Albarn's case, his answer to these obvious questions/doubts was simple: make music. As I'm sure he probably always has on Blur's other tours, he took along his DAT recorder and other little music-making toys and played around when he had some alone time. These little gadgets helped him keep his sanity while on tour in America (dig the pun in the title, Democrazy--it works on so many levels!), as well as serving as a Big Chief tablet for whatever he has in store for his next musical project. The concept of listening to an artist's art in the process of creation is always interesting, even if it doesn't prove to be rewarding in that finished-album kind of way.

Democrazy isn't anything it's not, and it's best to listen to it with that in mind. Even though I imagine it to be inevitable, it would be wrong for the listener to place Democrazy against Albarn's other, offical records. You simply cannot compare this to Parklife or 13 or any of his solo work, because these songs aren't really songs. They're ideas, and, ultimately, this ride is meant mainly for the hardcore fan--of course, anything that's limited to 5000 on double 10" vinyl isn't aimed at the casula listener; besides, would average Richard Casual British Listener really, truly want to hear the instrumental playing-arounds of "Dezert" or "Half A Song"? I doubt it. Hell, I don't know if I really need to, but I've enjoyed every ounce of Democrazy, and I wouldn't want any of that time back.

Don't be fooled, though--there are a few songs on here that are indeed worth noting. "Five Star Life" is an interesting--albeit rather scratchy--sketch; he's ranting and raving about living the 'five star life', which is made all the more ironic because the song sounds like less than two stars. In an interesting twist, "A Rappy Song," which is said to have been recorded at "Dre's Gaffe," sounds more like it was recorded in "Malkmus' basement," and it also sounds as if Damon's prepping ideas for the next Gorillaz album. "Gotta Get Down With The Passing of Time" and "Subspecies of An American Day" also clearly show that Coxon wasn't the only member of Blur that was influenced by American indie-rock, too.

One wonders if Albarn's not trying for a little bit of damage control with Democrazy, as if he's trying to give something back to those who might have written him off. Of course, given the limited nature of this set, you'd think he's thinking of nobody but his hardcore, it's still worth seeking out if you're one of those nosy types. While such an oddity as this might not necessarily work, it's far from a waste of time; indeed, it proves that the professional cynic's heart is still in it. And that, more than anything, makes Democrazy a fun little curiosity.

--Joseph Kyle

February 14, 2004

Tiger Lou "Trouble & Desire"

Tiger Lou is a promising young Swedish singer/songwriter, and Trouble and Desire, his four song debut, certainly hints at future greatness. With a hint of atmospheric pop--not unlike Coldplay or a more restrained Jeff Buckley--Tiger Lou belts out these songs with a sedate intensity that mutes the bleakness. Though he treads the Britpop style on "Sam, As In Samantha" and "Trouble and Desire," he's actually quite upbeat on the other two tracks, "Nova Lee" and "When I Was a Kid." Tiger Lou's style may play it a little too close to Britpop, but don't let that distract you from the fact that Trouble and Desire is a nice teaser from a young man who could (and probably should) take the world by storm with his debut album

--Joseph Kyle

The Frames "The Road Outgrown"

Irish folk-rockers The Frames have been making music since the early 90s, and though they remain rather unknown outside of their native land, The Roads Outgrown is a wonderful little odds-and-sods collection that's well suited for the curious. This collective has released a dozen singles and several critically acclaimed albums, though they've not released much in America. Thus, to serve as a bit of a primer, The Roads Outgrown consists primarily of B-sides from the past few years, plus an unreleased track or two.

The first thing noticeable about The Frames is singer Glen Hansard's voice. Sweet and forlorn, at times he sounds vaguely like First Edition-era Kenny Rogers. Though the band's overall sound straddles both country and folk, they never really make a commitment to either style. Instead, their blending of both creates a sound that takes from both genres and creates a sound.. Heck, Hansard's sad, emotional crooning even occasionally reminds me of Thom Yorke sans the self-loathing and cold fear of technology.

And the songs? The songs are excellent, mainly because they're never too indebted to any particular style, opting instead for a healthy "try it and see if it works" approach. Sure, such an approach is a risky gamble, but if you're an excellent musician, it can prove to be rewarding. Over these nine songs, they weave a style that's based in folk, country and rock, rewarding the listener with subtle, graceful folk ("Lay Me Down," a beautiful cover of Will Oldham's "New Partner"), rocking indiepop (the very Unrest-like "God Bless Mom"), deep country ("Tomorrow's Too Long") and even some rowdy, seductive Irish rock (the live version of "Fitzcarraldo").

If the purpose of this US-only release is to pique the interest of America, then it's a job well done. After repeated listens to The Roads Outgrown--it's hard not to hit repeat, it's that addictive--I'm certainly wanting to hear more. It's too bad that they've been unknown for so long; hopefully, that will change soon. A fine collection that serves the band well, and will appeal to the new listener and to the longtime fan.

--Joseph Kyle

February 13, 2004

Live Report: Super Furry Animals, Theater of Living Arts, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 2/12/04

The Kinks became my favorite band from the British invasion while I wrote my master’s thesis about urban redevelopment and growth in Philadelphia. It was about this time that I discovered Preservation Act. Ray Davies confounded attempt to dramatize the demolition of his working class neighborhood and replace it in the name of “improvement.” While I hammered out the importance of use value over and against market imperatives and exchange value, Davies supplied ample inspiration in albums like The Kinks are the Village Green Preservation Society and Muswell Hillbillies. It was deft combination of local politics, musical variety, and fantastic melodies and lyrics that intrigued me by provoking consideration not only of the songwriting itself, but the viewpoints expressed in terms of sentimental politics, such as the significance of sharing teatime with one’s grandmother ranking high among them. And to write such albums without resorting to sectarian cant gives them a lasting importance without disturbing their pop tone and mood.

Super Furry Animals are for me the combination of Ray Davies and Emma Goldman; theirs is a revolution where dance steps into the fore, while humanistic, small-“d” democratic politics remain central to their movement. For me, Super Furry Animals are for all intents and purposes the Kinks in terms of their variety and position in the new British Invasion. They aren’t the most popular British band, leaving that to Radiohead, nor are they the second most popular since Coldplay and Blur fight for that distinction. Meanwhile, SFA remain the upstarts in the wings, writing smoldering riffs with sublimity six albums into their career.

Two nights ago they played a nearly sold out ClearChannel venue. It was a strange mixture of curious suburbanites with a sprinkling of veteran fans and those in-the-know. Shortly after the lights went dark, the projections began. For those of you who haven’t yet seen SFA, it’s the projections that complete the musical experience, rounding out the performances with psychedelic images of hope, love, and political subversion. As they came onstage, as horse hooves clopped around the venue accompanied by whinnying and snorting. Birds chirped. The first strains of "Slow Life" sounded. Lead singer Gruff Rhys was in top form and the sound was uncharacteristically good for a TLA show; although the sound compressed on the more aggressive guitar numbers, it was expansive on the more delicate ones, with good separation for all the instruments onstage, as well as the various clicks and loops generated by the Powerbook. They raced through the setlist and covered much of Phantom Power, as well as past favorites. The stage banter was intermittent, but Rhys hit some good notes: when asked who he thought would win an international soccer competition in which Wales was featured, he responded “We think the human race will win.” It wasn’t the answer the fan expected, but I was knocked over that a band would make a statement so incongruous with the times-hope in human nature to overcome international competitions of all sorts.

Don’t get me wrong though. This was above all else a rock concert and probably the most straightforward and objectively entertaining show I’ve seen in some time. SFA played "Rings Around the World," "Golden Retriever" and "Do or Die" back to back to back. I lost my cell phone during that stretch; it pogo-ed out of my coat pocket. The middle third of the show comprised their slower, elegiac numbers like "Liberty Belle," "Run Christian Run" and, as a surprise, "Fragile Happiness." They then took the crowd down to the contemplative depths of "Piccolo Snare" before returning to the upbeat "Juxtaposed (With U)" and "Hermann Luvs Pauline." The juxtapositions got stranger however, when an ode to a beloved cartoon character Callimero followed political rager "Out of Control." It's one of my favorite songs-it articulates the anger I have for the current Anglo-American Realpolitik and translates it into a fist-pumping anthem. The visuals featured rare footage from the Anglo-American incursions throughout the Mid-East: tracer bullets dotting the night sky; air-to-air targeting system shots; and the recorded histories of smart bombs as they destroy their targets.

The show culminated in two political projections: the first coming during an electronic interlude. The phrase “All governments are liars and murderers” looped and cut while a self-satisfied George W. Bush and a smug Tony Blair addressed the media. It takes considerable bravery to incorporate such polemics into the so-called American counterculture; over thirty years have passed since Coca-Cola first taught the world to sing in perfect harmony, and indie rock audiences have politics as conservative as the rest of the country. Finally, V.I. Lenin and Leon Trotsky rallied the troops during "The Man Don’t Give a Fuck." They briefly left the stage, returned wearing their trademark Yeti costumes and finished the set as guitar monsters. My left ear is still ringing.

--JT Ramsay