June 29, 2004

loscil 'first narrows'

Last year, loscil released the excellent Submers, an album that earned comparison to Harold Budd and Brian Eno. The album had a definite oceanic appeal, creating a 'you are under the water and you don't mind' feel that was instantly relaxing and enjoyable. As one would expect, such a musical venture was a one-man show. Didn't matter, though, as Scott Morgan certainly proved that he didn't really need a band to achieve his musical ideas.

First Narrows finds main loscil man Morgan collaborating with an actual backing band, and the results are as good as you'd expect. On the surface, these additions do not change loscil's musical ideas, but the addition of cello, guitar and Rhodes piano do add another dimension to loscil's sound. Heck, if you didn't know that he'd added these musicians, you wouldn't suspect a thing. The depth of songs like "Lucy Dub," "First Narrows" and "Mode" take loscil's music to another level, a level that doesn't exist on Submers or other one-man records.

First Narrows clearly shows that Morgan has not only found a group of people who share his musical range, but that the benefits of collaboration have yet to reach their peak. I'm happy to report that loscil's improving with time, and First Narrows is excellent progress. Like his music, Morgan's not in a hurry to change, and that's a good thing. Besides, his ideas were already excellent, so why change them? When you put it in your stereo, I guarantee you won't be disappointed with First Narrows.

--Joseph Kyle

Label Website: http://www.kranky.net

I Am the World Trade Center "The Cover Up"

First of all, if you haven't heard of this group, I bet there's one question that's on your mind. I think I know what it is, so I'll answer it right away: Yes, they came up with their name and actually had released their first album before 9/11.

I Am the World Trade Center is an electronic pop duo composed of Dan Geller, one of the co-founders of Kindercore Records (one of the biggest names in indie pop before it got run into the ground last year), and his girlfriend, Amy Dykes. If you hear their music, you'll find that it's apparent that they love the '80s. Amy handles most of the vocals, but you'll hear Dan chime in on vocoder once in a while. And they've recorded covers of "Metro" by Berlin, "Shoot You Down" by the Stone Roses, "Call Me" by Blondie, and on this new album, "Going Underground" by the Jam. When I saw them a couple of months ago, they did a cover of "Bizarre Love Triangle". As I've said before, '80s-influenced electronic pop bands work because they take the good elements from the '80s and leave out the cheesy. Perhaps no one does this better than I Am the World Trade Center.

So, how is this new third full-length of theirs, The Cover Up? It's great! It's just as good, if not better, than their first album, Out of the Loop, and definitely beats their second album, The Tight Connection. Yes, I did like The Tight Connection, but somehow it didn't seem as upbeat as its predecessor, and had a little less energy to it. Fans will be happy to know that there's no lack of energy on this album, and every song is an uptempo dance number filled with pounding beats and catchy synth hooks lifted from albums that New Order never made and even a few '90s rave singles. There's even some electric guitar on a couple of songs, and not just on that aforementioned Jam cover. Every track is a potential dance hit, or would be if bands like I Am the World Trade Center could have actual hits.

If anyone unfamiliar with the band is still reading this, I bet you're wondering what kind of lyrics a band with a name like I Am the World Trade Center might write. It's nothing overtly political, if that's what you were looking for. They write seemingly light pop songs, many about love and heartbreak. And they touch upon heartbreak more than they have in the past, perhaps because this album was written and recorded when Dan and Amy had (temporarily) broken up. The album is named after what might be the most heartwrenching song on the album, especially when it hits the climax: "I want you to say 'I'm sorry.' I want you to fall apart." Despite the serious lyrics, the music is all fun and dance floor-ready.

So, if you want to have an instant dance party, but retain all trappings of indieness, I highly recommend The Cover Up.

--Eric Wolf

Artist Website: http://www.iamluxe.com/worldtrade/
Label Website: http://www.gammonrecords.com/

Tree Wave "Cabana EP"

There's a certain level of novelty to be found within the works of an innovator. After all, if you are one of the talented few who have the power to be innovative, it is to be expected that your changes or your approaches to the traditional way of doing things are novel. Sometimes, in the case of bands like Nirvana or Weezer, your challenge to the status quo is simply inherent within what you do, and it's not something that you're aware of, nor is it something you can really adjust. You can't exactly say, 'We're going to innovate simply by playing basic rock music' and be taken seriously.

The other side of the coin, however, is doing something so utterly original that you wind up being a novelty act. You do things like, say, put on robes and hire a choir and a brass section. You have no rules to follow because there are no rules for you to follow. Are you going to fall flat on your face? Go to any used record store and look in the discount section, and you'll find that the road to Rock is paved with records made with good intentions. For every Polyphonic Spree, there's a Buffalo Daughter or any number of bands who wound up damning themselves by their originality.

And then there's Tree Wave.

This Dallas band has impressed a helluva lot of people, and rightly so. The concept is this: Paul Slocum, computer nerd, Atari freak and C64 purist, decided to make a record that uses these computers to make his music. He wanted to make electronic music, and he wanted to do so with very little reliance on traditions 'instruments'. Computers are the new guitars, and so he set about making wonderful layers of computer-based instrumentals and noise.Thus, you've got a record made with a 2600, C64, Soundblaster, Casio and a dot matrix printer! He then decided that he wanted to make them even better, so he had his wife Lauren Gray add her dreamy voice to the mix.

And it was good.

The result of this experimentation is Cabana EP +. Originally posted online, this four-song EP wowed a lot of people--myself included--and because of heavy traffic had to be removed. The official version of the EP has been expanded to include two new songs, two videos and a program for your Commodore 64! The results are, of course, quite heavenly. If you've been looking for the missing link that connects Flowchart with My Bloody Valentine and Stereolab and Godzuki, then Tree Wave's certainly provided it. Luckily, though, Tree Wave stand out among the rest, and they could easily kick the ass of any record released on Morr, Darla and the entire catalog of Tonevendor. (We love all three of those establishments, by the way.)

The music on Cabana EP + is very basic, sticking to the computerized dance music meets shoegaze blisspop meets something that's new wave but not really meets something that can only be called Tree Wave and that it does so quite effortlessly betrays not Slocum's love for computers. Gray's singing only enhances the ideas, making the results sound both quite familiar and totally unique. From the dance beats of "Morning Coffee Hymn" and the driving rhythm of "Same" and "Instrumental 1B," Tree Wave throws down a groove that will move both your mind and your feet. The videos are excellent, and though I can't access the C64 track (sorry, Paul), I'm sure it's awesome. Then again, anyone who can turn a poem by Rimbaud into a new wave dance number automatically earns the 'awesome' tag in my book.

The novelty of how Tree Wave makes their music will draw you to Cabana EP +, and the music will keep you coming back. This is, quite easily, one of the most impressive debuts of the year from a band whose concept is one that has yet to be topped. People, if you're fed up with the blandness of today's indie music (and I don't blame you one bit), seek this out and prepared to have your mind blown.

--Joseph Kyle

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

June 28, 2004

Lali Puna "Faking The Books"

Over the past two years, Germany's Morr Music has established itself as one of Europe's premier electronic music labels. With a distinctive roster, Morr's reputation has ensured that any record that bears its logo is going to be of excellent quality, and the music will be cool as the autumn and as sedate as valium. We need more labels with such commitments, don't you think? It's true that anyone can make a record full of bleeps and blips, but Morr only gives you the best.

Enter Lali Puna's third album, Faking the Books. I'd never heard the music of this German quartet before, but I felt pretty confident that it was going to be cool, mellow electronica, and from the channel tricks on the opening "Faking the Books," such assumptions seemed sound. Valerie Trebeljahr's cool, seductive singing is instantly engaging and arousing; her croon is a whispered 'I love you' in your ear. But just when you think you've got Lali Puna pegged, they throw away the soothing washes of keyboards and they turn up the pulse, the beat, the whatever it is you call it, and go all Rock and Roll on you. Songs like "Micronomic" and "B-Movie" are inspired more by the sounds of American Indie-Rock than the cold, detatched Berlin electronica scene. Stereolab comparisons are apt, as are Broadcast, but the jangly guitars on "Left Handed" makes me think that Unrest is an underrated influence on today's scene.

Don't think that Lali Puna's all about jangly guitars, because they are also about groove-laden hooks, full of melody and utterly sexy grooves that would make Beth Gibbons jealous. I wouldn't be surprised if "Alienation," "Crawling By Numbers" and "Small Thing" are this summer's soundtrack to conception, either. I like the fact that Lali Puna can make the switch from rock and roll to seductive electronica and downbeat jazz grooves without ever sounding like it's an artistic stretch. It's rare for a band to be so talented in so many styles, and it's even rarer for them to pull off making an album that's so diverse in nature, but they've done it, bless them.

Faking the Books is a great little record. It's diverse enough to sustain your interest in where they're going to do next, yet it's brief enough to not get overwhelmed by too many musical ideas. Lali Puna have made the perfect record for spring, summer, fall and winter, night and day, boy and girl, indie-pop, indie rock or electronica--no matter what style or direction they go, you're assured that it's going to be cool, making Faking the Books a wonderful treat!

--Joseph Kyle

Artist Website: http://www.lalipuna.de
Label Website: http://www.morrmusic.com

Inteview: Tyondai Braxton

Connecticut native Tyondai Braxton (pronounced TIE-ON-DAY, for the record) has, for the past 9 years, been actively performing and composing, developing his own artistic vision inside a multitude of contexts from his roots in the Middletown, CT new music scene. Current groups/recent projects include Battles featuring Ian Williams (Don Caballero/Storm and Stress), Jon Stanier (Helmet/Tomahawk) and Dave Konopka (Lynx), the 2 guitar/drums art rock trio Antenna Terra, “Excavating Kaw” (a composition for 6 4-tracks), as well as the multimedia project “N.E.A.R” (for 10-piece band, 2 choirs, strings, 3 movie projectors and theatrics). His solo music consists of building “orchestrated loops” with voice, guitar and found objects in real time and manipulating them with guitar pedals, in essence creating a self-contained ensemble. Braxton has received commissions from Yale University for a multimedia music/live-painting showcase as well as from Alan Good’s internationally known Goodances troop writing music to accompany his dance troop at St. Marks Theater in NYC. He has shared the stage with the likes of Thurston Moore, Jim O’Rourke, DJ Trio (Christian Marclay, DJ Olive, Toshio Kajiwara) Oval, Lightning Bolt, Les Savy Fav, and Ween. He has performed with numerous musicians/composers, including with Alan Sparhawk from Low as well as in Glenn Branca’s “Hallucination City” at the World Trade Center. Braxton currently resides in NYC.

How did you first get into music?

I was playing in a band in high school and I kind of came out of the whole mainstream grunge movement, y u could say. I was infatuated with Nirvana when they first came out- that was when I got the bug. From that sort of time in mainstream rock in the early 90’s, I started a band in high school and was enthralled with it, totally in love with it. And then it ended. It was devastating, so I started to take that method of playing in band and try to apply it to playing by myself.

What did you play with your high school band--mainstream, grunge-y kind of stuff?

Oh, yeah. It was early high school. It was like, Yes meets Nirvana. We were trying to be complex and raw at the same time.

How did you come up with this approach? Was it something that you developed over a long period of time?

It was a slow process. First, I had a simple, 2-second delay pedal [imitates a guitar playing through delay] and I would sort of develop counterpoint to it- just totally fucking around in my room. Then, when the band ended, I was messing around with it and started taking it a little more seriously- “Oh, this is kind of fun. Blah blah blah I got another pedal” You know, a distortion pedal or something. I started to kind of come around with it until it started to turn into something where I could kind of say, “Hey, maybe I could really develop something here”. As I needed new sounds and more options, I would get new pedals and just try different things out until I got my rig set up.

Do you mind if I ask you something about your father [pioneering multi-reedist and jazz composer, Anthony Braxton]?

No problem.

How much of an effect did he have on you, musically speaking?

As a kid, when your father is someone who- in general, I mean you’re inspired by your folks, but he was always very encouraging as far as approaching music. And I saw how much fun he was having with it and how dedicated and serious he was with it and how amazing he was. I was already playing music for a while when I was a kid and I was enthralled with it and it was cool, but I had to find my own way, you know? Which is why, as far as the rock band stuff goes, that’s what really touched me ‘cause that’s more of my generation as opposed to his. So, that’s kind of what took me in, but of course he was the foundation as far as my influences go.

Have you thought about collaborating with him at some point?

Maybe in the future. We’ll see what happens, you know what I mean? At this point, we’re kind of both separate entities. Further down the road in our careers- or my career, at least- we’ll see.

Tell me a bit about some of the projects you’re involved with.

Right now I’m in a band called Battles with Ian [Williams, former guitarist with Don Caballero and Storm & Stress], John [Stanier, former drummer with Helmet and currently in Tomahawk], and Dave [Konopka of the Boston/Chicago phenomenon Lynx] and it’s a great band. It’s allowing me to…it’s kind of cool, actually. I kind of wrote off being in band after early experiences, wanting to concentrate on emulating what it means to be in a band solo. Now taking that philosophy and going backwards- back into a band- is interesting. So, Battles is great for me and they’re amazing players, so with that project I’m having a good time. Pretty much it’s that and I just finished a poetry book that’s coming out maybe in a month or so with this fella- Matthew Wascovich from Cleveland. We’re doing a split book. So, that’s coming out. I just finished a project for a large rock band- guitar, choir, strings and stuff. Just so I’m not only doing the loop thing. Even though the loop compositions are kind of my home base, I’m trying to keep it varied, trying to do different things. But mainly, to be honest, it’s my solo stuff and Battles.

Are you classically trained?

Yeah, I studied composition at the Hartt School of Music, which is part of the University of Hartford in Connecticut, and I also took classes at Wesleyan with my father.

What have been some sources of inspiration?

Well, coming from the mainstream rock world, which was kind of my gateway drug into the indie rock, underground kind of stuff. And, ironically enough, back into modern composition, which is, as far as what was played a lot around the house when I was younger, I went my own way only to come right back into that world, which is interesting- I think it’s funny. A couple of guys influencing me heavily these days- well, first of all, I love the Brooklyn scene. The whole vibe in Brooklyn is really enthralling to me, a lot of great bands down there- everyone from Animal Collective to Black Dice to Parts & Labor, Z’s, a lot of interesting music is coming out of that scene right now and it’s all definitely great to play off of. One guy who’s always been a big influence- two guys actually- is Christian Marclay, who’s a visual artist as well as- he works with turntables-

You worked with him at one point, too, right?

Yeah. We played a show together- I opened for him- but I actually worked with him before, too. Glenn Branca’s another huge influence. Huge guitar compositions. I had the pleasure of playing with him at the World Trade Center right before it collapsed. Sonic Youth…all the usual suspects.

What about things outside of music?

Actually, it’s funny, man. Just kind of being in the scene in New York right now- for better or for worse- for better in the sense that there’s a great scene, lots of different people, lots of different things happening- I just went to the Whitney for the Whitney Biennial, which is kind of a yearly thing where they showcase new artists and some people are doing some fucking amazing things. So, that always kills me- people working in a specific craft that’s not necessarily what I’m doing that I could draw from. So, as great as it is to be able to kind of get lost in the place that you’re in- like, I’m in New York so I’m around all these New York people- but as far as visual art in general, unfortunately I’m naive to a lot of it. I need to get out there and see what else is going on. That and reading. I like reading a lot. I’m going to go finish my copy of “My Life”, Bill Clinton’s autobiography.

How is that?

It’s…it’s good. [Both laugh]

How does working with different types of media (paintings, dance,
video, etc.) affect the way you construct or perform a song?

It’s great in the sense that, kind of like I said, just being exposed to different media you kind of take away something different. It was actually Chris Cornell from Soundgarden- I remember him saying this when I was younger- he said, “the worst rock music I’ve ever heard was rock music inspired by rock music”. So, you’ve got to have your own kind of palette. You have to kind of expand and explore what else is going on out there. My point is exposing yourself to different forms of art, you take away different things you wouldn’t have ordinarily thought of. It’s like getting a fresh perspective. Even though you might know a little of it on the surface, if you don’t know much of it you kind put yourself in a position where you have to work with this media that’s foreign to you. It could produce different results from your own work. It’s a great catalyst to work with things you’re not used to.

Your site says that you worked with a few visual artists on some projects. Did you perform your own material or did you work with these other artists to create something entirely new?

Well, as far as the dance troupe stuff, those were all my compositions. But with- I played with Alan Sparhawk from Low and we did Low songs- but with Ian and Battles and myself, it’s a co-op, so we all collaborate.

How do your compositions usually come together?

Through the painful, painful suffering of bashing my head against the wall.

[Both laugh]

I would not consider myself a prolific person by any means. I’m very meticulous. I hate everything I make except for one nugget of something that I’ll just try to draw it out. I mean, I really take my time with loops and sometimes if I have an idea, I’ll record it on to a four-track right off of my amp. I’ll sit with it and if it stands the test of time, I’ll try to develop it. I’ll listen to the development; if the development stands the test of time, then I’ll go on to the next thing. If not, I’ll scrap it and go back to the drawing board.

Your bio states that your roots lie in the “Middletown, CT new music scene”. Could you describe the scene and explain its impact on your music?

Well, again, I had to go off and go to college and find my own route from Middletown because the Middletown scene is influenced heavily by my father and also from other composers in Wesleyan. Wesleyan has a great program- Alvin Lucier and such so. After going to school, I came back into that scene and started working with my dad’s students. It’s a small scene, but it’s definitely very vital over there. It definitely influenced me, to see other people my age trying to put something together.

How apt are you to embracing new technology when it comes to your music?

I’m all for it. Unfortunately, I’m not a rich guy. I’d love to get whole bunch of stuff together. Aesthetically, as far as computers and stuff are concerned, in my solo stuff I tend to stay away from that- at least in the solo loop context. I mean, I’m not opposed to doing computer music in a different way. Yeah, I think technology’s great. There are pluses to limitations- like there’s a plus to banging your head against a wall because you can’t afford a drum machine, so you have to find a different way to do things. Having said that, there are also advantages to having technology, which can broaden your spectrum of compositional ideas.

What’s going through your head as you perform?

It’s a mix of process and trying to be expressive through the technique. As you see, I’m playing something, then I’ll twist some knobs, then I’ll do this and that. It’s all very composed, so it’s all very process-oriented. The key is to find a way of being expressive inside of the process and trying to draw emotion as opposed to having it be cold, like “I’ll twist some knobs, then I’ll play guitar, etc.” Within my compositions, there’s an emotion I want to express within it and I try to put myself there. After a while, with rehearsing and stuff, you get comfortable enough with your set-up that it’s second nature, so you have the liberty of being able to be more expressive and putting yourself in that frame of mind to take the pieces where you need to take them.

One last question: I noticed a strong, almost hip-hop quality in some of the newer songs you played tonight and I was just curious if you ever considered going down the avenue of hip-hop production?

Hell yeah. I’d love to. More than the other records I’ve worked on- like I said, a lot of the stuff is newer and there are some tracks I didn’t get to play- I’m definitely going for more of a hip-hop vibe on this next CD than some of the ones in the past. It’s going to be like modern composition rock meets more of a hip-hop kind of element. I would really love to do some production at some point.

--Jonathan Pfeffer

Artist Website: http://tyondai.jmzrecords.com/
Artist Website: http://www.bttls.com/

Rivulets/Marc Gartman

Tract Records has started an interesting little split-CD series entitled Matchmaker. The collection looks promising, with splits between Greg Weeks and Picastro and, most interestingly, Devendra Banhart and Joanna Newsom. (An entire list of other interested yet unconfirmed bands can be found at the label website.) Each series will have four-five songs from each artist. This first split, between Rivulets and Marc Gartman, proves that the Matchmaker series is an interesting one.

Rivulets is the brainchild of Nathan Amundson, and the fact that Rivulets records are released on Low's label Chair Kickers Union should tell you plenty about his musical style. His five songs--three new ones and two variations on the song "Cutter"--one, entitled "Cutter II," features Jarboe on vocals, and the second is a remix by Aartika. The songs are sad and depressing--and all the better for it. His music doesn't stray too far from the Rivulets formula, and if you like his melancholy ways, you'll love these songs.

Marc Gartman's five songs, however, have blown me away. Piano-based, and not unlike a weird combination of Ben Folds, Neil Young and Elton John, these five songs--including a cover of Young's "Only Love Can Break Your Heart"--are heartbreakingly beautiful. The washes of pedal steel on instrumental "Roswell" make this little song even sadder, and Gartman's gentle singing voice on "The Error Of My Ways" and "Hats And Wools" will make you--and yours truly--want to hear much more from this young man.

All in all, the Rivulets/Marc Gartman is a bleak yet beautiful way to spend 45 minutes. Both acts are major talents in training, especially Gartman, and this record is a great introduction to both. Looking forward to hearing the other records in this series.

--Joseph Kyle

Artist Website: http://www.rivulets.net
Artist Website: http://www.pushpinmusic.com
Label Website: http://www.tractrecords.com

Call and Response "Winds take no shape"

After three years, Call and Response have released their second full-length. For those of you who have never heard of them, Call and Response is an indie pop band whose first album was released on Kindercore, and then reissued on Emperor Norton. The amazing thing about Call and Response's first album was that it was indie pop mixed with elements that were never before combined with indie pop (and haven't been since). For Call and Response was the very first twee pop band to get funky. By funky, I mean that they had a definite '70s funk and disco influence. Very danceable. But their lyrics were about the twee subjects of rollerskating, blowing bubbles with bubblegum, and love. They had a great sound, and I bet their live shows were spectacular orgies of funked-out disco dancing.

So, let's pop in this new album now. That's strange, my posterior is remaining stationary. I don't feel like dancing. And what's this mellow jangle pop coming out of the speakers? Did I put in the right CD.

Unfortunately, it is the right CD.

The Call and Response on this new album are different from the Call and Response on their self-titled debut three years ago. Instead of fun twee-funk, Winds Take No Shape finds the band in a "serious" mode. The twee is all but ripped away from their music now. There are no upbeat songs on this album, it's all-low key, somewhat ambient jangle pop.

Honestly, it's not bad. The vocals (all female) are beautifully done, especially the two-part harmonies. The music is well-played and very relaxing. It's great chill-out music. I wouldn't have the heart to get rid of this album.

As for the lyrics, I don't know if I like them as much as the music. They've abandoned the direct bubblegum approach to lyric writing in their first album and have gone more abstract. Here's a little snippet from "Colors Bleed", the first song on the album: "Numbers are counted wrong / Couldn't make time for me / Didn't need to be listening / No sound is noise / Forsaking medicine / Feel a change happening / Through the window of a plane / Driven out of the air / Looking backward the mind sees (mind sees) / All that's inside and hiding (hiding)." That's getting close to the level of abstractness in Neutral Milk Hotel lyrics. As old Call and Response fans can see, they've gone far beyond "before you learn how to walk, before you learn how to rock, you learn to rollerskate."

I'll just get to the point and say that I think this album is just a par above mediocre.

But before ending this review, I have to answer those who may attack me for refusing to let this band evolve. Why can't I just grow and mature along with this band. Isn't change good? Well, no, I can't agree with this change because Call and Response had one of the most unique sounds in all of music. Now, they've thrown it away for a mellower sound that, while good, is found in abundance in other places. In time, I might be able to gain an appreciation of the new Call and Response, but for now, I hope you understand why I'm stricken with overwhelming grief for the passing of the old.

--Eric Wolf

Artist Website: http://www.callandresponsemusic.com/
Label Website: http://www.badmanrecordingco.com

Rachel Goswell "Waves are Universal"

Beautiful. Uplifting. Heavenly. Like an angel. Blissful. Ethereal.

Over the past fifteen years, these adjectives have been used to describe the singing of Rachel Goswell. From the blissed out rock of Slowdive to the gentle, countrified folk of Mojave 3, Goswell's reputation is one that's preceded her--and rightfully so. Her role in Mojave 3 has been one of diminishing returns--it's hard to even think of her as a member of the band anymore, as she never sings anything more than backing vocals. Waves Are Universal, her debut album, was not a surprise, considering Neil Halstead released his own solo record a while back.

It's no surprise, then, that Waves are Universal sounds exactly like you'd think it to sound. Considering that it was released on longtime label 4ad is no surprise, either. Though hailed as an album that is 'carving new and different lines,' there's absolutely nothing new about it--for either the label or for Goswell. Listening to the album, I'm almost instantly reminded of not only Mojave 3, but also of several of 4ad's fine singers, including a little bit of Kristin Hersh, a smidgen of Lisa Germano & Kendra Smith and a whole lot of Heidi Berry--especially on the jazzy yet autumnal "Deelay" and the utterly warm and friendly "Plucked." At times she sings in a dark and husky manner, and sometimes she's really lighter than air. Waves are Universal has an overall country/folk feel that's also quite rewarding.

Is it the most original record I've heard this year? Not by a longshot. Going in, you know what you're getting into, and it didn't offer me anything I wasn't prepared to hear. As records go, it's as unexpectedly unsurprising affair from a talent who has never really been given the chance to shine on her own until now, and though the record isn't anything new for Goswell, it's still an excellent display of her talents. Cool and bleak with a little bit of hope, Waves Are Universal is a mood record that will move you in the ways that you'd expect Rachel Goswell to move you. Heck, this record is inappropriate for sunny days, coffee-free moments and temperatures above 85.

And that, my friends, is perfectly fine with me.

--Joseph Kyle

Label Website: http://www.4ad.com

June 25, 2004

Acid Mothers Temple "Mantra of Love"

Japan's Acid Mothers Temple are a band so confounding that I won't even bother trying to describe them. Led by musical genius and spiritual leader Kawabata Makoto, the music defies all classification. Acid Mothers Temple have released some of the most beautiful--and the trippiest--psychedelic music of recent years, and this year's been no exception, with two records worth seeking out, because AMT are not just a band, they are a journey that you must prepare for. The fact that Makoto's prolific nature makes Robert Pollard pale in comparison is a fact that's paled by the frustrating reality of how quickly his limited edition releases disappear.

Their newest album--officially released and produced album, I should say--is Mantra of Love. Consisting of two very long songs, this album is a bit different in concept; with a focus on melody (but not at the sacrifice of their traditional space-rock freakout)-- it's as close to a 'love' album as you're gonna get from Acid Mothers Temple. With softer, gentler harmonies--offset by the beautiful singing of Cotton Casino--the half-hour "La Le Lo" is easily one of the band's most beautiful compositions. As usual, it goes from really soft, gentle singing to loud, trippy keyboards and screaming guitars and back again several times. There's a distinctive lovemaking feel to this song; if it's supposed to be an aural depection of sex, then Makoto and company have succeeded quite nicely. (Of course, where are the naked women he puts on his solo albums? I'd rather look at them than that whale head.) "L'Ambition dans le Miroir" is a fifteen-minute piece that's both weirder than and softer than "La Le Lo," and it once again features Casino's beautiful singing.

Unlike previous albums, Mantra of Love is a record that takes a little bit of time to appreciate. While it's true that Acid Mothers Temple make some really heavy music, the two songs found here are surprisingly light compared to their previous work. If you're expecting heavy guitar freakouts of In C or Electric Heavyland, then you're going to be slightly disappointed. After a few listens, though, Mantra of Love does grow on you--perhaps it's best consumed with someone that you want to be intimate with, because there's a definite passion undertone going on here.

Released earlier this year in limited edition form--yet still worth seeking out--is The Day Before The Sky Fell in America 9/10/01. It's exactly as it says--a recording from an instore performance on September 10, 2001. Much like Mantra of Love, this vinyl album consists of two very long songs. As perfect sound fidelity has never really been par for the course with Acid Mothers Temple, these two songs are quite beautiful; they range from soft and sedate to loud and noisy.In less capable hands, this kind of music might sound a bit shambly--if not falling apart entirely--but Acid Mothers Temple are not like us, and thus they can create magic. And yes, there is a weird, eerie and haunting feeling to these songs, thanks in part to what happened the next morning.

Acid Mothers Temple are not just a band, they are an experience. These two recordings may be brief on the surface, but they represent an artistic aesthetic that cannot be denied. You could ignore Acid Mothers Temple, but why would you want to?

--Joseph Kyle

Artist Website: http://www.acidmothers.com
Label Website: http://www.alien8recordings.com
Label Website: http://www.eclipse-records.com

June 24, 2004

Superhopper "Does this sound exciting yet?"

Superhopper did the right thing.

They decided to rock.

I've really been getting into this record of theirs, Does This Sound Exciting Yet?. It's a very appropriate title, because that question's answer is a most resounding YES!!!!! Of course, it's really hard not to like Superhopper. They make rock music, period. It's nothing too weird, nothing too odd, nothing too hip just plain-jane, pedals-to-the-metal rock and roll music. With a little punk influence here, a little bit of power pop there, throw in some harmonies that would make Rivers Cuomo textmessage his lawyers and you've got the tried-and-true Superhopper formula.

When you've got twelve songs in twenty-eight minutes, you know that you're dealing with a band that doesn't really want to waste your time with making anything complicated, and Superhopper doesn't get all caught up in being 'arty.' Instead, they focus on making some really great songs, such as the wonderful 'New Fresh Midwest," the snotty "I Am Scheming" (my new themesong) and the great "Button." Best of all is a love song dedicated to the long-forgotten Saturday Night Live actress Laraine Newman, entitled, yup, you guessed it, "Laraine Newman"
Lead singer Kermit Carter has a voice that instantly makes you wonder what he's up to, it's that snotty, too.

This is a great little record, one that doesn't waste your time. If you like rock music--and in 2004, we know it's hard for you to like rock music--then you'll really get excited about Does This Sound Exciting Yet?. I know I have.

--Joseph Kyle

Artist Website: http://www.superhopper.com
Label Website: http://www.guiltriddenpop.com

Mission of Burma "onoffon"

After all is said and done, 2004 might be remembered by indie-rock journalists as the Year the Old Folks Struck Back. Many bands who were on rock’s cutting edge in the ‘80s and early ‘90s are experiencing cultural and commercial resurgences that would give the average youth-obsessed trend-hopper pause. After being all but dismissed by the British music press as a ghost of its former self, the Fall have gained a new lease on life with a stunning new album and two consecutive (mostly) successful American tours. Sonic Youth have proven with Sonic Nurse that, even this far in the game, they can still make consecutive brilliant albums. Although the verdict’s still out on the Cure’s new Ross Robinson-produced album, the fact that their new single can sit comfortably on the radio next to Weezer is no small feat. Even if the Pixies only produce one mediocre new song (“Bam Thwok”) this year, their current reunion tour will ensure that they’ll be sitting on bank like Wells Fargo by year’s end. Out of all of the old bands currently enjoying newfound fortune, I think that Boston punk quartet Mission of Burma has the most bewildering story of them all. They broke up when I was two years old. after little more than an EP and an album, only to release new material 22 years later that not only picks up where they left off in 1983, but also improves upon their past material.

Yes, you read it right: I think that OnOffOn is BETTER than the records that they made during their first go-round. I understand how canonical and influential Signals, Calls and Marches and Vs. are, and I do enjoy listening to them. However, I believe that my youth puts me in the arguably privileged position of being able to evaluate Burma’s new material without much of the nostalgic baggage that people who were my age 20 years ago might attach to their earlier material. I only have to go by whether the record kicks my butt when it‘s on and stays in my head after it ends, and in my opinion, OnOffOn does a better job of doing both than either of their other two records. Burma’s new album does what all second albums are supposed to do: give us enough of a band’s patented sound to keep us satisfied, while adding enough development to keep us interested. Even after Burma’s breakup, all three of remaining original members have made music with their own bands over the last two decades, which at least partially explains the growth in musicianship and compositional skill displayed on OnOffOn.
Drummer Peter Prescott made a few of underrated albums of discordant punk in the ‘90s as the front man of Kustomized, and his contributions to the new album can be considered an extension of that work. For instance, “The Enthusiast” lives up to its title by doing for Burma’s sound what the “crunk” sub-genre did for hip-hop: turn every aspect of it into an exclamation point. Miller’s guitar, which ekes out unmusical screeches and fidgety harmonics, and Prescott’s stomping tom-toms and throaty shouting perfectly match the lyrics: “I can’t wait, but WHO CAN? I’m high as a kite on windless night!” Album closer “Absent Mind” also lives up to its title by starting out as a anthem about forgetfulness, stopping mid-song, and then slowly dissolving into a mess of goofy vocal harmonies, chipmunk tape manipulations, and unfocused jamming. Even when Prescott isn’t singing, his loose (and occasionally clumsy drumming) adds an element of danger to the songs, threatening to lose the beat but never quite doing so.

Bassist Clint Conley went 20 years without making any music at all, only to unexpectedly begin compensating for lost time in the last two years by releasing two excellent albums with his band Consonant. Like Prescott’s songs on OnOffOn, Conley’s contributions are strongly redolent of his work away from Burma, with “Hunt Again” coming across as a lovelorn and reflective rock song that just happens to be amped up by the presence of Prescott and Miller. “What We Really Were” even boasts lyrics by Holly Anderson, a frequent collaborator of Conley’s in Consonant. Conley also takes the album’s two biggest departures from Burma’s signature sound. “Nicotine Bomb“ is played in a jaunty, countrified tempo and is strangely interrupted by a synthesized horn section. “Prepared” is an honest-to-goodness love song, complete with a sappy chorus and string arrangements! I’m sure that “Prepared” and “Nicotine” might irk punk purists left and right, but so what? Not only are these songs catchy and well-written, but they also give the album a sonic variety that keeps it from sounding like a backward-looking time capsule.

However, Conley and Prescott are doing business as usual musically, therefore the REAL surprises on this record come from Roger Miller. Because his problems with tinnitus partially led to Burma’s demise in 1983, it didn’t come as much of a shock that much of his subsequent material (with Birdsongs of the Mesozoic and Alloy Orchestra) had very little to do with the noise and amplification of electric rock. Therefore, the consistent excellence of his contributions to OnOffOn is a minor miracle. Miller’s songs do what “emo” bands pretend to---explore the nuances of emotional drama within the context of the aggressive rock song---but without the clich├ęs and the melodrama.

Opener “The Setup” is sung from the point of view of someone bound by impulse. “My heart sets itself up,” Miller sings. “Why do I act this way? Where’s the question? I can’t just react.” Mistakes repeat themselves because the protagonist refuses to think before he acts, and Miller’s constant repetition of each phrase reflects this cycle. “Into the Fire” plumbs similar depths of confusion and destruction. “I don’t know why I do what I do,” he sings. “I can break a window…I can hurl myself into that fire!” “Max Ernst’s Dream” pays tribute to the surrealist artist by describing those moment when visual art becomes visceral, when “touching becomes the new seeing.” The birdsong tape loops (provided by producer Bob Weston, replacing absent fourth member Martin Swope) and droning guitars in the song’s bridge produce an equally transportive atmosphere. Then, there’s “Falling,” the album’s best and catchiest song, in which Miller spends the entirety singing about floating in mid-air. He sounds neither dippy nor despondent. We don’t know if he’s singing about bungee jumping or suicide, but we’ll be too busy swooning over the coed harmonies (provided by Tanya Donnelly of Belly/Throwing Muses fame) to care.

Equipped with firing-range headphones and armed with two decades’ worth of sonic experimentation, Miller spends all of OnOffOn completely wrecking shop on his six-string. Listen to the middle of “The Setup,” in which his slide guitar imitates Weston’s squealing tape loops until you can’t tell which is which. Listen to the open-tuned whammy-bar whines that Miller stuffs into every nook and cranny of “Wounded World.” Listen to the awesome string bends that Miller pulls off at the end of every line in the chorus of “Fever Moon.” Listen to the jazzy, almost harmolodic solo that he plays in the middle of “Into the Fire.” Once you’re done marveling at Miller’s guitar playing, listen to the passion in the background vocals. No matter who wrote what, the other two members are never far behind adding enthusiasm harmonies and shouts. Miller, Conley, and Prescott are genuinely excited to be in a band together again, and it shows through every second of OnOffOn.

This album is virtually unimpeachable. Not only have the members of Mission of Burma managed to outdo themselves, but they’ve also set a new standard for all of the younger bands under their influence to live up to. I don’t think I need to tell you how rare it is for a reunited band to do either of the two. OnOffOn sounds exactly like the kind of record Burma might have made in 1984 had they stayed together, but Burma was so far ahead of their time back then that the album is still at least a step or two ahead of most other rock records released so far this year. Just thinking about it makes my head want to explode…so I’m going to stop thinking about it and listen to “Falling” again instead. This album’s been out for almost two months. If you don’t own it already, what the hell is taking you so long??!?

--Sean Padilla

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

Animal Collective "Sung Tongs"

Those crazy critters of the Animal Collective are back at it again with a second helping of their patented brand of…uh…well, ”frenetic, psychedelic campfire folk” is the best description I can muster at the moment. From the chorus of cicadas that flood Sung Tongs’ opener “Leaf House” with a sense of pure summery goodness to those agitated wolves overseeing the bubbling, murky musical swamp they seem to create for themselves on “Kids On Holiday”, Animal Collective live up to their moniker and manage to conjure up images of our furry, woodland friends quite effectively.

Vivid images of lovable forest-dwelling creatures aside, what initially struck me about Sung Tongs was the intricate, gorgeous soundscapes the group could create from just a few voices, two acoustic guitars, tape loops, and some bits of percussion. Tracks like “Winters Love” and “We Tigers” illustrate my point with a few chords strummed on a rickety acoustic guitar and simple counterpoint vocal harmonies providing the foundation for each song’s lush, gorgeous melody. It’s great to see that even with the most basic of tools, these guys can create something just as potent- maybe even more so- as someone with an entire fleet of Guitar Center coupons at their disposal. Less is more, indeed.

Sadly, there’s a bit of filler in Sung Tongs’ second half that bogs down the entire album from reaching truly awesome heights: “Visiting Friends” is essentially two chords played for a progressively excruciating 13 minutes, while closing track “Whaddit I Done” ends the album on sort of a sour note with an irritating wah pedal-affected voice intoning about…something majestic, I would presume. Fortunately, these two tracks don’t detract too much from what is otherwise an outstanding, lovingly crafted release. Animal Collective have one-upped last year’s Here Comes The Indian in spades with a set of beautiful, infectiously exuberant songs that show a group in the throes of something truly unique and wonderful.

--Jonathan Pfeffer

Artist Website: http://www.paw-tracks.com/
Label Website: http://www.fat-cat.co.uk/

June 23, 2004

Pipas "Bitter Club"

Pipas! Yay! This dynamic duo really makes some fun, concise pop music. Literally. Their excellent album A Cat Escaped was ten songs in twenty minutes, every one a winner, too! Bitter Club is their new single, but for Pipas, with six songs at eleven minutes, it's almost an album! I have a major pop crush on Mark and Lupe, and this little nugget isn't helping that obsession. From the sweet love-letter of "Minilife" to the slow-dance worthy "South," the sweet jangle-pop of "Jean C" or "Bitter Club," easily Mark's best-ever song so far, Bitter Club packs quite a quick indiepop-punch, and it's so good that you can listen to it two or three times in a row and it won't feel at all repetitive. Another winning Matinee record--can't wait to hear more! (Maybe a reissue of that really great Chunnel Autumnal, perhaps?)

--Joseph Kyle

Artist Website: http://www.plumasbouncer.com/llc
Label Website: http://www.indiepages.com/matinee

Various Artists "The Hope I Hide Inside"

The Hope I Hide Inside is the tenth and final chapter of Deep Elm's popular and long-running Emo Diaries series. Don't let the finality of the series convince you that Deep Elm's ending on a sour note, though. Earlier this year Deep Elm suffered an unfair and unjustified trashing out by an indie-rock scenester and a highly-paid 'underground' music writer for Spin who really liked talking to underage girls in Nothing Feels Good, a book aimed squarely at the emo demographic. The Deep Elm section of the book seemed to be nothing more than personal vindictiveness--one that didn't take into account the fact that the label's roster has taken a turn towards diversity, and their overall sound is losing that whole 'emo' thing.

Still, the series was a good one, introducing many new and optimistic young bands to a world that normally wouldn't have heard of them. Recent volumes have offered introductory tracks for new Deep Elm bands--for example, Lock and Key and Sounds Like Violence are two bands here who have recently released records on Deep Elm. What was most astonishing about this series was the fact that many bands that appeared were from remote corners of the world. Once again, Volume Ten is no exception to this rule, with bands from places as Georgia to Sweden to England to Norway to Israel--many of these bands being quite impressive, and the fact that you probably wouldn't have heard of them were it not for Deep Elm should be enough for you to want to send the label a thank-you letter.

While this volume seems a bit shorter than previous versions, it's not for wont of quality or diversity; from the pathetic, psychotic singing of Sounds Like Violence's "The Light Is Such a Beautiful Sight" to the sweet crooning of Latitiude Blue's "On The Corner," The Hope I Hide Inside never falls into the trap of monotony, and nearly every track on this too-brief collection is a winner. Personally, I'm fond of the gentle "Jus Primae Noctis" by The Silent Type," Lost on Purpose's sad, mornful "Friends" and the crunchy "Red Makes White" by Hercules Hercules. The winner here for me is the epic "A Window's Pain" by A Month of Somedays. This song has it all: really great lyrics, interesting vocals and a driving yet sad beat that won't stop.

The Hope I Hide Inside may be the last Emo Diaries, but it's not the last you've heard from Deep Elm. A nice closing chapter in this label's history this may be, it's only offset by the fact that they've restarted a series that's identical in nature to the Emo Diaries series. The emo term abandoned by one of the labels who became synonymous with the tag? Does this mean that emo is dead and/or dying?

God, I hope so.

--Joseph Kyle

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

June 22, 2004

Nanook of the North "The Taby Tapes"

With the advent of summer this week, I'm looking for music that will capture coolness in aural form--something that will complement the air conditioner, iced tea and general avoidance of the daylight hours. I'm looking for something that will soothe and chill without the heaviness of classical music or the mindlessness of lite jazz. I'm wanting something that will give me goosebumps and will leave me seeking out a jacket and a young lady to spend a quality afternoon with eating cheese and drinking white wine.

Of course, why not look to Sweden? They've certainly done quite well in the past, delivering drop-dead coolness like ABBA, The Cardigans, Club 8 and The Soundtrack Of Our Lives, and I've got no fear in saying that if it comes from Sweden then it's probably going to be cool. It's certainly the case with The Taby Tapes, because Nanook and his cast of characters have made a record that's chilled out in a electronica pop kind of way, and I wouldn't want it any other way. Gentle strings are mixed with washes of keyboards and acoustic guitar, and on songs like "Nanook's Ark" and "Hey Fragile," the combination is simply beautiful.The Taby Tapes is a concept album of sorts, detailing Nanook's journey from Alaska to Taby, Sweden. Okay, I'll confess that I don't really follow the "concept," but with pop songs this sticky-sweet, who cares?

The ideas behind The Taby Tapes may be thin, but the music sure isn't. Comparisons have been made to Mum, The Delgados and The Postal Service--all bands with smooth electronics and gorgeous, sleepy vocals--but I'm thinking Cowboy in Sweden. Mix in a little bit country, a little bit rock and roll, a whole lot of Nordic influence, and voila! Nanook has a husky yet charming voice that reminds me a bit of a more sedate Lee Hazelwood--listen to the boy/girl singing on "Israel and Palestine-A Solution" and try to convince me that this isn't a modern day Lee and Nancy we're dealing with here. (This whole concept of pop music telling a story seems like it would be right up his alley, too.)

The Taby Tapes is nothing more and nothing less than a very pretty album of electronica-tinged indiepop. Don't worry about the themes of the album, and don't worry if the concept of the record doesn't make any sense to you, because the music makes up for it all. Thankfully, Nanook arrived just in time for the summer--come on in, the snow is fine!

--Joseph Kyle

Artist Website: http://www.nanook.se
Label Website: http://www.parasol.com

Charalambides "Joy Shapes"/Tom Carter "Monument"

After witnessing two of Texan trio Charalambides’ hypnotic live performances, I received my first exposure to their recorded material through last year’s Unknown Spin, a professional reissue of one of their many limited-edition CDRs. The album consisted of four live improvisations centered around leisurely strummed electric and lap steel guitars, often prepared to sound like anything but themselves, and the haunting wordless voices of Christina Carter and Heather Leigh Murray. The music took its time going nowhere, but the journey was never less than beautiful and otherworldly. For months after first hearing the album, I put it in my stereo before I went to bed each night. I eagerly awaited the next Charalambides studio album, especially since Unknown Spin was touted as a mere foretaste of what their newer material would sound like. After listening to their long-awaited new album, Joy Shapes, I can safely say that I am not disappointed. However, I don’t think I’ll be falling asleep to this record any time soon.

In one respect, the title Joy Shapes is appropriate because, unlike the comparatively unstructured Unknown Spin, the music on this album seems to have been delicately shaped into a nebulous form, hovering somewhere between improvisation and premeditated composition. The album has a running time of nearly 76 minutes, which means that none of its five songs are models of concision. Nonetheless, every song does make its own slow journey from point A to point B, with numerous overdubs giving Heather, Christina, and her husband Tom the ability to conjure up more detailed and lush atmospheres than could probably be replicated live.

21-minute opener “Here Not Here” sets the tone for the rest of the record. It begins with one guitar repeatedly picking out a six-note motif as Christina’s smooth vibrato wanders on and off key. A morass of woozy slide guitars slowly emerges underneath her guitar and voice, sounding like a symphony of broken grandfather clocks. Christina chants “the rain shines, the sun falls” over and over again; her voice becomes more despondent and unhinged as it ascends into its upper registers. The guitars mirror her increased intensity by becoming more percussive and erratic. By the time “Here Not Here” reaches its midpoint Christina’s voice has entered Yoko Ono territory, and the guitar playing has devolved into horror-score chiming reminiscent of early Sonic Youth. After a series of siren-like hollers, of which I’m still not sure whether they emanate from voices or guitars, the song slowly returns to a rougher-edged version of its introductory motif.
“Here Not Here” may be unwieldy, but a near-symmetrical structure reveals itself to listeners who pay attention to it.

“Here Not Here” is also unlike anything on Unknown Spin in that
Christina’s voice almost sounds intentionally ugly in places, which brings me to my next point. Even though the songs on Joy Shapes may have a discernible shape, joy is one of the last emotions that the record provokes in me when I listen to it. If anything, the music is laced with undercurrents of sadness and fear. The title track boasts the most intelligible lyrics I’ve heard come out of Christina’s mouth; it’s a shame that she seems to be singing about the end of a relationship. When she reaches the song’s most climactic lyric “How does it feel when you know you’ve been left?” her voice shakes as if she’s weeping. According to the accompanying press kit, all of Joy Shapes’ vocals were recorded in what Tom Carter refers to as a “lost evening,” and judging by how insane Christina sounds, I believe him!

Christina’s vocals notwithstanding, there are still loads of moments that could serve as a soundtrack to my weirdest dreams. “Stroke” sounds like a ten-minute concerto for broken harps and acoustic guitars, piling out-of-tune arpeggios on top of each other until halfway through, when all of the instruments achieve a strange and almost accidental consonance. “Natural Night” consists almost entirely of crackling wind chimes, intermittent flickers of guitar and psaltery, and banshee wailing from Christina and Heather. Album closer “Voice of You” comes the closest to sounding like the songs on Unknown Spin, with Christina strumming and singing sweetly as a mountain of scrabbled, fuzzy slide guitars overtakes her. Overall, Joy Shapes is a scary yet enveloping slice of psychedelic ambient music that can make time itself stop if you’re courageous enough to listen to it alone and on headphones.

However, if the new Charalambides record is what Unknown Spin would sound like with more structure and detail, then the latest solo record by guitarist Tom Carter takes the opposite tack by stripping the music down to an almost intolerable degree of austerity and disorganization. Carter’s Monument consists of two solo lap steel guitar pieces that were recorded live to DAT three years ago, and were previously released in a limited edition of 55 CDRs. The first piece, “Monument 1 (Memorial),” is slightly longer than two minutes. It’s so quiet that upon first listen it took 30 seconds for me to hear any sound louder than the air conditioning system in my apartment, even though I had my stereo turned up to the loudest possible volume.

“Monument 2” is 47 minutes long, a length that would be an endurance test for any listener regardless of how good the music might be. From what I gather, Carter hooked his lap steel up to a series of effects pedals (flanger, reverb, delay, and distortion), and used prepared guitar techniques to make his instrument sound like anything but itself. This is basically the same thing that he does during any given Charalambides song, but without Christina or Heather to help him shape his experimentation into a slightly more musical form, it’s easy for the average listener to get bored. Yes, it’s great that Tom can make his lap steel sound like a cello, a bell, or even a jet airplane. However, it’s not so great that it takes 11 minutes for Tom to start playing his instrument with any degree of assertiveness, and that it takes him another seven minutes to develop an idea that’s worth repeating more than once.

At its best, “Monument 2” has a kind of shimmering radiance that I haven’t heard since John Cale’s Sun Blindness Music, but I must be honest. If I didn’t have to review this record, I wouldn’t have spent the first twenty minutes of this album waiting for Tom to get going. In short, I don’t see this album appealing to anyone other than the 55 people who originally bought it. I can only recommend Monument to people who think that Joy Shapes is too “poppy,” and who would be insane enough to think THAT?

--Sean Padilla

Label Website: http://www.kranky.net

June 21, 2004

All Night Radio "Spirit Stereo Frequency"

Last week I learned that All Night Radio had called it quits, and I was sad. Breakups are never fun, especially when it's a band you really like. There's been no real detailed reason given, other than the 'creative differences' cliche and a Buddyhead interview that hints at a reason that's quite Spinal Tap. It's kind of sad, too, because the music that Jimi Hey and Dave Scher made as All Night Radio was quite exciting. I tried to get an interview with them as well, but through some really silly and not so silly circumstances, it just didn't happen, and I wrote it off as a 'maybe next time' type of thing, Too bad.

It's even sadder, because after spending several groovy evenings with Spirit Stereo Frequency, you'll want to hear more. It's obvious that a lot of time and love working on this record; Hey and Scher came up with a lot of really good musical ideas that were pleasant for the present and promising for the future. See, Spirit Stereo Frequency glows in a way that makes it quite clear that these two men were not only having a lot of fun making music together, but that their best ideas were yet to come. all of which shimmer with the glowy haze of summer in LA and the scent of weed and cheap incense. It's also not a surprise that All Night Radio also sounds like a continuation of Beachwood Spark's final record, the spaced-out pscyh country masterpiece Make The Cowboy Robots Cry--ironically, the album marked return of longtime friend Jimi Hey. Coincidence that they got trippier with his return? Possibly.

In many ways, Spirit Stereo Frequency was very much a standard debut record. Though not every idea on Spirit Stereo Frequency works--I didn't really think the more upbeat rock of "You'll Be On Your Own" fit the overall groove of the record--for the most part their psych-pop intentions are quite well-developed, and the moments that don't really work are overshadowed by the sublime and undeniable magical charm of those that do. From the subtle album opener "Daylight Til Dawn," All Night Radio never hesitate to deliver music that's both trippy and and pleasant. The sad yet hopeful "Sad K." could have been the big baroque pop love song of 2004, but it wasn't to be. And what of the wonderful "Sky Bicycle (You've Been Ringing)?" Once a great promise, now it is only a question, a snapshot of what could have been....

So farewell, All Night Radio, we hardly knew ya. Here's to your future projects, the possibility of a reunion, and the eventual cult status of Spirit Stereo Frequency. It's something you guys deserve, even if you two decide to let your animosity and bitterness turn you into indie rock's Martin and Lewis.

--Joseph Kyle

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

Cyne "Time Being"

Whatever happened to positive hip-hop? Don’t bring up those third-rate De La Soul wannabes Black Eyed Peas in my presence because “Where’s the Love?” is corny. Don’t bring up Public Enemy because they haven’t made a decent record in 13 years. Don’t mention KRS-One to me because he’s spent his entire career in a perpetual identity crisis. Don’t talk about Dead Prez to me because their first album wasn’t all that great, and their second album was an embarrassing attempt to toughen up their image for mainstream rap fans. Common? No. Just because you slept with Erykah Badu doesn’t make you enlightened. Any hip-hop fan can name tons of artists whose music isn’t consumed by misogyny, materialism, or ultra-violence, but don’t mention them to me either because I’m not defining “positive hip-hop” by what it isn’t, but what it IS. I’m talking about hip-hop that tries to stimulate listeners’ minds while moving their bodies (and no, these goals aren‘t musically exclusive) by framing earnest and frank discussions about social issues within the framework of three-minute fusions of intricate lyrics and tight beats. Cyne’s Time Being fits this definition like a glove, and while it’s not on par with PE‘s It Takes a Nation of Millions (or even their Apocalypse 91), it’s a strident first step toward such greatness.

I must admit that Time Being’s intro, in which a computerized voice gives a state-of-the-world address that sounds like a more verbose version of “Where’s the Love?,” doesn’t bode well for the rest of the record. I mean, there isn’t much of a difference between Cyne’s “Children hate parents/Nations seek power to overcome the world at any cost” and BEP’s “People killin', people dyin'/Children hurt and you hear them cryin'.” Fortunately, Cyne bounce back from this early misstep by ensuring that the rest of the album avoids treacle. Emcees Cise and Akin spend the first third of the album asserting themselves as purpose-driven harbingers of a higher consciousness that was once present in hip-hop but is now lost. “Nothing’s Sacred” is a lament about how hip-hop has been transformed from a culture into a commodity. On “Papermate,” Cise and Akin rap about being compelled to write by a higher power (it is worth noting that at least half of the songs on Time Being contain direct Biblical allusions). “Steady” even asks the question, “Do you remember when Martin had a dream and Bobby had a regimen?”

The middle of the album finds Cyne shifting its focus outward toward the black community and society in general. “400 Years Revisited” finds the group alternating between militancy and confusion. One minute, they’re examining why revolutions are often accompanied by violence (“People don’t react until you actually start blastin’”), the next they’re pondering why they still feel bound even after the end of slavery. Album highlight “Samura’s Optic” is a bull’s-eye critique of hip-hop’s obsession with thug imagery, and how it only aids the mainstream media in making “ignorance synonymous with blackness.” (I find it a bit contradictory, though, that Cyne would write a song like this yet use the word “nigga” so liberally on their album. That’s a small quibble, though.)

On the final third of album, Cyne turn the focus back to themselves. “1st Person” and “Self Exam” detail, respectively, the formation of Cyne and the emcees’ childhood memories. The second verse of “Self Exam” is one member’s especially heartrending account of his parents’ divorce, complete with heartless and stupid interrogations from social workers (“Did your Daddy beat you? Who do you love more?”). “Due Progress” and “Out of Time” are paeans to spiritual growth. “Whether you’re praising Christ or Allah,” they rap, “there’s a spirit in the air that I’m trying to be a part of.” One thing that Cyne DOESN’T talk about, though, is how good they are, a subject that nearly every rapper worth his or her salt tends to devote AT LEAST half an album to. Cise and Akin have definitely mastered internal rhyme, and their flows are airtight, but they don‘t feel the need to impress listeners with outlandish analogies, punch lines, or insults. Their rhymes are so bereft of traditional braggadocio that they don’t mention their own names once on the entire album!

Many “conscious” rap artists pack their albums with weighty messages, but fail to attach them to good beats. Fortunately, Cyne delivers the goods sonically as well as lyrically. The other two members of Cyne (producers Speck and Enoch) construct simple but evocative loops that don’t reveal their nuances until the rhyming ends. “Nothing’s Sacred” consists mainly of the chopped-up sighs of a female soul singer, sounding slightly like a Prefuse 73 demo. “Samura’s Optic” is built off of a sample of pitch-imperfect guitar harmonics from a warped record, complete with audible vinyl static. The lopsided, off-beat piano and double bass on “Free” sound like Pete Rock gone psychedelic. Many songs are built from samples of what HAVE to be bubblegum pop songs from the ‘60s and ‘70s. Speck and Enoch could have easily put a drum machine on top of a Fifth Dimension song and I wouldn’t have been able to tell the difference.

Another strength of Time Being is its brevity. In an era of rap albums stuffed to the gills with pointless skits and half-baked songs, a 32-minute album in which none of the songs approach the four-minute mark (and half of them are under three) is a breath of fresh air in and of itself. Nowadays, it’s rare to find a hip-hop album that leaves me wanting more, but Time Being is definitely that. These four Floridians have constructed an alternative to mainstream rap without being corny, overly cerebral, or pandering to the lowest common denominator.

---Sean Padilla

Artist Website: http://www.cyne.net
Label Website: http://www.mustdelicious.com

June 20, 2004

Park Avenue Music "For Your Home or Office"

With the advent of summer, it's time for music that's a blast of cool, blissful air. If the 'dream pop' movement of the early 1990s was good for anything, it was for the creation of music that's inherently cool and pretty, be it from loud guitars or pretty, trip-hop beats. Park Avenue Music is very much a standard bliss-pop band,and whammy-bar technique, all topped off quite nicely with some really gorgeous female vocals. Though there's been so much derision of this style, it's a style that doesn't suffer for deriviation; after all, if the music is great, then does it matter if the band might happen to sound like Lush or Portishead?

For Your Home or Office may as well be the band's recommendation for listening, as the six songs found here are pretty, inoffensive and relaxing. Over electronic bleeps and chilly, stoned-out beats, the duo of Jeannette Faith and Wes Steed share their vision of relaxation, and it feels...real...good. Throw in a little bit of jazz crooning and trip-hop, and you'll understand where these two are coming from. "How's your 401K?" is a silly title, but they ask this question because by song's end, you'll be so blissed out of your mind, you won't even remember having a 401K! You should also watch out for "The Mellow One"--it is as it says, and it's a very hypnotic, blissed out jewel that will send you into another state.

It must be said that there's nothing on this little record that threatens or innovates beyond any records by Bjork or The Cranes, but the music is pretty nonetheless, and I think that's all that Park Avenue Music is wanting to do--give you pretty music. In that case, mission accomplished!

--Joseph Kyle

Label Website: http://www.clairecords.com
Artist Website: http://www.parkavenuemusic.com

June 18, 2004

Summer at Shatter Creek "Sink or Swim"

When I receive a record for review, I try my best not to read other reviews, because I feel it's my duty as a reviewer to offer you my unadulterated opinion. I even tend to avoid reading the press packets, unless it's a band that really strikes my fancy or interesting or I just happen to be bored at the moment. As editor, I want to give you my impression of a record. But, being human, sometimes I slip up, and I did so for this record. It was accidental, I swear; I really wasn't paying attention to what I was reading, but I hadn't really paid attention to the fact that I'd received it, either. So I read a review, and then I read another. Repeat as necessary. I wasn't intending to stray...it just...happened. Forgive me, please.

I soon discovered that everybody's saying the same thing about this record, and, damn it, I have no other choice than to serve to add to the critical Greek chorus. This little limited-edition disc is, as stated in the liner notes, "stripped down versions from the full length due fall 2004." And, of course, I have to say what everybody else has said: DON'T TOUCH THESE SONGS! These five songs are all piano-based, and they're all...really, really sad. Not sad in a 'oh, woe is me' kind of way--sad in a classy, respectable melancholy kind of way. Shatter Creek mastermind Craig Gurwich's voice falls somewhere between Mark Kozelek and Thom Yorke, and this is a good thing, because he writes really moving little songs. Though everything on Sink or Swim is equally touching, I'm most moved by "Rebecca," due in part to some really great vocals that are enhanced by echoes. I might add that this record sounds like what Kid A or Amnesiac could have been as well as what Coldplay will soon be.

This is a really moving little record, and it's one worth the trouble to find. Like the other reviewers, I'm puzzled at how Craig could possibly improve on these songs. If he can do it, hey, more power to him, but as it stands these five little songs are five beautiful little jewels that are perfect because of their simplicity. Why change something when it ain't broke?

--Joseph Kyle

Artist Website: http://www.summeratshattercreek.com
Label Website: http://www.redderrecords.com

Sondre Lerche "Two Way Monlogue"

It's hard not to melt when you look at young Sondre Lerche, because he is a very attractive young man, and it's even harder not to swoon when you hear his lovely, gentle croon. His debut album came out of nowhere (aka Norway), impressing many and establishing this young man as a major talent worth keeping an eye on--and not just because he's a pretty boy. Not surprisingly, Two Way Monlogue arrived with one major question already waiting: would it be any good?

It's a valid question, of course. Luckily, the answer is a resounding yes. Lerche plays it safe, of course; instead of dramatically changing or experimenting with his style, he simply focuses on improving on the things that made Faces Down great: songwriting. Some critics have found fault with this, accusing Lerche of being nothing more than another singer/songwriter who has the benefit of a lot of publicity. It's a valid argument, of course--and one not without a certain amount of merit, too--but such dismissal is unfair, and it does nothing but diminish the fact that Lerche's a really good songwriter.

Just because you're using a simple formula for making music does not mean that the music you make is simple, and Two Way Monologue is an album that stands as a testament to the rewards of a visionary's simple style. Two Way Monologue is an album that's simply covered in simple hooks, easy-going melodies that are all arranged in some of the lushest melodies you'll hear all year. "A happy Nick Drake playing love songs in a busy, friendly coffeehouse on a bright blue cold Saturday morning in January" was what I though upon first listen, and that description hasn't changed one iota. From the sad "It's Over" and "Stupid Memory" to the jaunty, playful "On The Tower" and the jazzy Broadway-style Beach Boys-influenced "Wet Ground," Two Way Monologue is a wonderful dialogue between listener and artist, and you wouldn't really want it any other way.

"If you'd let me make one honest mistake/I'll try to change your mind," he sings, while accompanied to a lush guitar and string section that would make John Barry proud, and I'm reassured that Lerche is an excellent young songwriter with a bright future. Two Way Monologue delivers quite well on the promise of Faces Down yet gives you another round of promise for the future, and I think it's pretty safe to say that he'll deliver..

--Joseph Kyle

Artist Website: http://www.sondrelerche.com
Label Website: http://www.astralwerks.com

Tilly and the Wall "Wild Like Children"

All right... before reviewing the actual content of this CD, we have to get a little bit of discussion out of the way. This album is released on Team Love, a sister label to Saddle Creek, and there's a recording credit for Conor Oberst. I don't know about you, but those are red flags. If you've read the "letters to the editor" section on this site, you've seen that our great leader, Joseph Kyle, does not hold a high opinion of Mr. Oberst's work or the Omaha scene in general. (Not necessarily true; I just don’t care for Bright Eyes—ed) I agree wholeheartedly, but maybe for different reasons. Maybe it's just the natural way of things for me, my tendency to never drift away from the cutesy world of twee for long periods of time. Maybe I just can't connect with their oh-so-sensitive singer/songwriter vibes and their lack of a sense of humor. I think twee artists do sensitive just as well, and can be just as emotionally gripping. Maybe it's because the oh-so-sensitive vibes attract all the emo kids, and that makes my snobby anti-emo instincts. Maybe it's pure jealousy. I know I could be just as sensitive and make better music than those trendy-ass pretty boys, but I don't even try because doing sensitive music the wrong way can horribly backfire and make me a laughingstock.

Whatever it is, the only band out of that whole scene that I like is
Azure Ray. And maybe Rilo Kiley, but I only like a few of their songs.

But what of Tilly and the Wall?

They just might be the only twee band (or at least the only indie pop band) in the whole Saddle Creek scene. Listening to them, I almost manage to forget their associations with that impure clique (impure with the exceptions of Azure Ray and Rilo Kiley, of course).
Rather than sounding like a folky Bright Eyes wannabe outfit, Tilly and the Wall sounds like a boy-girl twee pop outfit. Their music is actually a little cute, and you can dance to it. Speaking of dancing, much of their percussion is provided by a tap dancer—and yes, she actually does tap to their songs when they play out. Danceability is just built into their music! It seriously works, and I love how it sounds.

But wait... would the Saddle Creek scene really associate itself with a band known for its fun and cutesiness?

Well, no. The music is one thing, but the lyrics are another. It's funny. Looking at the lyrics in the liner notes, it's amazing how they look a lot like they could be the lyrics to a Bright Eyes album. I'll give you some random lyrics to illustrate my point. For example, in the song, "One Perfect Fit", they sing, "One heart attack and you stumble lost into a light you make so brightly false, and I watch as blood spills down your arm and makes its way to me. So here I stand puddle under me trying to believe you're nothing nothing you seem. I just don't know." This bleak lyric complements a bouncy techno-pop drum machine beat and a blipping synth accompaniment. I could also offer you some lyrics from a track called "Reckless", which go, "Oh reckless, a boy wonder, so quite nose broken. Oh you're standing there, look tired as you're singing. And you're on fire, they're throwing punches. So backwards the landscape you thought you knew, it starts unwinding." The music on this one is acoustic guitar with the textbook Moog-ish synth that many twee bands employ, as well as the cool tap dancing percussion I mentioned before. So, as you see, Tilly and the Wall sounds like a twee pop band, but they're clearly graduates of the Saddle Creek school of lyric writing.

Surprisingly, I'm not repulsed. I don't connect with all the lyrics, but the twee sound and the tap dancing are preventing me fromdismissing Tilly and the Wall as just another contingent of foot soldiers in the unholy axis of evil that is the Saddle Creek scene. And maybe... just maybe... I don't want to admit to myself, but I actually like these lyrics. Maybe I'll end up becoming a closet Bright Eyes fan. Or not. That struggle is for me to resolve later on my own. Let's just say that I like Tilly and the Wall and recommend that you check them out for yourself because they're not just another Saddle Creek band.

--Eric Wolf

Artist Website: http://www.tillyandthewall.com/
Label Website: http://www.team-love.com/

June 17, 2004

The Arm "The Arm"

On May 1, 2004, Sean O’Neal had a date with destiny.

Before that evening, the Austin resident had already gained notoriety and renown in the city’s indie-rock community for many reasons. One of the most superficial was his puffed-up hairdo, which made him look like the missing sixth member of Duran Duran. Another reason was his infamous Whirl-Mart project, part goofy prank and part social critique, in which he and his cohorts wandered around local Wal-Marts with empty shopping carts until they got kicked out, all the while refusing to buy anything during the process. Then, there were his various musical exploits, most of which were partially vehicles through which he paid tribute to his favorite band, the Fall. One band, This Microwave World, had slight house music tendencies whereas his other band, the Arm, was a more straightforwardly rocking outfit. What both bands had in common was Sean’s vocal delivery, which patterned itself after all of Fall front man Mark E. Smith’s most recognizable traits. Sean shared Mark’s refusal to adhere to pitch and melody, his brash and hectoring tone, and his addition of the syllable “uh” to every other word in order to ensnare lyrics into his rhythmic grasp.

On May 1, 2004 the Fall came to Austin and played a great set on the outside stage at Emo’s. No one who knew Sean was surprised to see him standing right in front of the stage, rocking out to his favorite band, just a few feet away from another Sean whom you all know and love (ha!). After nearly a decade of hovering under the cultural radar, The Fall were slowly starting to regain their prominence in the American underground rock scene, and no one seemed to be more aware of this than Mark E. Smith himself. He had developed a habit of ending Fall shows by nonchalantly dropping the microphone in the audience, allowing his most rabid fans to finish the last song of the set for him as he walked off the stage. Most of the time, Smith didn’t bother to acknowledge the people reaching the microphone, simply letting it land wherever it landed. This time, though, was different…more premeditated. While his backing band churned out the two-chord riff to “Dr. Buck’s Letter,” Mark looked around for a specific audience member to hand the microphone to.

Sean O’Neal stood right in front of Smith, and he couldn’t have been in a better place at a better time. Mark looked directly at Sean and gave him the microphone. Sean then seized the opportunity to make musical history by “singing” “Dr. Buck’s Letter” from start to finish, doing a perfect impersonation of Smith that was more energetic and inspired than Smith’s own performance, to the visible amazement of the backing musicians. All of the time O’Neal had spent imitating Smith in his own bands had paid off. For four minutes, Sean BECAME Mark E. Smith…and did a better job at being Mark E Smith than the original! I think I can speak for Sean (yes, I know the guy and consider him a friend) when I say that he’ll remember his date with destiny for the rest of his life.

Here’s why the preceding anecdote should matter to you. If the Fall’s most recent album (which will be issued domestically this month) doesn’t sate your appetite for arty, tone-deaf punk rock, then the Arm’s eponymous debut EP should do the trick. It basically sounds like Mark E. Smith fronting Les Savy Fav, and even O’Neal is smart enough to admit his own artistic transparency in an excerpt from EP highlight “Song Automatic 1-2-3”: “Good evening…we are NOT the Fall! I speak/sing in calculated tones---a homage (the French call it ‘frommage’)---rather than take a new direction, just to get your attention!” Later on in the song he asserts, “Good artists make and great artists STEAL.” On the strength of these eight songs, Sean may have a point.

The EP kicks off with its most intense song “You’re a Winner.” It’s little more than two notes driven into the ground for 90 seconds by a fast, stomping 2/4 rhythm while Sean shouts through a distorted microphone about the apocalypse. The song instantly segues into “Get Down with the Death of the City,” a disco anthem in which none of the instruments play in the same key as the others. “Bright Young Men” is sung through the point of view of a musician caught up in the realization that his band sucks and that his audience consists solely of sympathetic friends. “D-Stressed” is a fragmented narrative about a businessman contemplating suicide. “Age of Consent” is an ominous and appropriately named castigation of would-be pedophiles. “Robots vs. the Arm” is like Terminator 2 in reverse, an ode to the human overthrow of machines instead of vice versa. The EP is sequenced incredibly well, as each song ends up being more sprawling and
anthem-like than the one preceding it.

It’s nice to know that O’Neal hasn’t just mastered MES’ vocal delivery. He’s also picked up both his mentor’s knack for interesting lyrical conceits and his tendency to assemble backing bands that play hard and tight enough to turn mind-numbing repetition and awkward dissonance into virtues. Congratulations, Sean, on a job well done. Now all you have to do is make 20 or 30 more albums of this quality before you can REALLY brag about being this generation’s Mark E. Smith and let some young buck with a weird hairdo finish your songs for you at shows…

---Sean Padilla

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

The Good Life "Lovers Need Lawyers"

Instead of struggling to quickly follow up last year's stunning Cursive album The Ugly Organ, Tim Kasher took the road less travelled and decided to focus on a new record by his excellent side project, The Good Life. Lovers Need Lawyers is a mini album that's meant to tide fans over until the next full-length Good Life album arrives this August. Some bands decide to release good if not lesser music right in advance of a new album, and that's the case with Lovers Need Lawyers.

The Good Life is a bit mellower in style than Cursive, though mellower does not always mean less intense. Cursive's style is an onslaught of emotions and punk-rock, but The Good Life is the opposite of that. Instead of going for bombast, Kasher is opting for a much gentler sound, one that's more roots-rock oriented, even if it's still quite poppy. Though the bands share members, the sounds the two bands make are quite different, and the only thing that really connects the two is Tim Kasher's distinctive singing.

All of the songs on Lovers Need Lawyers possess a folky, country quality that's not found in Cursive. Don't think that means that they've gone country, because these songs are quite upbeat and poppy in a way that reminds me a lot of Spoon, and it's not hard to think of Britt Daniel when you hear Kasher sing on "Entertainer" or "Lovers Need Lawyers." Best yet are the flourishes of keyboards and synths that spice up these songs; "Always a Bridesmaid" has some of the nicest piano I've heard in ages. (It also contains a Cure reference, too....which I guess is kinda like Cursive, but let's not go there.)

The songs on Lovers Need Lawyers are a bit of a side-step from Kasher's miserable, 'emo'tional style--heck, you can hear the smile on the man's face on several of these tracks--and, to be honest, the songs aren't particularly memorable. No matter, though; these songs create a glimmer of interest into The Good Life's forthcoming album, and it certainly shows that Kasher is a man who is a master of any musical style. Here's hoping he delivers.

--Joseph Kyle

Label Website: http://www.saddle-creek.com

Naim Amor "Soundtracks, Volume II"

*Snap, Snap*

Man, this guy's hep. His music is cooooollll, so hey, why don't we go back to my love grotto, get into the groove of this record, and see what else we might get. Let's slip out of these black turtlenecks and into a dry mart....

Oh, sorry about that...See, I'm really getting into the vibe and the vibes of Naim Amor's Soundtracks, Volume II. This record is really a synthesis of everything that's been cool for the past fifty years. Amor is a talented instrumentalist who has collaborated with Calexico and has released many of his own solo records, though this is the first time I've heard his work outside of his Calexico collaboration, ABBC. It's no matter, though, because upon first listen, you'll realized you've heard Amor before.

Where have you heard him? Let's list them, shall we?

--When you hear "While They Were Happy," you're listening to cool jazz from the 1950s, a la Modern Jazz Quartet.
--When you hear "Naima," you're listening to a straighforward cover of John Coltrane's hit from the early 1960s.
--When you hear "Tap Room," you're listening to any number of movie and/or Love Boat soundtracks circa 1970s
--When you hear "The Flag" or "Dawn," you're listening to the same ideas that came from Jon Hassel or Harold Budd in the 1980s
--When you hear "Le Tropicana Club" or "Jon Le Falmbeur," you're listening to indie-rock jazz a la Tortoise, The Coctails or and/or Sea and Cake

Really, that's it. The rest of the album sounds like a mixture of all of the above, and it sounds really...good. Soundtracks, Volume II is a record that's simply cool. It could be John Barry. It could be Morricone. It could be Stereolab. It could be anyone who does anything good, and Amor's done something good here. The album promises to be the soundtracks for films never made, and it's certainly that; each of these songs has a really relaxing, pleasant and simple rhythm that could fill any number of scenes in any number of films. That he's asked his friends from the Tuscon area to join him only gives his already brilliant ideas even more brilliance--do you think Calexico is the only talent in town? Hardly.

That Soundtracks is Amor's second volume of mellow jazz-rock implies that there's more on the way, and I hope so, because this little, too-brief record is simply ear candy that deserves to be heard. Not too snobby, not too elitist, Soundtracks Volume II is music for the masses. Not that it's made for them, but the masses sure could use a relaxing musical balm such as this. Enjoy and ignore at your own peril.

--Joseph Kyle

Artist Website: http://www.amormusic.com
Label Website: http://www.giantsand.com

June 15, 2004

Leaving Rouge "White Houses"

White Houses is an EP that finds Leaving Rouge in transition. On the website, Leaving Rouge leader Sean Hoen has stated that this lineup of the band is no more, and that the band is currently moving in new directions and new dimensions. Having not heard their previous album, I really couldn't tell you how much of a transition White Houses is from their debut, but the five songs on this little record are quite nice. There's an awkward feeling to the songs, though; the band seems off in a way that's inexplicable--or maybe, because we know this current phase is no more, it just feels 'off.' The only moment where the band falters musically is "Like Rome," which is a bit of a rocker, and it doesn't really flow with the mellow sadness of the rest of the record.

Still, the fact that the band's changed shouldn't distract from this EP's beauty. There's a quiet, graceful dignity to White Houses, a bleak atmospheric sound that's not unlike Elliott's last album. "Raise Your Love" sounds like a long-lost outtake from My Morning Jacket's It Still Moves, which is a good thing. My favorite on here would be "In Your Twilight," which shimmers like a snowy field illuminated by moonlight. Who knows where the band will go from here; apparently, we listeners should consider White House a snapshot of a brief point in this young band's life. If this is a mere snapshot, then I have to say I'm eager to hear where they go from here.

--Joseph Kyle

Artist Website: http://www.leavingrouge.com
Label Website: http://www.downpeninsula.com
Label Website: http://www.greydayproductions.com

Jay Bennett "Bigger than Blue"

It didn't stop him for long, though. He started work on his next project with Edward Burch, an ambitious (and so far incomplete) three-album series called The Palace At 4 AM (Part 1). His ambitions haven't stopped there, either; Bigger than Blue is supposedly his first solo album of three this year as well. It's good to know that Bennett hasn't allowed the setback of being forced into this role of being a rejected musician in another band's success story hold him back. If what I've heard so far of Wilco's new record is any indication, then Bennett's role in Wilco and the making of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot was much larger than anyone will admit.

Bigger Than Blue could be divided into two distinctive sides. Side one, consisting of the first five songs, are much more traditional songs, similar in style to his previous work with Edward Burch. These songs are pretty, mellow and a little sad; all of them highlight Bennett's deep, smoky croon, though on "Charming and Plastic" he sounds like a country version of Elvis Costello. Of course, on "Let's Count our Losses," Bennett wins my heart by use of some really fine slide guitar, and these songs are very fine singer-songwriter fare. Together, these first five songs are nice, but they just don't feel right collected together--something feels off about them.

The second half is a lot more diverse, but it's also quite problematic. There's not one singular style to describe these songs, as they range from classic rock ("It's Hard") to experimental rock ("Reasons For You To Love Me (Cars Get Crushed)") to jazz ("Songs That Weren't Finished") to twangy country ("Outside Looking In") and moody, atmospheric folk-rock. It's a bit of a shock, really, because the first half of the album didn't stray at all from its set style. It's not that these songs are bad; they're just different. The only low moment, "Reasons For You To Love Me (Cars Get Crushed)," is a song that stops and starts and skips and at first I wasn't sure that it was a defect on the disc, but it's the song that raises the most curiosity, because it contains "lyrical contributions by Jeff Tweedy."

Dividing these styles creates an uneven feel, which might make you prone to listen to one 'side' or the other. Perhaps this was his intention, to create these distinctive album sides. I don't know if this is the case, but this is but a minor quibble. Bennett's a major talent, and though the album feels a bit off, it doesn't take away from the fact that he can write a great song, and Bigger than Blue is a collection of great Jay Bennett songs. This is the first of three solo albums this year, and despite this album's flaw, I'm still eagerly awaiting his next album.

--Joseph Kyle

Artist Website: http://www.jay-bennett.com
Label Website: http://www.undertowmusic.com

LA Tool and Die "fashion for the evildoer"

Jesus saved me at the record show. Said indie rock is the way to go. With folded arms and vacant stares. Shoegazing kiddies that just don't care.

So Jesus said "I will save them all". Between the sets in a bathroom stall. Twee kittens, punkers, and emo, too. I saved Elf Power and I'll save you.

And I don't care if you whine or rock. If you play Fender or Rickenbach(er). Just get on stage and go make some noise. For indie girlies and indie boys.

Those are lyrics from "Jesus Saved Me at the Record Show", the first track of the debut L.A. Tool and Die album, Fashion for the Evildoer. There you have what just might be an updated version of "Gimme Indie Rock". Just like the Sebadoh classic, you have an indie band temporarily detaching itself from the scene as a whole and singing a reverent, yet sarcasm-tinged tribute to it. Any band who can write a witty meta-indie rock song like this must be something special, right?

Well, I don't know that's necessarily true, but L.A. Tool and Die is something special. History will not recognize them to be the sort of groundbreakers that Sebadoh was, but they've certainly managed to be at least a little unique. Se, what's innovative about L.A. Tool and Die is that they seamlessly combine classical music influence with traditional twee pop motifs; they're like Tullycraft with a bassoon player. In fact they do have a bassoon player, in addition to the standard guitar, bass, drums, and synth. Besides that, they use a harpsichord sound on a couple of their songs. I don't think I've heard a band that sounds quite like them.

Lyrically, they're probably one of the cutest, most sugary all-male bands that you'll ever hear. Their geekiness approaches that of Tullycraft, and their saccharine content approaches that of Cub or the All Girl Summer Fun Band. Right after "Jesus Saved Me at the Record Show", there's an instant sugar rush with "Galaxy High School", a song about a boy and a girl in love at a high school in space, which has the refrain, "Beep Beep Radio Man Play a song for me. And tell me that our love was meant to be." Then comes "I'll Give You Three", with the basic premise, "For every kiss you give me, I'll give you three." Besides that, there's a cover of the Sparks' "Eaten By the Monster of Love". If you've never heard that song, I'm sure you could still imagine how cutesy it is. They also have a little ditty called "The Bunny Song". In case you don't know, the bunny is the second most twee creature in the animal kingdom, after the cat, so you know that song has to be cute. And yes, there is a little reference in that song to the oft-used metaphor of the bunny's incredible libido.

And you want some geekiness? You'll definitely find it on the album's only breakup song, "Lucky For Me". In the chorus, they sing, "And it's really not cool, but I'll kiss you goodbye. And I'll help you pack your records, CDs, Tapes, & 45s." Only geeks think of dividing up the record collection in a time like that. In addition, there's the Nintendocore (or Ataricore?) "Game Over" at the end of the album, a song of video game addiction complete with references to Ms. Pac Man and Donkey Kong.

The only problems I have with this album are two songs that show off the band's perverted side. And if you didn't realize it before, L.A. Tool and Die is named after an industrial-themed '70s gay porn film, so it would be a surprise if they didn't have a perverted side. One song, "Flat on My Back", is about a down-on-his-luck delinquent who accepts his inevitable journey to prison by saying, "And yes, I'll be a good prison wife, you bet. So trade me for cigarettes." Maybe other people would really enjoy that song, but I don't have as much an affinity for sadistic humor as other people do. Besides that, there's a song about gay pedophilia called "Boy Hairdresser". Now, maybe this song is written from the point of view of a young girl, but considering the inspiration for the band's name, I doubt it. I don't know, but I just can't get into that song because the little space reserved in my heart for songs about gay pedophilia has been completely filled up by the Frogs' classic, "Baby Greaser George".

However, I can't hold those two songs against L.A. Tool and Die too much, because the rest of the album is perfect. At least, it's perfect for all the twee kittens. Perfect if you want some more sugar in your musical diet.

--Eric Wolf

Artist Website: http://www.latoolanddie.com/
Label Website: http://www.aajrecords.com/