August 31, 2004

Colin Clary "Her Life of Crime"

Hey, did you know that there's a big music scene in Vermont?

Yeah, neither did I.

Before I heard the Smittens, Vermont didn't even register a blip on my musical radar. I had heard James Kochalka Superstar, but was very unimpressed. But yes, there's even more to Vermont than the Smittens or James Kochalka. The Vermont scene seems to have a collective nature akin to that of the old Elephant 6 scene. Members of bands like My First Days on Junk, The Magic Is Gone, and Dialogue For Three frequently share members in the same way that the classic Elephant 6 bands did, or perhaps even moreso.

And that leads us to Colin Clary and the Magogs. The Magogs are Jason Routhier, Steven Williams, and Hannah Wall. Jason and Steven have played together in My First Days on Junk (along with Colin, in fact), a Burlington-area shoegazer band. Hannah Wall sings in My First Days on Junk, as well as Dialogue For Three, an indie (but not really twee) pop band. Finally, in case you didn't know, Colin Clary is one of the most prolific and visible figures in the Vermont scene, having been in several bands and currently playing in a few others, including My First Days on Junk and the Smittens. Besides that, he records solo material under his own name.

Based on what I've heard of the Vermont collective (I was able to find MP3s of My First Days on Junk and Dialogue For Three before writing this review), Colin Clary and the Magogs is a different project than anything else in which the band members are involved. This is twee pop, but not necessarily in the same vein as the Smittens. The Smittens have a cutesy vibe that gives one the feeling that they could be made into a cartoon, like a modern, bisexual version of the Archies. Colin Clary and the Magogs are still very cute and bubblegum, but they seem a little more serious. It's like the difference between the All Girl Summer Fun Band and the Softies (with the Smittens being analogous to the AGSFB and the Magogs being analogous to the Softies), if that makes any sense. Another difference between the two bands is that Colin Clary and the Magogs sound less amateurish with their song arrangements and production (and don't take that as insult to the Smittens, as amateurishness is often considered an endearing quality and not a liability in the indie world). The Magogs put the string, organ, and bell patches on their synths to great use, layering them with the guitars and vocals in just the right way to make it sound professional. The Magogs did all the production themselves, though, so chalk this one up as a victory for DIY.

But yes, even though Colin Clary and the Magogs are quite sophisticated, they are still very much a cute, twee band. For evidence, just listen to "Pet Sound", on which Colin and Hannah play the parts of a boy and girl contemplating the possibility of a relationship and "making out to the Beach Boys" and "sleeping later on Sunday because [they're] going to a show". Or else, there's "Moped Rally", a very light song about the friendship of people who identify with each other through their mopeds, complete with "beep beep" sound effects. And there's also "I Only Give You Bad Advice Because I Love You", which begins with the words, "If you want a sundae, I'll give you a sundae. If you want a Monday, I'll be there." I thought that was a cute instance of wordplay.

Besides the twee lyrical content, another reason why I love this album so much is the aforementioned Hannah Wall, who sings backup vocals on almost all of the songs. Sure, Colin's name is on the CD, but I think that Hannah gives a star performance on this CD. As far as I know, Hannah hasn't been in any musical project as twee as this, but she shines on this CD, and her lead vocals in the second verse of "Pet Sound" are precious. I wish she would do tweepop more often. She could be a second string Smitten and fill in if Dana Kaplan (lead female vocalist for the Smittens) gets injured for some reason. If there's a sequel to this CD, I hope that Hannah gets to sing lead for at least a couple full songs.

Anyway, to wrap this up, I'll just say that this is a great album, and if you're a fan of Colin Clary, the Smittens, or great tweepop in general, you'll want to have it.

--Eric Wolf

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