November 30, 2004

Joe Anderl "Purple Hearts and the Typesetter"

Upon hearing the first notes of Purple Hearts and the Typesetter, you’d think that you were going to be listening to that crazy rock and roll music that’s so popular with the kids these days. While it sounds great, I’m still kind of in a somber mood due to the last compact disc I listened to (see the Mundane Sounds review of Southeast Engine’s “One Caught Fire”). As if Joe Anderl could somehow tell I’m sad and drunk at this point, the album miraculously switches gears by the second track, a wistful number played on a banjo. Sticking primarily to this theme throughout the remainder of the album, I’m really wishing I had more beer… even though I am aware that, at this point, it’d probably be a bad idea. The album’s production shines just as much as the songs do. Great guitar work, awesome backing vocals, Rhodes piano in all the right places…it’s as if Joe Anderl has figured out how to produce a tear in my beer. It doesn’t get much better. Well, yes it would. If I weren’t out of beer right now, things would be better. At least, they would be right now. Tomorrow morning, however, is another story.

--Kyle Sowash

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So L'il "Revolution Thumpin'"

Remember when, in the late Nineties, cultural pundits declared electronica the next big thing?

Yeah, I'm sure you're reminded constantly about that. I just had to bring that up, though.

Revolution Thumpin', the debut full-length from So L'il reminds me of those times, but not in a bad way.

So L'il is an electronic band, but you won't be hearing them at the next rave you might hypothetically go to, nor will your local IDM hipster be down with their groove. Revolution Thumpin' is not an album of repetitive dance grooves that you have to be on narcotics in order to appreciate for more than half an hour straight, and it's certainly not full of boring blip-bloopy noise that you'll have to pretend to like in order to make people think you have discriminating taste. Instead, So L'il has created a sophisticated electronic record, but with enough pop elements to keep it digestable. It's a great mishmash of pop, psychedelia, and trip-hop that pays homage to many of the great electronic acts of the '90s. It has the indiepop vibe of Land of the Loops, the rough sensuality and inventiveness of Tricky, and the funkiness of classic Massive Attack. Revolution Thumpin' certainly brings back to the days of the late '90s before hipsterdom almost totally spoiled electronic music for me.

Of course, some might think that my description of So L'il makes them sound like a cheap throwback to the past. Well, isn't most of today's electronic music just stuffed with '80s nostalgia? Anyway, rather than being a knock-off of the '90s sound, So L'il is picking up where they left off, trying to bring electronic music back in the direction it was going before '80s nostalgia and IDM took over. If you still think that they're just a cheap homage, the merits of the music itself prove otherwise. So L'il's beats are dope, both the male and female vocals are well done, and they do an excellent job at varying their musical arrangements and making every song sound different. Besides that, they manage to give songs titles like "I'm Bored, Wanna Fuck" and "Fuck Them Hordes of Aliens" and still come off as sophisticated.

If you think electronic music has gone too far back and needs to move forward a decade, So L'il are your new heroes.

--Eric Wolf

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Various Artists: Music From the OC Mix Two

Ah, the O.C. For the longest time, I avoided this show like the plague. I never was a fan of 90210 or Melrose Place or The Heights or any other night-time soap opera that FOX had to offer, mainly because I never let myself pay attention to the storyline. I was well aware that The O.C was playing great music on their show; as I understood it, Adam Brody’s character was waaay into Death Cab for Cutie. An interesting idea for a soap, but I’d managed to steer clear...until now.

See, my old lady is a big fan. She bought the DVD, and on Sunday, we watched about 8 hours of this show. Like any other soap opera, it sucks you in once somebody makes you watch it. It is for this reason that all throughout 2001, I planned my day around Passions. The O.C.’s plot is so bad it’s good. An attractive rich family adopts an attractive kid from the wrong side of the tracks, and he and his new attractive friends go to a lot of parties and get into a lot of trouble. He falls in love with his next-door neighbor, who is still hung up on her ex-boyfriend, who is, in turn, having sex with her psychotic mom. It’s so ridiculous..yet it’s enticing!

Thumbs up to this show’s music director. She makes such great use of music on this show; I recall a show last season that played “That’s the way we Get By” by Spoon during the opening credits. I bet she could make a great mix cd. Wait, she can! In fact, she released two of them on Warner: Music from the O.C. vols. 1 and 2. Apparently, volume two’s content is to be used during the second season. Songs from Death Cab for Cutie, Nada Surf, Interpol, the Killers, Beulah and more riddle this disc like a new generation indie rock girl’s Ipod. Like a good mix cd should, there isn’t a song on there I don’t like. Some I like more than others, i.e. Jem’s cover of “Maybe I’m Amazed”, and the Killers’ “Smile Like You Mean it” On a sidenote, this show is helping launch the careers of many bands. Millions of teeny-boppers tune in to this show every week, and they see that Seth Cohen listens to Death Cab for Cutie. They then go right out to BEST BUY and buy the cd. When Death Cab comes to town, they are first in line to buy the concert tickets, causing the show to sell out before the slackers get to buy their tickets.

While this new sudden popularity has alienated some of their fans who have been around since they were but a mediocre struggling indie rock band, they are now selling more records then they ever have before. To show how the times have changed, the short-lived My So Called Life (another popular teen soap) had a soundtrack, but I don’t remember the teenyboppers flipping out over Buffalo Tom or Archers of Loaf. When the Flaming Lips appeared on 90210, they slipped further into obscurity. The Walkmen are slated to appear on The O.C. this season. We’ll see what good fortune may come their way. So I guess I’m all for The O.C. after all. The show’s plot is addicting enough, and when you include music such as this, it’s must-see TV. Excuse me, I gotta go, I’ll be in front of the idiot box if you need me.

--Kyle Sowash

November 29, 2004

Red Eyed Legends "Mutual Insignificance"

Red Eyed Legends--led by Chris Thomson (Monorchid, Skull Kontrol, Circus Lupus, Ignition)--return with a new (and better sounding) EP, this record finds the band honing their style. While their previous release was simply too messy (rumor has it the record was EQ'ed and mixed wrong) to make any impression, Mutual Insignificance finds Thomson in fine--and familiar--form. Quirky, off-key and highly intellectual lyrics pepper the funky rock and organ-driven grind of his backing band, and the sound is, as usual for a Thomson band, lo-fi as hell and oddly danceable, too. You either love Thomson's style or you don't, and I've been hooked for a long, long time.. "Go-Go Girls" and "Cold In The Sun" are easily his best compositions since his Monorchid days, and the other song--especially the fun "Guilded Longhorn"--are good, if not lesser. Skip The High I Feel When I'm Low completely and come here for your Red Eyed Legends/Chris Thomson needs. A belated start to a potentially great band--though, if Thomson's past is any indication, you better jump on this train now, because the band won't last much longer!

--Joseph Kyle

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Various Artists "My Favorite Song Writers"

Emo as a genre is...well...let's not get into that debate, shall we? It's not really worth getting my blood pressure up, and besides, it's really a fruitless and pointless argument. (Not as pointless as what is and isn't 'punk,' mind you--that's always such an interesting debate. Please.) Regardless of the now-tired genre, I will still admit I have a thing for music that contains sincere emotional content; a good melody is always a good thing in my book and I've never denied a song's excellence, even if it is "emo."

Thus, I felt a little uneasy at the prospect of Five One Inc's latest offering, a compilation entitled My Favorite Song Writers. The premise of this is simple: get friends from indie-rock, punk and emo bands away from their normal outlets and have them write a song all on their own. A fair enough concept, and even though it was interesting, I was a little concerned; as the friends come from bands such as Pollen, No Knife, Hey Mercedes, Sparta, The Good Life and Pretty Girls Make Graves, I thought the 'emo' thing might run heavy throughout the album.

Surprisingly, stripped away from their bands, several artists do a quite good job of impressing this hard-to-impress critic. Tim Kasher's "Stranger Than Strangers" is a fascinating little computer-made number; it's sad in that breakup kind of way, but it's made up for by both excellent lyrics and interesting music. I liked "I'd Rather Be Wine Drunk" by Bob Nanna (Hey Mercedes, Braid) a little more than I thought I would. Two songs are instrumental noise collages, and two songs are sung in Japanese. The song that makes this compilation worthy, though, is Cave In's Stephen Brodsky's solo "Beautiful Break-Up." This guy, I swear, he's got the best understanding of the concept of 'atmosphere.' Cave In's an awesome band, but here, Brodsky's quiet singing and simple guitar accompaniment quietly roar louder than anything his band's done.

Though these songs are moody, sad and sometimes a little melodramatic, that doesn't take away from the fact that My Favorite Song Writers is an enjoyable little compilation, highlighting some of today's surprisingly better (and often unknown) songwriters.

--Joseph Kyle

Label Website:

November 26, 2004

Men in Fur "Men In Fur"

I first heard Men in Fur on the Way Things Change 7" compilation on Red Square Records. Their song on there, "Set Us Free", was written from the point of view of rabbits trapped in a laboratory, pining away for the green grass and warm sun of the outside world. When I heard that, I knew that Men in Fur was going to be something big, and I couldn't wait for their full album. And here it is. This CD is full of what the liner notes describe as "new wave songs about animals." But it's so much more than that. Rather than being an album-length vegan tweepop guilt trip, the debut Men in Fur CD is a loose concept album that mixes elements of science fiction and naturalist propaganda.

The science fiction element of the Men in Fur story is introduced on the first track, "The Messenger". From a city in outer space, where everyone speaks in poetry, this messenger came to remind the human race of what it used to be. Later in the album, "The Shepherd Song" elaborates on this theme, when a shepherd dreams of a time in the past "when animals and people got along, when birds taught children how to sing their songs, before a forge had ever made a sword, before our rights had turned into our wrongs." Another song, "Sister Moon" appears to document the time when the messenger's people left Earth in their rocketships, sung from the point of view of two people separated because one of them went on the ship and the other stayed behind.

The rest of the album contains all those aforementioned new wave songs about animals. "The Tiger Song" is about a sheep and tiger jealous of humanity's power of fire, and it humorously recounts their failures to build their own fire by rubbing sticks together. The cute singing of "baas" and "meows" on this song is worth this entire disc. "Elisa" is a moving song about a brother and sister abandoned in childhood who were raised by wolves. The lyrics are sung from the point of view of the brother, finally revealing to his sister why they're different from the other creatures of the forest ("Elisa, we are not wolves. Although we live in the woods, we're just a couple naked children. We are not animals"). Another highlight is "The Birds & the Bees", which is actually much more innocent than the title implies. Taken literally, the lyrics seem to be a love song that a bird and a bee sing to each other. (By the way, if you wonder how the animal songs are related to the sci-fi material, my guess is that they represent the parables and stories passed down by the messenger.)

Frankly, I love the concept of this album and I'm glad that Men in Fur had the ambition to lyrically aim high on this debut. I think they hit the target, managing not to seem too pretentious (a charge often levied at pop concept albums), but also managing to be cohesive and dedicated enough to the concept to have a story for those who read into it. Besides that, the songs actually stand so well enough on their own that many could make great singles. And yes, the musical portion of this material is good, too. It's a warm mix of acoustic and electric guitars, tweepop keyboards, live and programmed drums, and some other electronics. While the lyrics are the big deal on this CD, there are a couple great musical moments that really stand out. I love the backwards guitars and bubbling sound effects at the beginning of "Sam the Salmon". And the noisy fuzz guitar solos on "The Monkey Song" and "The Snake Song" are incredible. They rock with a good amount of feedback, yet they don't disrupt the general tweeness of the songs... if that makes any sense to you.

Simply put, this is just an incredible CD, a successful tweepop concept album, and all tweepop fans should get it immediately. All fans of animals should check this one out, as well.

--Eric Wolf

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November 23, 2004

Southeast Engine "One Caught Fire"

Being nationally known for being a party town, there is no need to say that the beer flows like water in Athens, Ohio. Finally, Athens has a soundtrack to all that beer. Or at least something worthwhile to listen to while you’re drinking it. Southeast Engine’s songs about loves lost, smokin’ cigarettes, and being sad kind of make me sad. The songs are so well-written, and they’re arranged so’s really something. Southeast Engine falls somewhere between the sadder side of Spoon and the awesome song-craftiness of Wilco. The end of the year is approaching, and this is the first disc I’ve heard this year to really pull on my heartstrings. I’d like to see someone try to top this one. But first, let me make another beer run. I just drank my last six-pack.

--Kyle Sowash

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Saint Etienne "Travel Edition 1990-2004"

First things first, shall we? There's no way to capture the greatness of Saint Etienne on one disc. Like many of their influences (Beach Boys, Bacharach), one disc filled to the brim is only going to offer only the briefest of highlights, and someone somewhere will always grumble about the tracklist not being complete or fairly representative or missing one or two killer songs. (I unapologetically include myself in that category.) Considering Saint Etienne's prolific nature and their prediliction for obscure releases, it's not a real stretch to say that they're the indie/dance-pop equivalent of Guided By Voices. (I'd rather look at Sarah Cracknell, though!)

Greatest hits records do serve a purpose, though, and that's to either wrap up an excellent career or to introduce a band to an audience who might have missed them the first time around. To be fair, Saint Etienne's had a long, interesting career, but when it comes to America, they've spent more time flying under the radar than they have flying high in the pop charts. As Europe's much more varied and receptive to Saint Etienne's style, consider Travel Edition. 1990-2004 to be a wake-up call of sorts, a reminder that there are some really great pop bands that have thrived without any spotlight.

While I initially grumbled over the tracklist, I'm not that unhappy with it, because there's simply no way a pop-music lover could ever be unhappy with Saint Etienne. In fact, consider Travel Edition a nice little reminder of what makes them so special. Besides, when was the last time you heard their breakthrough "Only Love Can Break Your Heart?" Why, that's too long! Listening to it thirteen years later, it's amazing how fresh it still sounds. Heck, many of those early songs like "He's On The Phone," "Like a Motorway" and "Avenue" transcend dance-pop's curse of sounding dated. Later songs like "Sylvie," "Burned Out Car" and "Heart Failed In The Back of a Taxi" find the band maturing into a sound that's all their own while still retaining that pop element that made them so great in the first place.

Okay, so Travel Edition 1990-2004 might not satisfy this purist's needs, it does provide the one thing the younger generation needs: a proper American introduction to this really great (and sadly unappreciated) band. There are some really, really wonderful pop songs to be found, and though you'd need more than one disc to fully try to capture the genius of Saint Etienne, the utter brilliance of these songs make this compilation utterly necessary. (PS. The only other complaint I have is there aren't enough pictures of the gorgeous Ms. Cracknell!)

--Joseph Kyle

Artist Website:
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November 22, 2004

Slomo Rabbit Kick "Horatory Examinations EP"

I'm sure you're curious as to what kind of a band would call itself a name like "Slomo Rabbit Kick". The hilarity evoked by the mental image of a rabbit kicking in slow motion has motivated you to read this review, right?

Well, Slomo Rabbit Kick is a Washington indie pop band, the project of Jay Chilcote, formerly of the Revolutionary Hydra (another interesting band name). I'm not into the Revolutionary Hydra, but I dig Slomo Rabbit Kick. Slomo Rabbit Kick seems to me like the sort of indie pop band a graduate student would start, with intelligent lyrics and communist undertones (check out the cover art featuring a drawing of Asian female revolutionaries). So far, they've released one full-length, Bass Monster Lives In the Bass Forest. On this new EP, they retain the same basic sound they had on the album, which is new wave-tinged indie rock with some Make Up-style funkiness thrown in. Catchy stuff.

While Bass Monster had a little bit of filler, this time around Slomo Rabbit Kick just focus their efforts into five great songs. First is the very new wave "Two Timing", a catchy number with a little bit of Pavementesque abstractness in the lyrics. Verses like "All roads lead to Old Man River, all roads lead to the 70s. All dogs like to lick your face, all dogs like to stand while they pee." lead in to the perfectly straightforward chorus, which justifies the song's title: "I saw you watching me, you seemed to despise. But you're so attracted to me you'd compromise."

After that is "Smell Camino", a song from the soundtrack to a film that John Hughes never made. The second highest point on the EP, it's a very twee concoction evoking the very '80s image of an uncoachable, unapproachable girl with feathered locks who holds even the jocks in her thrall. The title is named after the type of car that she drives. Great female backing vocals on this one really sell it.
The middle song is "Man's Routine Is to Work and to Dream", a song about the futile predicament that many people seem to face, which is being stuck in a dead-end job that they can only pretend to like. I told you there were communist undertones. For me, this is very depressing subject material, but the arrangement, with awesome indie virtuoso guitar playing reminiscent of Dinosaur Jr., makes it easier to cope.

"This Long Parade", the fourth song, is worth the entire CD. According to the press release, this track, recorded and released before the presidential election, is based on a conversation with a "security mom" who wanted to vote for Kerry, but had misgivings. In the context of Bush's re-election, this song assumes a special poignancy. The lyrics reflect an scared electorate willing to support "this long parade of shameful carpetbaggers" to feel more secure, even though they know that it's really hurtful and counterproductive. With the outcome of the election, lyrics like "give the rich a tax break and tell the poor it's for their sake" and "happiness comes to those who have no fear, but there's a catch: cuz when you're god-fearing you have to fear everything" seem all the more powerful. It's like an indie pop version of the classic singing journalist style of Phil Ochs. Buy the EP just for this song. If you're a left-leaning college radio DJ, you'll want to play this song over and over again until America pays attention to the lyrics and realizes what a moron it has been.

The last track is "Pseudo-Science", a catchy piece of abstract lyrical ridiculousness. It's a good song, but with lyrics like "brandish your pseudo-science, proves a nasty reliance on the things you feel, your love is a banana peel", I guess it does sound trivial after the powerful "This Long Parade". Still, it ends the EP on a fun note. Besides, after these great fourteen and a half minutes, you'll definitely want to go back and listen to "Smell Camino" and "This Long Parade!"

--Eric Wolf

Artist Website:

November 05, 2004

Cake "Pressure Chief"

Cake defined their sound about ten years ago and have been fine-tuning it ever since. It’s hard to describe what that sound is…picture Blood, Sweat and Tears and Dr. Dre collaborating in the year 1992, and you’ll have something in the right ballpark. Upon first hearing them, I honestly didn’t think they would last, yet I secretly hoped they would. Thankfully, my prayers were answered, and Cake wound up having a successful musical career. Pressure Chief is the latest addition to their resume. While it’s not much of a departure from anything they’ve done in the past, the stuff is good. They have a knack for both making light of society via catchy hooks on songs as “No Phone” and “End of the Movie”. I like that a lot. However, with the exception of a couple songs, this album is a rather melancholy one for Cake. Gone are the fun numbers which riddled their previous releases, like “Going the Distance”, and “Sheep go to Heaven”, and present are slow ones like “Dime” and “Take it all Away”. Who would have thought that Cake could put out an album you could drink yourself to sleep to?
(I’ve always believed their album Prolonging the Magic, is one of the best break-up records of the 1990s—ed.)

--Kyle Sowash

Artist Website:

November 04, 2004

Conshafter "Fear the Underdog"

Bombco, a label that some Chicagoan friends of mine used to run, lived by a sarcastic but apt motto: “Indie-rock isn’t a sound; it’s a business model.” Let’s be honest, though. When most of this site’s readers hear the phrase “indie-rock,” they think of white guys with odd singing voices playing guitars and drums unconventionally and recording on cheap equipment. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with that --- THIS black guy will certainly fly the flags of Pavement, Sebadoh, GBV and Boyracer until he dies. Nonetheless, if one must get technical about it, any rock band that operates without the aid of major labels and/or corporations could be called “indie-rock.” Virginia quartet Conshafter definitely fits this looser definition, but even a cursory listen to their debut album Fear the Underdog gives their ambitions of mainstream success away. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with that either --- what band WOULDN’T want their music to reach as many people as possible? However, this band makes an unconvincing case for itself by emulating the styles of as many radio-friendly unit shifters as possible without adding anything of their own that could be considered distinctive or substantial.

Conshafter’s basic sound is what Weezer would sound like if their songs were played at Superchunk speed, with choppy power chords, a muscular rhythm section and an off-key lead singer whining on top of oodles of wordless background harmonies. It isn’t the most original sound on the planet, but it would be tolerable were it not for the endless supply of unforgivably bad lyrics and stylistic clichés. “Love Song Hypocritical” begins by bemoaning its own existence: “I know it’s sort of kind of lame. All these stupid love songs --- they sound the same!” However, self-awareness isn’t its own reward, and Conshafter don’t do anything to make the song stand out among the trillion others of its kind…four more of which appear on their own album! The lyrics of “Enjoy the View,” “Autopilot” and “Joey Ramone” are filled with rhythmic placeholders (“Wait for a second, I reckon, before you throw me out/I’ve got something to say, without a doubt”) and obvious internal rhymes (“Think it’s time for a change/Feel deranged, estranged and chained/And it all ends up the same”).

The band uses up every trick in its collective sleeve by the middle of the album. There are two tracks that begin with menacing spoken verses and climax in loudly sung choruses. There are four tracks that abruptly shift into disjointed breakdowns that sound nothing like the rest of the song, yet don’t make the song any better. Then, there are the ill-advised attempts to sound like completely different, yet equally popular, bands. “Springville,” a piano-driven song about small town decay, sounds like the band’s attempt to pull of a Rufus Wainwright. The even worse “Autopilot” is crammed with tired drum loops and turntable scratching. It sounds like the Dust Brothers remixing an Oasis outtake, which made it all the more shocking when I read that the song was co-produced by Keith Shocklee of THE BOMB SQUAD!!! Somebody needs to reissue the classic Public Enemy albums soon so that Shocklee won’t have to associate himself with bands this bad just to get a check.

The best thing that Conshafter has going for it is its rhythm section. Drummer Craig Nelson has an endless supply of cool fills, and bassist Rob Teague inserts some really tuneful melodies into otherwise excruciating songs. Singer Chris Konstantinos and guitarist Dave Cykert aren’t necessarily bad at their instruments, but I wonder how much better the band’s music would be if the other two guys wrote the songs instead of them. Unfortunately, Conshafter inspire pity more than they do fear. I know that they’re reaching for the brass ring, but right now they don’t have what it takes to become more than underdogs. This may be one of the blandest albums I’ve heard all year.

--Sean Padilla

Artist Website:

dizzee rascal 'showtime'

East London rap superstar Dizzee Rascal’s debut album Boy in Da
was such a breath of fresh air. I know that I wasn’t the
only one rabid enough about the CD to purchase a steep import of it in 2003, months before Matador released it domestically this past January. Boy in Da Corner was three years in the making, with at least one song (the single “I Luv U”) created when Dizzee was merely 16 years old. Traces of the MC’s youth appeared all over the album; Dizzee spent almost as much time being silly as he did issuing stark reports of ghetto reality. Times have changed, of course, and Dizzee’s sophomore effort Showtime reflects these changes, revealing a portrait of the artist as what Cedric the Entertainer calls “a grown-ass man.” Like Tupac, Biggie and many legendary emcees before them, Dizzee has developed a rep for sick lyrics, even sicker beats and a checkered past that threatens to catch up with him at any moment. This 19-year-old has lived through things that not even most superstars in his age group could fathom. Although Dizzee’s sense of humor hasn’t completely evaporated, his new album unsurprisingly finds him in slightly heavier spirits due to these experiences.

Many critics have already called Showtime an attempt to appeal to a broader, more mainstream audience. The lyrics are occasionally peppered with American slang (“word is bond,” “what’s really good”) and multiple allusions to Jay-Z. “Face” ends with an angry woman watching Dizzee on TV and begging someone to change the channel to a Jay-Z video, and closing track “Fickle” sports a sped-up soul sample a la The Blueprint. It also has to be said that none of the beats are as flat-out weird as, say, the gamelan-meets-garage hybrid of Boy in Da Corner‘s “Brand New Day.” Despite all of this, though, I am happy to report that said mainstream ambition proves unsuccessful. Dizzee’s thick accent (from his mouth, the word “paper” becomes “pay-paw”) will still render many of his words unintelligible to unprepared listeners, and the speedier rhyming style he adopts throughout the record doesn’t help matters much. Furthermore, at least half of the beats on this record are minimal and dissonant enough to make the Neptunes blush. (Be sure to peep the cybernetic Miami bass of “Stand Up Tall” and the synthesized sitars of “Learn.”) Calling Showtime a more mainstream version of Dizzee’s sound is almost like calling Quadrophenia a slightly less ambitious record than Tommy.

As insinuated in the previous paragraph, Dizzee’s skills have grown by leaps and bounds on this album. He’s slightly toned down his crackly squawking, and his delivery is crammed with hyper-kinetic syncopation and internal rhyme. Even when the beats are slow and menacing, as on “Graftin’” and “Respect Me,“ Dizzee raps in double-time. You’ll find none of the slow limericks of Boy in Da Corner’s “Vexed” here. Lyrically, Showtime‘s three main themes can be broken down as such: 1) The streets from which Dizzee came are still as gritty and grimy as ever, and 2) The list of closet haters and public enemies has grown since his rise to fame, therefore 3) Dizzee will hurt anyone who poses a threat to him without thinking twice.

“Graftin’,” “Get By” and “Imagine” fit under the first category, as they outline Dizzee’s internal struggle between transcending his upbringing and alienating the people he grew up with. “Hype Talk,” my personal favorite, addresses the various rumors that have sprung up since Dizzee’s ascension. It boasts both the album’s most memorable hook and a beat that sounds like it is running forward and backward simultaneously. “Face” addresses leeches who try to use him for his fame. On two songs (“Respect Me“ and “Knock, Knock“), Dizzee vows revenge against the unnamed man who stabbed him shortly before the release of Boy in Da Corner. Ironically, the threat on “Respect Me” is followed by a verse in which Dizzee pleads with his acquaintances to stop trying to drag him back into an illegal lifestyle. You can hear the desperation in his voice when he commands, “Stop that so I can do this!” “Knock, Knock” finds Dizzee ranting about promoters and bouncer who hassle him at his own shows, and audiences that consist of men who want to shoot him and women who ignore him. I’m not even going to count the number of songs in which Dizzee threatens an imaginary antagonist physical harm.

The two songs that stray furthest away from defensive braggadocio are sequenced right next to each other. “Dream” is a beat-less ditty that’s cheeky enough to sample Captain Sensible. The sample reeks of intentional treacle, but Dizzee counters it with a rap that thanks and encourages his fans with all of the sincerity he can manage. “Girls” is a typical ditty about having sex with gorgeous women in the club, but Dizzee manages to be lascivious without being misogynistic (Ludacris is one of the few American rappers who can pull this trick off). Also, “Girls” boasts a guest appearance from Marga Man, whose light, octave-leaping voice delivers some sorely needed comic relief. Judging from his contribution to this song, I look forward to hearing an entire full-length of Marga Man material.

Showtime isn’t a perfect record. First of all, a couple of songs suffer from hooks that aren’t up to the quality of the beats of the verses. Second of all, Dizzee created most of the album by himself in the studio, and it sounds like it. There aren’t as many guest appearances as there were on his debut. The solitude in the music and the paranoia in the lyrics occasionally make Showtime sound claustrophobic. These quibbles aside, the album is definitely an improvement over Boy in Da Corner, proving once and for all that the cross-continental hype attached to Dizzee Rascal’s name is completely justified. Discover his genius for yourself. The album’s available in the States NOW at a reasonable domestic price.

--Sean Padilla

Artist Website:
Label Website:

November 02, 2004

Cheval de Frise "self titled"

If you think that Hella is the final frontier of math-rock, have I got a surprise for you! Cheval de Frise is an instrumental duo from France that, on the surface, bears a couple of similarities to Hella. First of all, both bands are aptly named. The guys in Hella live up to their name (a slang adverb used to connote extremity) by playing their broken-metered riffs “hella” loud and “hella” fast. The guys in Cheval de Frise live up to theirs (which, although it means “Frisian horse” in French, is used in English to describe any spiky obstacle) by turning each of its songs into discursive journeys that aren’t always easy to listen to. Second of all, both duos consist of a guitarist and a drummer who have a chemistry and tightness that borders on telepathy. When listening to either band, I don’t even THINK about the absence of a bassist because I’m too busy wondering how they manage to keep up with each other. Both duos sound so close to spinning out of control that the addition of another instrument would most likely push their music into total chaos.

However, Cheval de Frise carve out their own niche in an increasingly cluttered sub-genre through a mastery of texture and timbre. Thomas Bonvalet uses an acoustic guitar instead of an electric, a strategy that reaps dividends on many levels. For one, his choice of guitars underscores his sheer technical mastery of the instrument. Most guitar geeks will agree that it’s harder to play well without amplification, Bonvalet’s ability to do tricks that most guitarists would need electricity and distortion (which Bonvalet uses rather sparingly) to accomplish supplies the requisite “wow” factor that even the least egotistical math-rockers strive for. Playing acoustic allows the band to execute dynamic changes that most musicians can’t when they’re playing with amplification due to compression. On many songs, the band’s dynamic shifts are smooth enough to sound like engineered fadeouts. Bonvalet’s playing style is just as percussive as comrade Vincent Beysselance’s drumming, which makes the duo’s rhythmic lockstep sound positively effortless. Vincent’s no slouch himself --- he has the ability to wring a nearly infinite array of tones from his cymbals, and his jazzy yet firm grip on the endlessly shifting meters posits him as a kinder, gentler counterpart to Hella’s Zach Hill.

By no means are Cheval de Frise neophytes --- their first two albums were recorded in 2000 and 2002, respectively, but neither of them hit American shores until earlier this year. Their self-titled debut is the more energetic and raucous of the two. Opener “Connexion Monstrueuse Entre un Objet et Son Image” begins with strumming so hyperactive that the guitar sounds like it’s being run through a delay pedal (although it isn’t); the drums later follow suit with equally stuttered rhythms. From that point onward, the song goes through more changes than most bands put on entire albums: metallic drop-D riffs, Gastr del Sol-style meandering, pointillist finger-tapping, etc. “Constructions d'Écorces d'Arbres” is dissonant enough to suggest being composed in “just intonation.” Its rhythmic accents are so lopsided that even when the band’s playing in 4/4 it feels like they aren’t. The contrapuntal finger-picking on“Incliné et Chenu” sounds like an out-of-tune harp. Throughout the album, every strange riff that Bonvalet ekes from his guitar is matched by an equally outlandish rhythm from Beysselance.

The duo’s second album, Fresques Sur Les Parois Secretes du Crane, is a more even-keeled distillation of the group’s sound. The production is damper here than on their debut, with more reverb filling in the open spaces. There are more moments of quiet nothingness; the changes in key, meter and volume aren’t as frequent, which makes tham sound slightly more violent when they actually occur. On this record, both musicians seem a bit more eager to use their instruments as noise generators. For instance, the midsection of opener “Lucare des Combles” sounds like a factory of broken watches, and the grinding slides that Bonvalet makes on his fret board can make unsuspecting listeners seasick. Later on in the record, “Deux Nappes Ductiles” finds Bonvalet bending his strings so subtly that his guitar sounds like it’s being run through a chorus pedal (although it isn’t), and on “Songe de Perte de Dents” his palm-muting technique makes his instrument sound like an orchestra of plucked violins.

Whereas the self-titled record sounds like two musicians trying to outdo each other, Fresques is Bonvalet’s show, with Beysselance restraining himself in order to follow the guitarist’s lead. That’s not the real surprise, though. On the title track and “Phosphorescence de l'Arbre Mort,” Cheval de Frise are augmented by a third musician. Simon Quinoillant, who contributes bowed drones and tape manipulations that sound like anything from hurdy-gurdies to howling cats. The result sounds like a jam session between Storm & Stress and Pelt. The combination shouldn’t work, but it does, mainly because Bonvaley and Beysselance step back and let the drones take center stage. In fact, these two songs leave me hoping for more collaborations with Quinoillant on future releases. The songs on Fresques are spacious and deliberate enough to withstand additional instrumentation without sounding cluttered, which can’t be said for those on their debut.

Overall, both Cheval de Frise albums are proof that subtlety doesn’t have to be anathema to math-rockers. If I’d have known about Cheval de Frise during the era of “freedom fries,” I’d have tried to use their music as a catalyst for cross-cultural unity. Somebody tell those guys that all is forgiven, and that they should tour here soon!

---Sean Padilla

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November 01, 2004

Malachai "These Sounds of the Spirit World"

Lexington, Kentucky native Malachai (pronounced ‘mala-cha’) a.k.a. Mike Fossum brings you 14 tracks of snarky, lo-fi indie pop reminiscent of Sebadoh, Guided By Voices, and early Beck. To put it simply: the man’s short on songs and even shorter on humor, the latter of which he uses amply to make up for the lack of memorable songs. “O’Amy” is a great Sebadoh-inspired tune, while the Gary Wilson-ish “Draw These Legz” is a fantastic little synth-driven number that brings the personality and hooks in spades. But it seems that it’s all downhill from there for Malachai as each successive track descends into irritating frat boy humor (“I just got to get in your business/Like Harrison Ford did to Kelly McGillis” goes “Who-Shot”) and bland, hookless mid-90’s indie rock. Even worse is the group’s embarrassing Har Mar Superstar-like attempts to incorporate hip-hop (“Love A Man”) into the fray. My suggestion for Malachai would be to leave the 3rd bass and Superchunk records in the garage and focus on writing some decent songs instead.

--Jonathan Pfeffer

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Gunshy "No Man's Blues"

An artist's voice can often be a factor that makes or breaks a band. Some artists have such a unique sound that, though grating at first, can often grow on you--think Stephin Merritt, Nick Cave or Will Oldham. Some artists possess a singing voice so wonderful that they can sing any crap (and often do) because they can, and they'll make said song sound totally, utterly beautiful--witness Scott Walker, Marc Almond or Jeff Buckley. Some artists sing in voice of such unique quality--like Joanna Newsome, Danielson Famile or Jandek--that you're polarized instantly.

I mention this because the first--and most overwhelming--thing you'll notice about The Gunshy is Matt Arbogast's voice. It's say the least. It's extremely rough. It's extremely gruff. At times, I can't tell if he's singing or if he's grunting, because his music is listen to. Going for a rustic country sound, with a little bit of folk and a hint of Dylan, No Man's Blues is a record of painful songs sung by a voice that's painful to listen to. Seriously, it was difficult listening to songs like "Congratulations" or "Stories" because his voice is just so overwhelming rough and harsh. Sure, it's one thing to have a gravel-rough voice, but it's an entirely different matter to sound like a pile of rocks.

Complicating the matter is that a. the songs themselves are really good and b. the musical accompaniment is even better. I wonder what "I Will Die Alone" and "Breakin' Some Bad Habits" would sound like with different vocals. Those songs are quite pained and touchingly wonderful, but they're hard to listen to due to the vocals. The backing musicians are quite excellent, too; the accompaniment is quite varied and accomplished, too--with banjo, flute, acoustic guitars, strings, harmonica and piano. And, to be fair, when he tones down his vocals on "Mistaken" and the title track, the results are quite excellent and rewarding. When he doesn't tone down his voice...well...

I don't know how tolerant you may be towards really rough singing, so be warned: No Man's Blues is a rough patch. Complex and pained, The Gunshy's music isn't for everyone, but if you like rough, painful songs written by a man with an even rougher singing voice, then you might find something to love here.

--Joseph Kyle

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