January 31, 2005

The Perishers "Sway"

Ah, another European pop band we're only learning about after a year of critical acclaim! The Perishers are a really great little pop band from Sweden, and they make pretty, sensitive pop music that's not unlike Coldplay and Radiohead. You know the drill--beautiful, atmospheric rock that's indebted greatly to OK Computer and songs that are sung by a breathless falsetto choirboy singer. Well, let's just say that lead singer Ola Klüft has the goods to deliver the goods. Cynicism aside, all five of these songs are really great, three of which, "Sway," "My Heart" and "Trouble Sleeping" will appear on their American debut record, Let There Be Morning. Personally, I'm most fond of the song "Trouble Sleeping" (with its rhythm that's not unlike "Karma Police") and the B-Side "When I Wake Up Tomorrow," which seems to build off of "Freebird," but all of these songs are quite pleasant and intelligent and poppy and nice and I can't help but give this little EP a good grade. I can't wait to hear that new album!

--Joseph Kyle

Artist Website: http://www.perishers.nu
Label Website: http://www.nettwerk.com

The Nein "The Nein"

The Nein are somewhat of a supergroup. Featuring members of Steel Pole Bathtub, White Octave and Milk Cult, this North Carolina foursome make music that sounds almost exactly as you’d expect from a band with such a pedigree-loud, dark post-punk that’s very much in line with (and indebted to) the late-80s/mid-90s East Coast indie-rock scene. Upon listening to The Nein (a remixed/expanded version of their self-released EP, Twelve Thirteen Fourteen, you will be reminded of Jawbox, Burning Airlines, Fugazi and Sonic Youth-but only in a good way.

The Nein is worthy of your attention just for the excellent “Handout,” which will take you back to 1994. For a band that’s somewhat discordant, that song’s quite poppy, and if like me, you’ll be grooving to it instantly. They do have a groove to them, as you’ll hear on the upbeat “War Is on the Stereo” and “House Atreides.” Other songs, like “Five Distinctions” and “Giorgio,” are a bit slower and somewhat plodding, but they’ve all got an undeniable groove to them that will make you want to listen to them again. Lead singer Finn Cohen sings with a style that’s detached yet interesting; sure, he does sound a bit like Thurston Moore and J. Robbins, but that’s quite okay; even though the similarities are there, they’re never heavy enough to make you dismiss The Nein as imitators. Instead, you should consider them torch-bearers of a style that never quite received the credit it deserved.

The Nein is a welcome reissue, and if this little record is any indication, then their forthcoming full-length debut Wrath of Circuits will be an impressive record.
--Joseph Kyle

Artist Website: http://www.thenein.com
Label Website: http://www.sonicunyon.com

Hothouse Flowers "Into Your Heart"

For a very brief time in the late 1980s, Irish artists seemed to be the 'next big thing' in the American music scene. Because U2 had such a huge success with The Joshua Tree, it seems as if labels rushed out to find the next big act in this pseudo-trend. Artists who had always been at the fringe of the music world suddenly found themselves poised for greatness, and records by The Pogues, The Chieftans, The Waterboys and Sinead O'Connor suddenly received a great deal of attention. One of those bands was The Hothouse Flowers, and even though they released some really good records, due to the arrival of Nirvana, their American success was not to be.

But now is now and then was then and Cobain's legacy is largely forgotten, and the Hothouse Flowers have returned, sounding smoother and better than ever. Into Your Heart sounds like a continuation of a long, fine career and not at all like a band returning after several years of silence. From the first moments of album opener "Your Love Goes On," you'll understand exactly what it is that attracted the label war for the Hothouse Flowers all those years ago. Lead singer Liam O Maonlia has a croon that sounds exactly like Bono, minus his bombastic singing style, and the band's style of pop never grows too bland. Indeed, like a fine whiskey, the Hothouse Flowers' style is smooth, warm and ultimately filling.

Even though it's only brief, It's the use of the Dublin Gospel Choir that makes Into Your Heart quite enjoyable. Even though they never get particularly joyous and they only appear on two songs, it's the use of extra voices accentuates the excellent lyrics in a subtle, meaningful way. The songs "Hallelujah" (not the Leonard Cohen/Jeff Buckley masterpiece) uses it to full effect, even though the choir only appears on the "hallelujah" chorus. The thickness that the choir adds to those two songs can be felt throughout the rest of the record, and after listening, you could mistakenly think they were on nearly every song! Whether it's the jazzy, piano-based "Feel Like Living" or the country-rock flavored "Alright"or the relaxing Sunday-night coffee bar-pop style of "Santa Monica" or "Tell Me," Hothouse Flowers' style is always appealing.

Into Your Heart might not be the most original-sounding record, but what the Hothouse Flowers do, they do well, and the album's nothing more and nothing less than a fine collection of sensitive, well-written and well-arranged pop songs. In the past year, lots of notable bands from a decade ago have returned, and the quiet, hidden jewel of Into Your Heart shows that their reunion was quite worthy and their return quite rewarding.

--Joseph Kyle

Artist Website: http://www.hothouseflowers.com
Label Website: http://www.redeyeusa.com/eleventhirty

January 27, 2005

Shearwater "Thieves"

Austin, Texas' Shearwater follow up last year's critically regarded Winged Life with a brief--yet quite substantial--five song EP. Thieves continues to tread the depths of melancholy, but with only five songs, it's a very focused, poignant portrait of the darker, sadder sides of life. From the gentle, lethargic pulse of "You're the Coliseum" and the gorgeously dark Jeff Buckley-esque "There's A Mark Where You Were Breathing," (with Jonathan Meiburg's best vocals to date) Shearwater haven't lost that no-lovin' feeling. In spite of those sadder moments, the upbeat rhythms of "Near A Garden" and "Mountain Laurel"--both of which contain some rather nice country pickin'--keep Theives from being a downcast pity party. Thieves is a nice little postcard from the edge, showing that the band's depths are growing and it shows that Shearwater is quietly becoming more than merely a 'side project.'

--Joseph Kyle

Artist Website: http://www.jound.com/shearwater
Label Website: http://www.misrarecords.com

Various Artists "Substitution Mass Confusion: A Tribute to The Cars"

Maybe I'm getting old, but I've been rather sad to see The Cars slip off into obscurity. They were an essential band of my youth, one I loved quite openly, but as the years have passed, it seems as if they've been forgotten. That's a shame, because they wrote some really, really wonderful songs. Hits like "Magic," "You Might Think," "My Best Friend's Girlfriend" and "Just What I Needed" were songs that showed a great deal of depth, and it's a sad testament to how far pop music has devolved when, in less than twenty years, such intelligent pop music became an old-fashioned relic. Great bands shouldn't be forgotten, and it's sad when they are.

Still, now is neither the time nor place to go on a rant about 'the good old days,' but I've got to give Not Lame credit for their Cars tribute album, Substitution Mass Confusion. Enlisting twenty-one bands (most of which are power-pop bands) to take on the back catalog of Ric Ocasek sounds like a fun idea, and for the most part, the bands do an excellent job of interpreting these classics. Many of the bands are obscure, but don't let that scare you off; almost all of these interpretations are excellent.

The takes on their classic hits achieve varying levels of success; Damone's girl-sung version of "Just What I Needed" is fresh and faithful, as is Bleu's take on "You Might Think" also retains the energy of the original. Others interpret the songs quite differently; Butch Walker's "My Best Friend's Magic Girlfriend" is a dirge-like medley that doesn't work at all, PurrBox's valley-girl take on "Shake it Up" is merely OK, but The Daybirds' "Good Times Roll" turns the song into a slightly pschedelic, "Strawberry Fields Forever"-style ballad, which is just amazing.

While the band's hits are somewhat sacred, it's the lesser-known numbers which impress. Spiraling's "Bye Bye Love" is impressive, because not only is their rendition faithful, it also shows The Cars' influence, as it sounds like an outtake from Spiraling's debut. The Argument's "Hello Again" is a fast, meaty rocker; The Millions' "You're All I've Got Tonight" and Action Action's "Tonight She Comes" are all so good, you'll want to rush off to the record store to get the original versions of these great songs. (Besides, every music-loving home needs a copy of The Cars and Heartbeat City.)

And isn't that the point?

Substitution Mass Confusion is a surprisingly fresh, interesting and fun listen--much more than you would imagine from a tribute record. If you've never heard The Cars, go buy a greatest hits record instead, because you need to get educated. If you have heard The Cars, Substitution Mass Confusion will make you want to pull out Candy-O again. (The record is also a benefit for the American Cancer Society, in memory of founding member Benjamin Orr, who passed away from pancreatic cancer in 2000.)

--Joseph Kyle

Label Website: http://www.notlame.com
Record Website: http://www.notlame.com/thecars
Organization Website: http://www.cancer.org

Echo Is Your Love "Paper Cut Eye"

Over the course of seven years, Finnish quintet Echo Is Your Love has progressed from being their country’s leading Sonic Youth impersonators to developing a slightly more distinct sound. Their 2001 debut Sheets of Blank Fucking Paper bit its entire shtick from EVOL-era Sonic Youth, with songs constructed of little more than plodding tempos, chiming guitars and dissonant crescendos that never resolved themselves. Two albums later, that seminal band’s influence is still present. On “Pleasures Unknown,” singer Nea Helsto longs for music to lift her out of a purposeless life with the chorus, “I think of Thurston and I think of Kim/and I know I gotta quit this shit.” In spite of their indebtedness to SY, on their third album Paper Cut Eye EIYL delivers a set of sharper, faster and catchier songs that can also occasionally be compared to the virtuoso punk of Pretty Girls Make Graves.

All of the basic elements of PGMG’s sound --- tom-heavy drumming, a relentless busy twin-guitar attack, and three-note female crooning --- are especially present during the album’s first half. During these songs, Echo Is Your Love demonstrates a knack for acerbic verse that eludes many other bands who don’t write songs in their native language. “We Don’t Speak Numbers” makes fun of scenesters who hop on leftist trends: “Five-year revolution/’Till university graduation/Time flies and when the bands are gone/we move on.” “Children in Lines” laments a growing generation gap: “I gotta build something [of my] own/but you can’t give me the tools/our codes don’t match/and we don’t share any dreams.”

The band doesn’t start dipping into Sonic Youth’s bag of tricks until “Tuua,” when Helsto explores the higher end of her range as the guitarists layer pretty yet out-of-tune melodies on top of each other. Unfortunately, this song goes on for a bit too long, and the track that comes next is even worse. “I Don’t Go to My Friends’ Parties ‘Cause Everyone Looks So Old” starts off as a promising burst of Unwound-style punk, with a bass line that Vern Rumsey would’ve killed to write, only to squash its own potential with terrible spoken verses and off-key choruses. Fortunately, the band quickly rebounds from these two missteps with a closing suite of songs more furious than anything on SY’s last two albums, each one more abrasive than its predecessor.

On “Haste Nowhere,” Nea makes good on the lessons that Kim Gordon taught her by turning what is supposed to be a plea of love into a menacing command. Her voice turns the phrase “I love you” into a drawn-out sneer until the band reaches a wah-drenched crescendo. On “Shadow of Stockholm,” she dismisses an antagonist who has lived in the same city for seven years without making any progress in his own life. The hissing drums and high-pitched guitars keep the song moving at a steady pace until it is abruptly interrupted by the kind of white noise blast that SY hasn’t unleashed on record in almost a decade. “Adult Situation No Kisses” segues through jarring soft/loud transitions for two minutes, goes into double-time, and then slowly dissipates into grinding cacophony for the next four. By the time the song ends, it sounds less like a rock band and more like a power plant undergoing a severe meltdown.

Who knows? Maybe Echo Is Your Love is the most cutting-edge rock band in Finland right now. They certainly aren’t getting any originality points on this side of Atlantic. However, as I’ve said many times before, a band doesn’t have to reinvent the wheel to be good, and on Paper Cut Eye EIYL definitely asserts itself as a force to be reckoned with.

---Sean Padilla

Artist Website: http://www.ifsociety.com/echo
Label Website: www.stickfiguredistro.com

January 20, 2005

Ahleuchatistas "The Same and The Other"

In my review of North Carolinian trio Ahleuchatistas’ debut album On the Culture Industry, I dismissed their music as garden-variety math-rock. All three musicians played with an impressive amount of skill, and their songs were crammed with changes in key, meter, tempo and dynamics. However, the same could be said about every other math-rock band on the planet, and
Ahleuchatistas didn’t distinguish themselves from the pack much. The band’s politically charged name (which pays tribute to both Charlie Parker’s “Ah-leu-Cha” and the Mexican Zapatista radicals) and the album’s astonishing artwork couldn’t compensate for the blandness of the actual music. The band only had one or two good ideas per song, which were often abandoned quickly and buried in a sea of bad ideas.

Fortunately, the band’s follow-up The Same and the Other has made me eat my words. This time around, the band keeps things short and sweet. Both of their albums have 12 tracks apiece but, at a concise 29 minutes, The Same and the Other is less than half as long as its predecessor. However, both the band’s attention deficit disorder and through-composition songwriting method remain intact. Opener “Cracked Teeth” runs through at least nine distinct riffs in less than three minutes, and the next 11 tracks are no less busy. The main difference between this album and Ahleuchatistas’ debut is that this time the riffs stay in your head, even if the band only plays them once or twice.

As usual, Ahleuchatistas play their songs with nothing but guitar, bass and drums, with no effects pedals or studio trickery (sans a bit of distortion here and there). Guitarist Shane Perlowin is still fond of playing clean single-note melodies --- occasionally in a completely different meter than the rhythm section --- though he’s not averse to slashing power chords. On “Good Question,” Shane strums his guitar so furiously during the intro that he knocks his strings out of tune for the rest of the song. Later on in the song, he executes a solo with leaping intervals and squirrelly string bends that sound almost sitar-like. On their previous album, bassist Derek Poteat was the member who made the most noise, but this time his lines are cleaner and thicker. He takes an excellent Mike Watt-style solo in “Falling Bards,” begins “Rpg2” with an ominous riff that could’ve come straight out of a Tool record, and throughout the rest of the album, supports Perlowin’s playing with lots of meaty chords. Last but certainly not least is drummer Sean Dail, who from the album’s opening seconds onward asserts himself as the King of the Snare and Hi-Hat. He executes snare rolls and open/closed hi-hat combinations that require the kind of hand/foot coordination that drummers everywhere (myself included) envy.

The band’s implicit political bent also remains intact. The Same and the Other has even better artwork than its predecessor. The cover consists of two black-veiled Muslim women --- one of whom holds a baby crying tears of blood --- shielding themselves from bombs dropped by a overhead jet. Okay, so we know that they’re against the war in Iraq. One of the album’s most accessible songs, “Lee Kyang Hae,” is named after an elderly Korean farmer who killed himself in public at the 2003 World Trade Organization talks in Cancun as an act of protest. Don’t think for a second, though, that Ahleuchatistas are humorless. “Rpg3” finds them laughing and speaking in tongues in between punctuated bursts of playing. Moments like this underscore how much fun these guys have playing with each other and subverting the listeners’ expectations.

Ahleuchatistas love to play multiple variations on their riffs, as if they’re answering a series of self-posed musical questions: What would it sound like if we played this riff while muting the strings? While leaving them open? What if we put the rhythmic emphasis on this note instead of that one? What if we subtract that note? What if we add these notes? Songs like “Imperceptibility” benefit from this playfulness, and the title of album closer “Joyous Disruptions” gives the whole thing away --- these guys have FUN making noise. They spend the second half of “Disruptions” imitating the Starfuckers’ instrumental pointillism by coming close to a fully formed melody or rhythm, only to retreat back into silence. Just when you think they’re about to launch into the Mother of All Riffs, they end the album with the sound of drumsticks lackadaisically clanging against each other. The songs on The Same and the Other have a concision and excitement that their debut sorely lacked, which makes the 28 minutes pass by even quicker. I never thought I’d press “repeat” after listening to a record of theirs, but for once, I’m glad to be wrong.

---Sean Padilla

Artist Website: http://www.ahleuchatistas.com
Label Website: http://www.nfilabel.com

January 17, 2005

Autistic Daughters "Jealousy and Diamond"

In late 2003, New Zealand expatriate Dean Roberts released Be Mine Tonight, an album that blurred the lines between composition and improvisation, between the electronic and the organic, and between the timeless and the endless. Roberts steadfastly refused to assert himself musically, opting instead to use his voice and guitar as a skeleton upon which his collaborators could do whatever they wished. “Real” instruments were manipulated through an array of DSP tricks, and musicians fell in and out of sync with one another at will. The songs didn’t end as much as they evaporated, disappearing into oblivion as soon as everyone decided they didn’t want to play anymore. It took Roberts and his collaborators 35 minutes to get through a mere four songs, and the transitions from one idea to the next were so slow and subtle that anything less than a listener’s total attention would have rendered them imperceptible.

Although Be Mine Tonight was billed as a solo record, the music on it had a malleability that could only come through truly democratic collaboration…which brings me to Jealousy and Diamond, the debut album by Roberts’ new band. The Autistic Daughters are a “power trio” in which Dean is backed by bassist Werner Dafeldecker and drummer Martin Brandlmayr. It is worth noting that Brandlmayr’s main band, Trapist, blurs the line between composition and improvisation in a similar manner (though they’re closer to jazz than they are to rock). The only other person who appears on both this album and Be Mine Tonight is composer/engineer Valerie Tricoli. Despite the lineup changes, there are only two main differences between Jealousy and Diamond and Roberts’ “solo” record. The songs tend to be shorter, and Roberts and his band actually get LOUD every once in a while. Otherwise, hindsight shows that Be Mine Tonight could’ve easily been the first Autistic Daughters record, as the songs on it are cut from the same cloth.

Most of the songs on Jealousy and Diamond begin the same way.
Roberts listlessly picks and strums at his out-of-tune guitar and “sings” in a soft, shaky mumble that sounds almost as if he’s weeping. His lyrics skirt around structure in a similar manner. For instance, “Florence Crown, Lost Replay” reads like an unfinished character sketch of a vulnerable girl (“She’s not made of steel/She tends to reveal too much/and they’re passing judgment”). “In Your Absence the Street” strings together seemingly disparate events to form a sad picture (“The windows are wet with condensation/The businessman has missed another flight/You run from the phone booth into a crowded station/Your heart’s broken too”). While Dean sings, Dafeldecker and Brandlmayr sketch out crawling rhythms on their instruments. Brandlmayr isn’t as creative a drummer as Be Mine Tonight’s Antonio Arrabbito, but he uses similar extended techniques (bowed cymbals, fancy brushwork, and even bouncing balls off of his snare) to turn his kit into more than a timekeeper. Everything is quiet, and so closely miked that you can hear every incidental noise. It’s a sound that is simultaneously indistinct and tactile.

These songs differentiate themselves by where they go next after said framework is established. Opener “A Boxful of Birds” ends with an uproar in which Roberts’ voice shifts into a throaty wail, as a series of disembodied voices and handclaps back him up. “The Glasshouse and the Gift-Horse” abruptly goes back and forth between two completely different riffs, and gets interrupted multiple times by a cacophony of off-key toy bells. “Spend it on the Enemy (While It Was Raining)” has a danceable mid-rhythm that is emphasized by a light coating of distortion that makes Brandlmayr’s drumming louder than everything else in the song. At one point, the rhythm section crashes hard on every upbeat while Roberts creates a morass of syrupy guitars, an effect that evokes Sonic Youth’s Branca-fied early work.

Even on the album’s loudest moments, Roberts and company pursue a sound so obtuse that if I hadn’t read the press kit, I wouldn’t have known that the fourth track, “Rainy Day in June,” was a Ray Davies cover! This band’s ability to stretch time and shift smoothly from torpor to torrent can turn almost anything into an Autistic Daughters song. Don’t come to this record expecting any hooks, melodies or volume. Jealousy and Diamond is only for listeners with a lot of time on their hands, who want to chill out and be propelled into another atmosphere.

---Sean Padilla

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

January 15, 2005

The hidden plot of It’s Only The Future seems to be this: folk-singer girl meets boy, folk-singer girl falls in love with boy, boy and folk-singer girl have a nice little relationship and get married, boy leaves folksinger-girl, folk-singer girl meets up with an electronica wizard and makes a stunningly cold, painfully bleak break-up record. I have zero evidence to back up my theory, but even if it’s not the case, that’s certainly the major themes of each one of the songs on Corrina Repp’s new record. Instead of the folkier moments that made up her last album, I Take On Your Days, this record goes straight for the zero-pulse regions.

If you’ve ever wanted to feel the coldness that comes with a broken heart, then Repp’s done a pretty good job of replicating that feeling quite well. Her lyrics are simple, but they are also very direct and very succinct, making Keith Schreiner’s frigid musical accompaniment downright freezing. Sure, on paper “It’s just a shame/That you don’t find/Any decent heart/That isn’t afraid” (from “S.S. 5000”) or “I put it on you/Because I’m all alone” (from “No One’s Telling”) might not seem that deep, Repp and Schreiner turn it into something more—the obituary of a broken heart. You want to know just how dark Repp’s musical concoctions are? The final song on the record is a cover of the jazz standard “I’ll Be Seeing You.” The original song is a beautiful, touching love song about missing someone, but Repp’s version of the song is much more ominous, sounding more like a threat than a dream.

It’s Only The Future is not an easy listen. It’s morose, it’s dark, it’s sad—and it’s everything that you should feel if you’ve just been betrayed and battered by love. It’s a journey through anger and heartbreak, and it’s not a scenic route.

--Joseph Kyle

Artist Website: http://www.corrinarepp.com
Label Website: http://www.hushrecords.com

DeVotchKa "How It Ends"

Devotchka sounds like they’re from a different world. Theirs seems like a warmer, tropical world. A world with wandering gypsies, drunk gauchos and beautiful, dangerous women. Their home sounds like a world with bad guys and good guys and horsies and saloons and shootouts in the street. Actually, their home is Denver—which isn’t too far off from my silly description mentioned above!

No, this four-piece hail from a more down-to-earth place, but you really wouldn’t know it from listening to How It Ends, their latest platter of out-of-this-old-world sounds. Their music is made with all kinds of old-timey instruments, including Sousaphones, bouzoukis, glockenspiels, and banjos. Throw in some wonderfully spaced-out Theremin, piano, violin, a singer who sounds like he just stepped off the boat from Italy and an orchestra from outer space, and you’ve got a combination that’s most definitely spicy—and most definitely unclassifiable. Sure, their music contains elements of folk, but they’re not a folk band. You’ll also find some Southwestern hints, but they’re not a mariachi band. You’ll even hear some elements of Eastern European styles, but they’re not a gypsy band. This is nothing more than the sound of pure musical passion that’s allowed itself to grow unfettered—resulting in one of the most unique and passionate records you’ve ever heard.

Really, though, that’s how these guys sound! Nick Urata sings with a passion that’s not been seen since…well, he’s got this passionate voice that sounds like a crooner from both the Old World and south of the border. It’s gorgeous, sexy and considering the band’s unique music, it fits quite nicely, and it makes Devotchka even sexier. The entire How It Ends album will hold you captive, but if you stop too long at “Such a Lovely Thing” or “Twenty-Six Temptations” or “Viens Avec Moi,” you’ll never get around to hearing the rest of the record—and don’t dare dwell too long on the utterly intoxicating “This Place Is Haunted”—because this is one of those ‘hit the repeat button’ bands. (Normally, I’d be kind of lazy and make an obvious comparison to Calexico, but in my mind those guys have nothing on Devotchka.)

How It Ends is a fascinating record. It’ll have you listening to it over and over again, looking for some kind of understanding of how they made the damn thing, and chances are that even after a hundred listens, you’ll be nowhere close to figuring it out--and you'll never want it to end!

Why would you want to?

--Joseph Kyle

Artist Website: http://www.devotchka.net

Hood "Outside Closer"

Hood’s really done it this time. For many moons, this little lo-fi band has hinted at greatness, and in the past few years, they’ve driven very, very far away from those lo-fi roots, heading into a weird atmospheric folk/electronica meld that doesn’t sound a thing like their earlier days. They’ve put out some really great records in the past few years, and their previous album, Cold House, showed the band poised for something bigger and grander—something electronica-based, something cold and detached.

So what does Hood do next? They don’t go all out on the electronica bender that their past records threatened, nor do they regress into their lo-fi weirdness, either. Instead, they decided to spend a bit more time working on their material and in so doing have produced a record that’s beautiful, gorgeous and inherently different than their previous releases—all the while making it seem as if they’ve not changed at all! Okay, so they’ve changed a little bit, but it seems each new Hood release makes you forget about the one before it, so you might not even notice the differences unless you looked for them.

One thing is obvious, though: Outside Closer is a more natural sounding record for Hood—the ambience is tempered with warmth not usually heard with such atmospheric music. It comes in subtle ways, really—for instance, how can you not think of a sunny springtime morning when you hear the closing moments of “Winter 72?” How can you not think of a warm summer Saturday when you hear the beat-riddled “The Lost You”? And what should you make of the poppy moments of “Closure?” Doesn’t that remind you of a late-night adventure with a member of the opposite sex?

True, certain things do remain—Chris and Richard Adams still sing with a haunted, depressed tone that barely rises above a whisper. They’re also still an unhappy lot; in “Closure” they sing “sorry won’t make you stay/sorry won’t kiss your face” in such a pained manner, it would make Morrissey envious. And, thankfully, there’s still a commitment to trying to make the music more interesting and immediate, even if it’s quite obvious that they’ve spent a bit of time polishing up their songs.

They also retain their habit of making you think this is the last record they release—after all, they did release a song called “Hood Is Finished” several years ago. This time around, the imagery of finality is enough to make you wonder if it is indeed their final farewell: from the title of the record Outside Closer to the song titles “This Is It, Forever,” “End of One Train Working” and “Closure,” conspiracy theorists would have much to work with here. (Thankfully, their record label has stated that this is NOT the end of the road for Hood.)

Hood = brilliant. That’s about the only thing that’s been consistent throughout their career. Outside Closer is yet another rewarding departure for these fellows, and as I’ve said in other Hood reviews—I can’t wait to hear what they do next!

--Joseph Kyle

Artist Website: http://www.hoodmusic.net
Label Website: http://www.dominorecordco.com

Coastal "Halfway To You"

I like pretty, soft music. I like to listen to it when I go to bed, especially after a long, stressful day. Who doesn’t? Well, Coastal’s new record, Halfway to You, certainly fits into my night time sleepytime agenda. Their gentle, unassuming nature makes for a dreamy, restful night, and it doesn’t take me too long to drift off into relaxation once the record starts playing. Normally, saying “this record put me to sleep” might be construed as a bit of an insult, but when it comes to music that’s so slow and lulling like this, I’m sure such a thing is nothing short of a wonderful complement. (Heck, the very first song on the record is called “Until You Sleep,” so I’m not worried about being offensive!) The sweet vocals of hubby and wife Jason and Luisa Gough rub together quite gently, and you feel like you’re privileged to hear their lullabies for each other. Songs like “Eternal” and “Leaves” are utterly dreamy, and I’m having a hard time trying to stay awake just thinking about it.

Considering that Low have all but abandoned their slow-core style, it’s good to know that there’s a band that’s willing to (and capable of) carry on their torch. Coastal is music that’s meant for winter, and their gentle, jazzy ambient style is one that’s quite rewarding—if, of course, you can stay awake and coherent while listening to it!

--Joseph Kyle

Artist Website: http://www.coastalrock.com
Label Website: http://www.words-on-music.com

January 14, 2005

The Twilight Singers "She Loves You"

Greg Dulli is a sexy motherfucker. His music has always been cool, and though some people I know insist that the man’s only got a limited vocal range, I’ve always contended that it’s not the range that matters—it’s what you do with your abilities that makes you great. Still, you can’t listen to any record that Dulli’s made and think anything less than “wow, this man’s voice is really, really sexy.” That Dulli’s made a covers record isn’t really all that surprising; his previous band, The Afghan Whigs, Dulli often indulged in cover songs, and like She Loves You, the gamut was often quite interesting. From Barry White’s “Can’t Get Enough Of Your Love, Babe” to Freda Payne’s “Band of Gold” to the Wizard of Oz standard “If I Only Had a Heart” to TLC’s “Creep”—Dulli and company would turn classic songs (often soul numbers) into their own. Sometimes they’d come off excellent…sometimes not…but the same was true regardless of the result: the man loves good music. When The Twilight Singers released a single of Nina Simone’s “Black Is the Color of My True Love’s Hair,” the enticing possibility of more Dulli covers arose, and I’m rather glad they decided to break out and do She Loves You.

She Loves You is Dulli’s take on several classic songs, some not-so-classic songs, and one or two surprises. As you’d expect, the large majority of these songs are from the R&B genre. Included here is the excellent “Black Is the Color of My True Love’s Hair,” and he subsequently takes on Marvin Gaye’s “Please Stay (Once You Go Away)” and George Gershwin’s jazz/soul standard “Summertime.” That he thusly takes on “Strange Fruit” is fascinating—especially as it’s an eerie duet with Mark Lanegan that must be heard to be fully appreciated. He also takes on the Blues with a cover of Skip James’ “Hard Time Killing Floor” and John Coltrane’s (!!) “A Love Supreme.” One of the best numbers on this set is his take on Mary J. Blige’s first hit single, “Real Love.” That song is one of the better songs of the early 1990s, and though The Twilight Singers have not attempted to recreate the catchy, unique rhythm of the original version, the lyrics still ring true and Dulli’s aching voice makes the song even more powerful.

The rest of the record is devoted to more modern numbers, and subsequently it is here that the record slightly falters. Sure, his take on Bjork’s “Hyperballad” seems promising, but as it’s a unique song that clearly belongs to Bjork, this version pales in comparison. Forgettable also is his cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “What Makes You Think You’re The One.” His takes on Hope Sandoval’s “Feeling of Gaze” and Martina Topley-Bird’s “Too Tough To Die” are pretty, but they’re nothing more than pretty.

Still, these weak moments on a record doesn’t damn it, and all in all She Loves You is a sultry, sensuous aural delight. It’s reassuring to know that Dulli’s still got it, and it’s even more thrilling to know that this is the first in a trilogy of cover albums. Personally, I can’t wait. If you want a record for lovemaking, then this record—along with the Twilight Singers’ debut, as well as The Afghan Whigs’ What Jail is Like and Uptown Avendale EP’s (the closest they came to releasing cover records)—should be your soundtrack.

And I bet Dulli wouldn’t want it any other way.

--Joseph Kyle

Artist Website: http://www.thetwilightsingers.com
Label Website: http://www.birdmanrecords.com
Label Website: http://www.indian.co.uk

Various Artists "Hard-Headed Woman: A Celebration of Wanda Jackson"

Wanda Jackson is an artist that, sadly, you’ve probably never heard. She was a pioneer in the impressionable Rock & Roll scene of the mid-1950s, where she became quite well known for her gritty, hard Rockabilly style, (she would tour with a young Elvis Presley, who she’d label one of her inspirations) and she scored a major hit in 1960 with the raucous “Let’s Have A Party.” As the 1960s wore on, she toned down her music, opting for a more traditional Country style—and not surprisingly, she had a string of hit records, but this style would once again change in the 1970s, when she turned her stylistic focus to Gospel.

It’s no surprise, then, that Bloodshot, a label that’s considered the standard-bearer of “insurgent country,” would pay tribute to this somewhat (unfairly) obscure musical figure. After all, the correlation between Jackson and label acts such as Neko Case and Kelly Hogan (both featured here) is quite obvious. Thus, Hard Headed Woman is obviously a labor of love for Bloodshot, as they bring out many of the best artists of today—many of which are definitely indebted to Jackson, even if they might not know it.

Hard Headed Woman also serves as a highlight of a tribute record done right. First, the song selection covers the gamut, from Wanda’s own songs to songs she performed. Every era is covered, from her early Rockabilly days to her turn towards Country, all are given fair representation here—heck, even her Gospel era is touched upon. Secondly, the artists are appropriate for the material. It really wouldn’t be too strange to hear Carolyn Mark performing “Hot Dog, That Made Him Mad” in her own set list, Robbie Fulks’ “Tears At The Grand Ol’ Opry” could have easily found a place on his cover album, 13 Hillbilly Greats, and Wayne Hancock’s version of “Let’s Have a Party” reminds that Jackson was not only a contemporary of Elvis Presley, she could have easily (and probably should have been) considered his female equivalent. It’s also a testament to Jackson’s ability, then, that there are a few male takes on her material—which, in a roundabout way, shows that Jackson could hold her own in the then men’s only club of Rock & Roll. (The only complaint to be had, though, is that there’s not a cover of “Hard-Headed Woman”!)

Hard Headed Woman: A Celebration of Wanda Jackson is a well-presented labor of love for an artist who most assuredly deserves more than her obscurity. Though this record might not change such things, it’s certainly evidence that Jackson was—and still is—a talent to reckon with. Well done

--Joseph Kyle

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

January 13, 2005

The Clientele "Ariande EP"

I’ve been in love with The Clientele’s music for many years. I make no apology for the fact that they’re one band who I’ll gladly pay a pretty penny. Their music is breathtaking, gorgeous and heartbreakingly melancholy and I love them for it. Thus, Ariadne is absolutely no surprise. Inspired by the paintings of Giorgia de Chirico’s series of the same name, Alasdair Maclean felt it necessary to set his inspiration to music—and thank goodness he did, because the results are utterly wonderful. Instead of your typical Clientele style, they’ve decided to be a bit different—four of these five songs are instrumental, and these four instrumental songs don’t really sound all that much like the Clientele you may know and love. Aiming for a more ambient style, the band utilizes the one thing they’re good at: atmosphere. I’m really, really taken by the stunning simplistic beauty of the epic “The Sea Inside a Shell” and my heart breaks (in a good way!) when I hear the piano-based “Ariadne Sleeping.” The final track, “Impossible,” is a vocal song, and the sad, austere lyrics illustrates Maclean’s maturation as a songwriter. Though I could see this release as being a middling thing for some fans, this is still a beautiful, striking release, well worth seeking out.

--Joseph Kyle

Artist Website: http://www.theclientele.co.uk
Label Website: http://www.acuareladiscos.com

January 12, 2005

Hem/The Autumn Defense "Birds, Beasts, and Flowers"

I’ve always approached split singles with a bit of trepidation. What happens when there’s a REALLY GREAT band on one side and a totally unknown act on the other? There are quite a few split releases in my collection that have or will only ever be listened to in part, simply because one half of the record isn’t any good. It’s not fair to look at splits with such a critical eye, though; sometimes that little, unknown band is simply trying to get some bigger recognition, or perhaps the two bands are trying to get their music heard but can’t afford to release something by themselves. Sometimes, though, magic happens, and the two artists come together and produce something wonderful.

Birds, Beasts and Flowers, which features Hem and The Autumn Defense, seves as excellent proof of what good can come from a split single. Hem’s received a great deal of critical acclaim over the last few years, and rightly so; their debut album Rabbit Songs was a critical and lyrical masterpiece, which landed them very briefly on Dreamworks. For this release, they’ve offered up one new song, “St. Charlene,” a beautiful, country-tinged folk number that effortlessly highlights the beauty that is lead singer Sally Ellyson’s voice, which at times sounds as if it’s equal parts Emmylou Harris and Karen Carpenter. For their other selections, they offer up two live tracks—“Half Acre,” from Rabbit Songs and “Pacific Street,” from their new album, Eveningland. Unlike the rich, baroque-pop of their albums, in a live setting both songs are stripped down to the bare minimum, which only serves to greater highlight Ellyson’s powerful singing voice.

Due to the overwhelming greatness of Hem’s three tracks, the Autumn Defense, which consists of Wilco’s John Stirratt and Pat Sansone, face some stiff competition for your attention. They received a fair bit of praise for their simple, late-60s era Beach Boys-style for their most recent album Circles. Their three songs here are a continuation of that trend; even though they come in second behind the wonderful Hem. Their three songs are pretty, Seventies-inspired LA country rock. Though “Bluebirds Fall” and “You Know Where I Live” are pretty, they’re simply nice and nothing more. Their most engaging offering here is the closing instrumental “Mayday.” It’s simple, jazzy and pretty, and it utilizes the vibraphone in a really nice way; indeed, it sounds not unlike Friends-era Beach Boys.

The decision to alternate the track listing between both bands was a wise one; in so doing, it makes the record feel more like a collaborative effort than simply two bands offering three songs. Though Birds, Beasts and Flowers is a simple, all-too-brief affair, and though on the surface it might not be all that fulfilling, if you’re wanting an introduction to both bands—or simply twenty minutes of beautiful, relaxing music--then this release is perfect.

--Joseph Kyle

Artist Website: http://www.rabbitsongs.com
Artist Website: http://www.theautumndefense.com
Artist Website: http://www.arenarockrecordingco.com

Rapider than Horsepower "Rapider Than The World"

At first, I thought that Rapider than Horsepower was an unwieldy band name. I thought to myself, “Wouldn’t saying ‘Faster than Horsepower’ be a bit simpler?” After a while, though, the band’s choice of an uncommon synonym stopped sounding stupid and started sounding cool after I got used to it. Unsurprisingly, I had a similar reaction to their music. There are loose ends scattered all over their latest mini-album Rapider than the World. Two of the songs end in tacked-on 10-minute drones, and many of the others are bridged together by segues of random studio chatter --- at one point, you can even hear the band needlessly activating the smoke detector. Then, there are the actual SONGS, which constantly toe the line between dense and cluttered. After multiple listens, though, Rapider than Horsepower prove themselves to be an immensely original and talented band, and their music suddenly stops being difficult and starts being FUN.

Opening salvo “Hungry Eyes” is a minute-long sonic pimp-slap that will alienate most listeners right off the bat. All of the elements of this band’s sound are in full force as soon as drummer Rob Smith whacks his snare. Mike Dixon and Chris Sargoe play the kind of terminally bent guitars I haven’t heard since the last Swirlies record. Later on in the mini-album, they make “Guitars and Drums” sound like I’m listening to a warped record instead of a CD. In every song, their playing is fleet-fingered enough to compensate for the absence of a bassist. Violinist Greg Dixon contributes leaping melodies straight off of a Mahavishnu Orchestra record. Last but not least, Mike Anderson rides the music with a nasal, unmelodic yelp that is quite rap-like in its delivery.

Anderson’s voice is the very thing that makes Rapider than Horsepower an acquired taste. On “Now It’s Deserted,” he slithers over his band mates’ accompaniment with a quivering falsetto and wordless banshee wails that sound like a demon-possessed version of US Maple’s Al Johnson. Anderson smothers “Whose Ego? My Ego?” with so many words than when he wails, “Talk, talk, talk all I want to/I never go away,” you start to believe him! The lyrics to this song find every possible metaphor for being annoyingly ubiquitous (“I’m a 15-foot tall concrete building blocking what’s up ahead,” “I’m a poster child for overexposure”). “Mike Bell” is a Modest Mouse-like rant about a hedonistic night out on the town in which Anderson’s voice actually approximates a melody. Ever the subversive type, he ends the song with a head-scratching interpolation of Guns ‘n’ Roses’ “Rocket Queen.”

Anderson takes such control over the music that the band’s decision to forego a bassist ends up making sense: if one more sound were added to the mix, the whole thing would sound like a hot mess (that is, if it doesn’t already). Like many tone-deaf front men before him, he compensates for his lack of singing ability by being an incisive lyricist. He begins “Guitars and Drums” with an insult that should be used against uptight people all over the world: “Do you hate to breathe in oxygen/or is that how your face always looks?” “A Little Something for the Naysayers and Player Haters” serves as both a condemnation and a defense of bands that compromise their music to make money (“This song is not me/Help me sell out/I need my gas turned on”). “Wonder Why?” chastises people whose fear of the unknown keeps them from questioning the forces at work behind their own lives (“We just take/and we live/Despite what’s said, it’ll go to waste/don’t even try”). Anderson’s penmanship on the foldout booklet is just as unhinged as his vocals, which makes deciphering his lyrics even more fun.

Maybe I’m just a sucker for bands that sound like the musical equivalent of a nervous breakdown. Regardless, Rapider than Horsepower clearly know what they’re doing, and I like it. If their live show is anything like their records, I impatiently await the next time they come to Texas.

--Sean Padilla

Artist Website: http://www.rapiderthanhorsepower.com
Label Website: http://www.alonerecords.com

January 10, 2005

Patterson Hood "Killers and Stars"

Divorce. It's a painful, traumatic event--one that causes a great amount of stress, heartbreak and anger, often permanantly. For many musicians, this pain can produce some painfully beautiful music (Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks) or this pain can produce some music that's painful to listen to (Marvin Gaye's Here, My Dear). Regardless of the musician's choice of style, whenever real pain is involved, it coats their work with a sensitivity and a vulnerability that cannot be replicated.

For Patterson Hood, the mastermind behind Southern rockers Drive-By Truckers, 2001 was a helluva bad year. From a divorce to problems with his band to unspecified "personal demons" were making a wreck of his life. In an effort to deal with his problems, he sat down in his kitchen with his guitar and recorded and recorded and recorded. "Therapy, or an exorcism or whatever," he says of this session. He then took the resulting tracks, burned a few hundred CD's and packaged it as his solo album, labeled as a "work in progress." After a recent listen, he decided to reissue it as is, considering it a statement of where his life was back in 2001.

While I'd never be one to find enjoyment in another man's obvious pain, Killers and Stars proves to be a compelling listen--a waltz through the struggles of a troubled soul. Hood sings in a pained twang. "Rising Son" find Hood listing his transgressions and failings, in a quite pointed manner, talking about how he is his father's pride, tempered with his own failures at the hands of success--and then you realize he's simply relaying his life in terms of the prodigal son. "Fire" also speaks of destruction: "Everything changes so fast you never know/Only ashes remain of everything I own." His cover of Tom T. Hall's "Pay No Attention to Alice" is also touching--making you wonder who he is directing the song to--his ex-wife? A wayward band member? Himself?

Don't think it's all sad, though; there's a bit of humor in his hurt. Opening track "Uncle Disney" starts the album off with a smile: "When they thaw out Uncle Disney/Gonna be some changes made," and then he runs down how shocked and appalled Disney might be about his once golden empire. "Belinda Carslile Diet" is an interesting, funny (in a painful kind of way) take on the former Go-Go's lifestyle: "Cocaine and milkshakes, milkshakes, cocaine/I can't stand to feel the pain." She's not the only celebrity he calls on the carpet, though; album closer "Cat Power" is a pointed commentary directed towards Cat Power, and he asks the question I've always wondered, too: "I don't mean to sound unsympathetic to your plight/but if you're really so shy/why are you standing in the light?"

Killers and Stars is a stark, uneasy listen. Hood's a talented man--his band's critical acclaim is well-deserved, and this little side-project. This is the true realization of 'the blues' and Hood should be thanked for taking the time to allow the general population to hear his heart break.

--Joseph Kyle

Artist Website: http://www.drivebytruckers.com
Label Website: http://www.newwestrecords.com

AQPOP "Beautifully Smart"

Beautifully Smart is a quintessential debut album in that it showcases a band still learning how to play together and struggling for their own sonic identity. If I’m reading the slightly confusing bio on their website correctly, Norwegian quintet Aqpop is actually a hybrid of two separate groups: the Aquarium Poppers and the Chime Poppers, both of which involved many of the same members. Singer/guitarist Thor Holm recorded album opener “Have It” by himself, singing and playing all of the instruments, almost two years before Aqpop officially formed; a full-band version appears as an unlisted bonus track at the end of the CD. Although Holm is competent at all of his instruments, a comparison of the two versions reveals that Aqpop’s songs truly benefit from the input of the whole band. Throughout Beautifully Smart, guitarist Karl Dahl’s nimble leads, Jade Hasselgard’s sprightly keyboards and vocal harmonies, and Andreas Knudsen’s loose, splashy drumming give Holm’s and Dahl’s songs a good amount of kick.

This album is sequenced so that the band’s shorter pop songs are concentrated in its first half, while the second half is devoted to their darker, noisier material. “Radio 60” is an instrumental Nuggets-style garage-rock rave-up with brash organ chords and skuzzy pentatonic guitar solos. The urgently strummed guitars and sinister keyboard arpeggios of “Screen” sound like Franz Ferdinand playing in the middle of a circus. The title track is built off a restless chord progression and chiming lead guitar part that sounds like a countrified version of Guided by Voices. It’s also the best example of the band’s charmingly vague ESL lyrics: “She wasn’t treating me so well/but now I’m slick/I know the sell.” “Confused” is a more rough-and-tumble version of the psychedelic pop of the Olivia Tremor Control, complete with a bridge smothered in backwards keyboards. Only one of the first six songs on Beautifully Smart pass the three-minute mark.

Once seventh song “The Day” begins, things get a little bit out of hand. The first five minutes of the song are what Zykos would sound like if their female pianist sang lead instead of singer/guitarist Mike Booher. It starts off as insistent acoustic pop, atop which Jade Hasselgard scatters lush vocal harmonies and slightly lackadaisical piano playing. It gains more and more intensity as it goes along, until the song explodes in a loud, feedback-drenched climax. Instead of stopping there, though, the band tacks on a slow coda with poorly sung vocals by Thor that makes the song much longer than it really needs to be. The next song, “Caught By This Feeling,” begins with two minutes of arrhythmic drumming, screeching guitars and disembodied vocals from Hasselgard. It sounds like their attempt at one of Bardo Pond’s more outré jam sessions, until Thor and the rest of the band abruptly change the song into a sea shanty redolent of the quieter moments of Comets on Fire’s Blue Cathedral. “Command Smile:able” takes a cue or two from the staccato post-punk of the Hives, and “Syramid” is a long minor-key Doors-style jam. None of the last five songs on this album are under three minutes.

If it sounds like I’ve namedropped too many bands in the last couple of paragraphs, please don’t chalk it up to lazy journalism. Those paragraphs were set up to illustrate my main gripe with Beautifully Smart. Aqpop has quite a nice set of influences to work with from the last four decades of rock: ‘60s psychedelic pop, ‘70s garage punk, ‘80s New Wave, and ‘90s noise. Unfortunately, they haven’t integrated these influences smoothly enough to keep Beautifully Smart from sounding more like a mix CD than a cohesive album. Many of the songs on the first half sound like they came from entirely different bands; the second half of the album is even more disjointed, with too many awkward stylistic shifts occurring mid-song. Don’t get me wrong --- Aqpop has certainly got the talent, the chops and the tunes to make a great album. They may need another album or two to find their own distinct identity, but I’m sure that they will…and I’m looking forward to hearing the results when they do.

---Sean Padilla

Artist Website: http://www.aqpop.com
Label website: http://www.hhbtm.com

Woven Hand "Consider the Birds"

Growing up in rural East Texas, I was provided with a childhood that was inherently darker than most. Living in the woods, surrounded by a very ominous thicket and mysterous sounds every night, there was a dark, ominous cloud hanging over my head. Not that I wasn't happy, mind you--but much like The Village, there were things out there that we didn't speak of--an evil presence that we didn't know. The balm for this evil was religion. Now, we're not talking a friendly, universalist form of faith--we're talking a very real Hell fire and damnation brand, one that let you know where you were going to go if the path you chose was not one of faith. It's a road filled with failure, wrong-doing and ultimate death. "Weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth" was your destination...though, to be fair, I always thought that the door to eternal damnation was somewhere out in the woods.

If there's one musician who truly understands this darkness, it's David Eugene Edwards. As the leader of 16 Horsepower, he's spent well over a decade making dark, moody country slash folk slash rock slash bluegrass slash whatever music. Listening to 16 Horsepower is a journey into another world--a world that seems familiar, but as you travel, you realize it's an entirely different world. Over the past two years, though, he's released some of his darkest, most personal material to date as Woven Hand. Consider the Birds, his second album--third if you count the collaborative Blush Music, which was a unique electronica reinterpretation/reimagination of his self-titled debut--continue his exploration of faith and the darker side of life. Throw in the fact that his accompaniment is quite minimal, and you'll find that this record can be quite a chilling listen.

Though the music is dark and there's an occasional emphasis on the ramifications of a sinful life, this is not a negative record. In fact, the album is far from a hellfire sermon; (witness: "Judgment will not be avoided by your unbelief" in "To Make a Ring") on closer examination, you'll discover that Consider the Birds is a very, very loving, joyful record--in a very Southern Gothic way. Edwards sings with the same haunted growl that haunted such souls as Johnny Cash and Nick Cave. Even though a cursory examination of Edwards' image of God quickly shows him to be an Old Testament and that Edwards' words do contain a bit of the ol' fire 'n' brimstone, most of his songs are actually quite loving praises to the Lord and to those who believe in Him, and like Cave's major theme--no matter how far away from God the man might fall, even the most troubled soul is allowed the pleasure of salvation and forgiveness.

Edwards is a brilliant man, and his songs are beautiful, disturbing and haunting. Don't be intimidated by the Southern Gothic nature of his music, or the whiskey-soaked darkness of Edwards' voice. This is a truly beautiful album, one that's an open love letter from a man to for his Lord and Savior. Stunning. Simply stunning.

--Joseph Kyle

Artist Website: http://www.wovenhand.net
Label Website: http://www.soundsfamilyre.com

January 08, 2005

Jay Bennett "The Beloved Enemy"

Jay Bennett’s second album of 2004, The Beloved Enemy, is a record that’s both beautiful and difficult. Considering his pedigree (which, by now, doesn’t really need to be reexamined, does it?), making complex country-styled music is not surprising, nor is it that he’s making beautiful, touching music. His previous record, Bigger Than Blue, offered enough hints that he would soon take a dive into deeper, darker waters, and The Beloved Enemy is most certainly that.

Throwing off convention that would cause him to restrain from revealing the depths of his personal pain was a wise choice. In so doing, it’s made his music even more emotional. Just take a listen to “My Little Valentine.” Bennett’s voice is, at best, quite uncomfortable to listen to; he takes Tom Waits’ trademark style and runs it through an emotional wringer, making it even rougher and gruffer; as the song progresses, Bennett’s voice grows harsher, more difficult to understand and even more painful. Like my father used to say, “The blues isn’t a sound, it’s a feeling”—and “My Little Valentine” is an emotional massacre.

Multiply that song by eight and you’ll have the formula for The Beloved Enemy.
Let’s not get caught up in overlooking the real pain in his voice, either. “Audrey” sounds like it could be Bob Dylan, circa Blood on the Tracks. The extremely sad “I Want You Back” is a simple song with an even simpler message—Bennett’s heartbroken, and he realizes the errors of his ways.

Two songs save The Beloved Enemy from being an almost pathetic portrait of a man in pain. “If I Forgot To Land,” featuring guest vocals by Michelle Anthony, is a touching duet that thematically shows that Bennett is really not alone after all, that someone’s there to pull him out and give him love, no matter how painful his situation may be. Then there’s the album closer, an interesting cover of Tori Amos’ “Pretty Good Year,” which he makes even more interesting with his deadpan vocals and his experimental take of her music. Thematically it closes the album quite nicely, leaving the listener with a feeling that Bennett’s trying to say that “though my life was bad, in retrospect, my life was pretty good after all.” In fact, he even says as much in his liner notes, where he thanks Amos for “providing what I couldn’t seem to find inside myself—a period to this sentence.”

The Beloved Enemy is not an easy listen. Even at thirty eight minutes, it’s still a very hard album to sit through, because the emotional content is SO high. Bennett’s a talented man, and though it’s a difficult record, The Beloved Enemy is also a very moving record. Here’s hoping that 2005 will be a better year.

--Joseph Kyle

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

Trembling Blue Stars "Southern Skies Appear Brighter"

Trembling Blue Stars return after a few years of silence, and it’s obvious that they’ve not lost the knack for writing beautiful songs. Southern Skies Appear Brighter is a five song EP that serves as an advance to their forthcoming album, Seven Autumn Flowers. As they’ve not lost any momentum since 2001’s Alive to Every Smile, their sound is both more mature yet grounded in the styles you’ve come to expect—moody, introspective indie-pop.

The EP starts with the girl-sung “Helen Reddy,” and it’s a gorgeous, lush number (as well as a gorgeous Lush-style number!) with some of the best vocals Trembling Blue Stars have ever had—and it’s quite easy to see why it’s the lead single from their new album. After such a grand start, anything would be a bit anticlimactic—and following such a home run does take a little bit of power away from the next song, “A Beginning of A Kind.” “Open Skies” has a demo feel to it—mainly due to the drum machine accompaniment—but it really wouldn’t sound out of place on Her Handwriting. My personal favorite—and possibly one of my favorite Trembling Blue Stars songs, actually—is “Hurry Home Through the Clouds,” which has a sing-along vibe and…and…handclapping! It sounds really, really nice! The final track, “One Wish Granted,” is a gentle instrumental, accentuated with a sad cello and an almost electronica feel, and it’s both warm and loving AND sad and melancholy.

All in all, Southern Skies Appear Brighter is a nice little foretaste of Seven Autumn Flowers, and it shows that it may very well be Wratten’s masterpiece. Even if it’s not, this is still a masterful little EP.

--Joseph Kyle

Artist Website: http://www.tbstars.co.uk

Plush "Underfed"

Plush mastermind Liam Hayes is an underrated genius. Though he’s hardly the definition of a prolific musician, he’s been making seemingly wonderful music for the past decade--just take a listen to his debut single “Three-Quarters Blind Eyes” or his 1998 debut album More You Becomes You. With one listen you’ll quickly recognize that Hayes is an extraordinary talent. Hayes has always teetered on becoming the next Harry Nilsson, and with good reason; he possesses one of the best singing voices of the last twenty years; though it’s not “perfect” it is very rich, very lush and very succulent.

In 2002, he released his masterpiece, Fed. With it, he realized his dream of making an over-the-top 70’s-inspired big-band pop album--one that, ultimately sounded not unlike Nilsson. Though available only as a very obscure Japanese import, Fed suffered the fate of being an excellent (and rather expensively produced) record that nobody heard. For the few of us who actually heard Fed, two thoughts instantly came to mind: “Wow” and “why the hell isn’t anyone going to release this record over here?” (Rumor going around said that the album’s overhead costs scared off many a label.)

Underfed, then, is an interesting concept. Presented in packaging that makes it look like a studio tape, this record is nothing more than the demo version of Fed. (Get the pun?) Instead of an orchestra’s accompaniment, it’s just Hayes with a backing band of Rian Murphy and Matt Lux and Steve Albini behind the recording deck. Though the liner notes state that Fed was an album developed over a seven year period, these sketches were made in 1999. Hayes felt more needed to be added—and another two and a half years was spent developing and recording and masterminding the tapes. When he finished…his record label Drag City chose not to release it, and the only label that would was the tiny Japanese label After Hours.

Far be it for me to suggest what an artist should or shouldn’t do, it’s quite obvious that Hayes shouldn’t have worried too much about making the arrangements bigger and bolder, because, truth be told, Underfed is a wonderful album on its own. Regardless of arrangement, in the end, a great song is a great song, and it’s an impressive enough feat for any artist to make music this lush with only the barest of accompaniment. These songs are raw, rough and utterly gorgeous—and, in some cases, even better than the finished product!

Really, though, how could you not be charmed by the stripped-down simplicity of “Burn Together,” with simple guitar strumming and “la-la” parts sung in place of an orchestra? Could any amount of studio shine ever really make the ‘naked’ version of “Bus Station” any lesser of a song? And let’s not neglect the wonderful ten-minute jam session of “Fed (Intro),”which sounds like a wonderfully jazzy soundtrack to late-night shenanigans. Indeed, Underfed shows that the simplistic beauty that made More You Becomes You wasn’t lost—it was just glossed over beyond belief.

In the time since Fed’s release, two great “lost” records have been released—Brian Wilson’s remade ‘interpretation’ of Smile and the ‘naked’ version of the Beatles’ Let It Be. While such releases are of interest to music aficionados, they do eliminate two of the great mysteries of the music world, and—to be perfectly honest—are quite mediocre. Personally, I think it’s kind of sad that such enigmas have been ruined in such a boring way, because the world needs a little mystery. It’s unfortunate that Fed is lost to the rest of the world—though I’m sure finding it is only one Soulseek session away--Underfed makes a case that Fed should, over time, become the Holy Grail of indie-rock.

--Joseph Kyle

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

January 07, 2005

Frances Albert Machine "I Love You And I Don't Want You To Die"

If you’ve ever wondered what a band that crossed the melancholy of Trembling Blue Stars with the unique experimental folkie moments of Hood (and who hasn’t?), then I highly recommend I Love You And I Don’t Want You To Die: Singles & Rarities 1999-2004 by Francis Albert Machine. This one man show has done a really good job of making sad, mopey bedroom indie-pop a tad more interesting than your typical bedsit sad lad. Though the track listing denotes twenty-six songs—not to mention the one hidden track—don’t be put off, because eleven of these “songs” are no more than brief experimental sonic clips that sound great AND make the real songs even more interesting.

But let’s talk about those real songs, shall we?

Francis Albert Machine has one of those sad-eyed British voices that’s quite typically indie-pop; it’s sad, but not winsome; it’s sweet, but not twee. He sings of heartbreak and he sings of it in such a way that makes you realize that he knows the road to better days is to travel through moments of melancholy. He takes this trip by himself, and for a one-man act, his music’s quite grand—and like the best British music, it’s quite witty, too! To highlight this, just check out the first line to one of my favorites, “I Didn’t Understand It So I Gave It a Name”: “I don’t believe in free love, and not because I don’t get enough.” How could anyone not love such a keen wit? Other highlights include “The Equal + the Opposites Attract,” the gorgeous “The Smoking Gun” and the unlisted cover of “My Funny Valentine.”

It’s a bit frustrating that such a great artist toils in the pit of obscurity, but I Love You And I Don’t Want You To Die corrects that wrong. That he’s been making such excellent music for such a long time in the face of utter obscurity is both frustrating and inspiring, proving that once again, good doesn’t always have to be well known. Here’s hoping that the world gets the privilege of hearing more from Frances Albert Machine!

--Joseph Kyle

Artist Website: http://www.frankiemachine.com
Label Website: http://www.chocohearts.com

The Dead Texan "The Dead Texan"

Hnumor in music is nothing new, but what of The Dead Texan? Funny titles like “The Six Million Dollar Sandwich” and “When I see Scissors I Can’t Help but Think of You” might lead you to believe that you were about to embark on a fun, funny musical journey. Two obvious facts about the Dead Texan will quickly quell such beliefs: one, the record is on the well-respected experimental label Kranky; two, The Dead Texan is the product of Adam Wiltzie, formerly of Stars of the Lid, a band whose releases are quite austere.It should come as no surprise that this music is also the result of collaboration, as the music accompanied eight short experimental films, all created by European cinematographer Christina Vantzos, all of which can be found on the DVD which came with the album. (and which didn’t come with my copy—dang!)

As one would expect from a record that consisted of such elements, The Dead Texan doesn’t illicit a laugh inasmuch as it soothes the soul. As Wiltzie says, The Dead Texan’s songs are “mini-symphonies.” Personally, they’re better off described as “teenage symphonies to Eno.” The music found here is soft, soothing and never dull. Ambient works such as the ones found here could easily become meandering, but The Dead Texan never bores, simply because understands the concept of brevity. None of these songs go on for too long; the only one that does, “A Chronicle of Early Failures,” is split into two separate tracks. This simple technique works wonders; it allows the listener to enjoy the nuances of each song, such as the subtle use of vocals, gentle piano and guitar—not to mention the seaside-like soothing washes of keyboard.

The Dead Texan is an excellent debut record from a wonderfully creative mind. Whether or not there will be any more Dead Texan records remains to be seen, but Wiltzie has made a record that’s enjoyable and intelligent--even if the humor is only on a superficial level--one that’s suitable for your long winter naps.
--Joseph Kyle

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

January 06, 2005

The Jigsaw Seen "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen"

Long-running LA pop group The Jigsaw Seen released a Christmas single back in 1989, “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” c/w “Jesus of Hollywood.” Fifteen years later, they’ve decided to reissue the record as a gift to their fans. The songs are all nice, and have that “College Rock” sound that was popular back in the late 1980s and early, pre-Nirvana 1990s—in other words, these songs have a They Might Be Giants/REM feel. Both songs sound really nice, and it’s an even nicer little treat for those of you who happen to like indie-rock bands making Christmas records. As you’d expect, this isn’t earth-shattering, but it’s still a nice little record.

--Joseph Kyle

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

Label Website: http://www.vibro-phonic.com

January 05, 2005

Interview: Tub Ring!

Ahhhhh…Tub Ring! These guys from Chicago are insane, they’re intense, they’re nuts, they’re…wonderful. Their style is a style that encompasses punk, pop and experimental music, and they mix it up in such a way that will leave you gasping for air. I know that when I heard their recent release, Zoo Hypothesis, I was totally, utterly blown away. It’s fun, it’s interesting, and it’s totally, utterly Tub Ring. Live…they’re…insane…and I’m being quite modest. Just watch keyboard player Rob Kleiner, and you’ll soon witness the definition of ‘insanity.’ Sean and I had a great time, even though the night looked to be a disaster, thanks to a double booking at the club which prompted a last-minute venue change and two reviewers who wanted to see both shows. (We did, and Tub Ring was clearly the winner of the night.)

JK: So, how long have you been with Tub Ring? Too long?

Yeah. (laughs) Too long. Well, Tub Ring started when the singer and the bassist were in high school. It was a punk rock band, but it has nothing to do with the music we’re doing now. I think I joined in ‘98. That’s kinda when it took the shape that it is now. It’s been six years…which is kinda disgusting, but I was little then.

JK: Do you feel as if your presence added a new set of influences that contributed to where the band’s music is now?

What’s funny is that they were a punk band when I was in high school, and I was in a metal band. We were both in the Chicago scene, but my band had been plugging along for about two years with zero fans. Tub Ring came along and were, like, funny pop-punk…and overnight, they had all these fans. There were kids in my high school wearing their T-shirts…so I was like, “Fuck Tub Ring! I wanna kill those guys! (everyone laughs) How come MY band doesn’t have kids wearing our T-shirts?” I hated them, and I refused to go see their shows…but I became friends with Kevin the singer and, years and years later --- maybe around ’97 --- we became friends AGAIN. We used to follow Mr. Bungle around the country and see their shows.

JK: You know, that wipes out my next 10 questions. (everyone laughs) You can’t listen to the last two Tub Ring records and NOT think “Mr. Bungle”…or, at least, I know that I can’t.

Like I said, I’ve listened to them since I was little. Before I heard them, I was into Whitesnake and Poison. I think that every person has a band that kinda breaks them into good taste.

SP: (laughs) A gateway band?

Exactly! You’re listening to shit…and one day you hear this band
that you don’t think you like at first…

JK: “What the hell is THAT??!?”

Yeah! You think, “What the hell is that?” It doesn’t make any sense to you for the first 10 listens, but for some reason you keep listening anyway. It’s like an epiphany, and then you enter into good taste. (everyone laughs) I think Mr. Bungle was that for me. I’ve always felt a close bond to them for what they did for me. They were definitely a huge influence. I don’t think I’ve popped one of their CDs in for years, but it’s still deep-rooted.

SP: When a band’s music is deeply rooted inside of you, you don’t necessarily have to listen to them all the time. My “gateway band” was
My Bloody Valentine, and I know their “Loveless” album from back to front even though I haven’t listened to it in about seven or eight months. Rob: Yeah, and until the day you die you’ll give them credit. Even though you might not listen to them for three decades, someone will bring them up and you’ll say, “Hey, that was a good band.”

JK: Once you hear “Stub-a-dub” you’ll never forget it anyway! That
record’s just fucking amazing…

That first one? Yeah.

JK: …and I guess that Tub Ring’s progression is a bit like Mr.Bungle’s in that they were a band in the ‘80s that started out as regular punk, and then came out with the one that Mike Patton did with them.

He’s been in the band from the beginning, but I know what you
mean. They did “OU818” and things started getting crazy. When I joined, they wanted to do more experimental stuff. They didn’t want to be a punk band anymore. At that point, we should have just changed the name of the band so that it wouldn’t have anything to do with the high school punk band that it was. In Chicago, there are a lot of people that still think that that’s what it is. For a while, we couldn’t get booked at certain places, or people would dismiss us right away.

JK: Are the two bands you’re playing with tonight straight-up punk?

I’d say that the experimentalism of Tub Ring is to punk rock what
Dog Fashion Disco is to metal. Bad Acid Trip is a little coarser. They’re definitely metal and insane, but the insanity fueled by rage more than it is by experimentalism.

SP: Are all three bands touring together right now?


Have you been getting good responses?

It’s been an amazing tour. Houston on a Wednesday night is pretty rough, but most of the shows --- NYC, Chicago, Tampa, Indianapolis,
Baltimore --- they’ve been huge. Every night’s been huge. Even on the smaller nights, there are at least a good 30 or 40 people, which is a nice turnout if you’re doing experimental shit.

JK: One thing I’m looking forward to seeing tonight is the showmanship. One word that came to my mind when listening to Zoo Psychology was “showmanship.” Is that a big part of your live act? I get the feeling that when Tub Ring is on stage, they want to put on a good show.

SP: Yeah, the music sounds very theatrical on record. It’s almost as if you can visualize the singer jumping out at you during the screaming parts.

Just wait. You’ll see. (everyone laughs) Everybody always told us before this record that the live shows were a trillion times better.
“You don’t translate very well on record, but I love your live show!” I think that the new album closes the gap. It’s definitely more equal now. If you’ve never seen a Tub Ring show, your question will be answered by the end of the show.

JK: There’s another band that you guys remind me of, who I wanted to ask you about…Tripping Daisy.

I read that in your review. Who are they exactly? Is that the singer of the Polyphonic Spree? What was the single?

JK: (sings) “I got a girl who lives with me…”

I like them, and I REALLY like the Polyphonic Spree, but I wouldn’t consider them an influence.

JK: When they were doing their thing live back in the ‘90s, they were insane. They were big on showmanship and multimedia. When I saw them, they had 10-foot films behind them, beside them and all around them, all going on at once. They were really big into improvisation. They’d even have sets in which they said, “We’re not gonna play any songs that you know,” and just wing it from that point on. It was awesome! Do you guys do a lot of improv in your sets?

No. You go through phases in which your musical tastes grow and change and modify themselves. For a long time, I really liked improvisation, but now I’m firmly anti-improv. I don’t believe in improv at all.

JK: “Play the set list!”

Yeah, I’m not saying that it shouldn’t sound different from the record, but I like everything to be precise, neat and calculated. I love calculation, where you have blueprints of how you want something executed, and then you go and execute it…(snaps fingers)…to a T.

SP: I’m not shocked at all.

JK: I thought you guys were teetering on the edge of falling apart…not necessarily loose musically, but…

SP: …because there are so many shifts.

JK: …you reach track five or six, and by then the album just becomes
one long song!

The way it’s mixed together, it kinda does. In a sentence: I don’t mind it sounding like it’s unplanned and improvised, but in fact…the blueprints are all there. I like it to be deceptive so that you don’t know whether we meant to do stuff or not, but I don’t believe in improv at all…at least not with this project.

JK: Do you have other projects?

Yeah, I do but nothing…(trails off)

JK: …worth mentioning?

Well, it’s ALL worth mentioning, but nothing that anyone’s going to read about for a year or two.

JK: In other words, you’ve got your plans in the basement. What about the other guys? Do they do anything outside of Tub Ring? I mean, who’s the real musical driving force behind the band?

The singer and I. I do keyboards and write most of the music, and the singer writes most of the lyrics. It’s mainly the two of us. You know, back in Chicago he and I do music for TV commercials. I’ve done a couple things on soundtracks and TV shows. I think Kevin sang in Coors Lite commercial, and I’ve played in a couple commercials. There is gonna be more stuff, but it’s just starting now. I’m teetering with two ideas right now. I want to have a 12-piece orchestra to tour with, and then I also want to have a pop band with me and, like…six chicks playing in the background. (everyone laughs)

JK: Robert Palmer style!

Yeah, exactly! That’s the only thing I can compare it to, but that’s
what I want it to be: hot chicks and then me.

SP: Except that your chicks will actually be able to play instruments and not look bored while doing so.

That’s the problem…finding THAT. (everyone laughs)

SP: You just said that you and the singer do music for commercials.
I’ve heard from other people who do commercials that the process is very, very precise. You have to get it one or two takes, and it’s done very quickly and in a regimented style. Do you think that that way of working informs what Tub Ring does as well?

I’ve never thought of that…that’s a really good question. I’d have to say yes. Looking at the broader picture, though, I’d say that’s what all indie-rock is --- not just Tub Ring. Indie-rock is music that needs to be brilliant, but also costs next to nothing to make…’cause nobody has any money to make the music. (everyone laughs) It’s coming out of the artist’s pockets, or out of the pocket of a true fan who wants to start a label. They need to make it sound amazing, and they’ve gotta go into a studio and crank out…fucking GENIUS in no time flat. I mean, a Britney Spears single can sound fucking awesome, but they can work on it for a month with an unlimited budget. I’m not trying to rip on Britney Spears; I love the production on a lot of pop music…but indie music has to compete with multimillion-dollar corporate music, and it has to do so on a budget…

SP: …with one hundredth of the resources.

Exactly! What you’re saying --- that it has to be done within one or two takes --- is probably conducive to ALL indie-rock, not just Tub Ring. I think that’s an excellent point, though, and it’s totally valid.

JK: Where do you think that Tub Ring fits in the scope of indie-rock? It seems like you’re somewhat of an enigma no matter where you go. You’ve got these elements of screamo punk, and then you turn around and have really poppy moments. Do you ever find it really difficult to simply exist on your own?

Well, a lot of people won’t give anything outside the set box a chance, but screw all them. I’m not gonna play stuff I don’t wanna play to make other people happy. I think that’s another really good point. I’ve been reading a lot of good quotes from people who write music reviews while looking for Tub Ring reviews. I don’t normally read a lot of record reviews, unless they’re about a record that I’m interested in buying.
My philosophy has always been that the people who are making the best music today are the people with the best record collections. People that have the best stuff coming into their ears are going to have the best stuff coming out of them in their music. I read a really interesting review of Clinic that said, essentially, “These guys must have an awesome record collection.”

I don’t know if anyone else would understand it, but it really spoke
to me. That’s a really great compliment to give someone. You’re saying that everything in Tub Ring skips around so much, and I think that it’s because we love so many different types of music that it would be a disservice to just play pop or punk. That would get so fucking boring to me…or even to play beautiful Beach Boys shit all the time, or bad-ass grind-punk. I mean, it’s cool on its own, but there’s so much good stuff out there, so experiment with all of it!

JK: It’s too bad that you guys couldn’t get on a bill with Black Dice (band playing across the street that night, along with Animal Collective), because that’s almost exactly what their philosophy is. When they started out, they were releasing 7-inches with 12 songs on one side. Everyone got used to them being this wild, screaming band…but now they’re doing 15-minute ambient pieces that still contain the elements of what they first started out with.

Well, you’ve given a good endorsement of what they’re doing, ‘cause I’m already sold. I’m excited to hear what they’re doing.

JK: At the same time, the lead singer of Black Dice band is interested in things that his audience wouldn’t expect. He’s also in this twee indie-pop band called the Ninjas.


SP: I agree that the best music is often a filter of everything that the artist hears. The finished product doesn’t end up sounding like seven or eight things awkwardly stitched together, but instead it’s very nebulous. It never fits into any sort of genre at any given time, even as it’s hopping across genres. You can’t say, “This is the punk moment,” or “This is the Beach Boys moment” because everything fits together well.

I’ve heard it the other way too, where it sounds really forced. I think that’s an excellent compliment when you say that a band can sound smooth and cohesive even when they’re trying to sound un-cohesive.

JK: Has Tub Ring personally been enjoying this tour?

Yeah. It’s really cool. I think that when you get a package of good bands to tour together, it’s way better than just going out on your own.

JK: Who’s the first band up tonight?

Rob: Bad Acid Trip. Do you know System of a Down? (we nod our heads) The lead singer, Serj, has a record label called Serjical Strike and Bad Acid Trip are his main flagship band.

JK: So it’s more metallic?

It’s metal, but it’s weird metal. It doesn’t have the keyboard element that the other two bands on the bill have, but they’re just as spastic and weird. They just did a tour with GWAR.

JK: Have they been around for a while?

Yeah, but they haven’t left California until recently. They got a lot of exposure touring with GWAR, and they did a tour with Motoraider.
The System of a Down guy’s been talking them up a lot.

JK: For some reason, when I see the name Dog Fashion Disco I think of the Butthole Surfers.

Nah…like I said, Dog Fashion Disco is to metal what Tub Ring is to
punk. They have a lot of different genre collisions total.

JK: Well, “punk” isn’t an adjective I would come up when listening to your record.

Really? Well, I think that it’s BASED on punk. You know what I mean? There was some idiot a couple of weeks ago in New York who was trying to say that Amadeus was punk, because to him it was more of an attitude thing than a musical thing…to which I say, “Yeah, but…no.” I think that the attitude of recklessness mixed with a good amount of the songs having a bit of punk rock in them…I would still call Tub Ring punk. It’s interesting to hear you say that you wouldn’t…and I guess that I wouldn’t either, but if someone asked you to describe Tub Ring in a sentence, the quickest shit I could say would be “punk.” It isn’t necessarily the most accurate thing…

SP: …but it’s the biggest signifier that would draw people in.

Yeah. I would tell people “experimental punk,” or spastic punk.

JK: I know that this is kind of a smaller venue. Do you have any sort of multimedia presentation along with the show?

Nope. When you see us, you’ll know that there’s no need for multimedia. We all spazz out and break things. We break ourselves. (everyone laughs) There’s all kinds of breaking and freaking out.

JK: You’re doing the …Trail of Dead thing.

Yeah. You’ll see. It’s freaky.

JK: When Sean saw them at SXSW, somebody had stolen a car and put it on the train track behind the club after the show.

SP: The train ran into it, and that was the finale of the show…and that was already after the near-riot that Trail of Dead started with the sound men by handing pieces of their drum kit to the audience. That was in 2001, but they suck live now. They played at the Siren Fest this summer and they were terrible.

Well, we don’t have a label that puts any money or does anything for us. All of our fans and all of our notoriety comes from our live show.
We’re not on the radio or on MTV. This is it. It’s just word of mouth
from our live show…

SP: …which is the best and most organic way to gain a fan base anyway. When a band puts on a good live show, you can see the real talent on display.

JK: That’s how Tripping Daisy made their fan base, and that’s pretty much how the Polyphonic Spree did it too. You don’t have a label deal, so you just go out and play everywhere all the time. You have a really whacked out live show. Then again, I guess that’s true with all of the great bands. They worry about the live show first, because if the shows are good, people will buy your records at the shows. I think I was going somewhere with this…

SP: When you’re a good live band, you don’t have as much of a need for a publicist because the people who see you live will publicize it for you.

Yeah, word of mouth is the best…

JK: …and that’s total punk rock.

It’s human nature. If a friend tells you about something and gives it a good recommendation, it means way more than some PR guy going, “Here’s the new thing. This is so cool. You need this.” That works on kids and basic consumers, but people that are out there looking for good music? It’s word of mouth.

JK: Yeah, PR gets old. I hate hearing about how a band is awesome…

SP: …and you’re hearing it from magazine writers who are regurgitating press releases.

JK: …or from publicists who review their own records in big magazines. See, that shit pisses me off.

It’s the nature of the beast, though. I was just having a
conversation inside with our merch guy, Alfredo. I don’t ever want to badmouth any other artist, and I’m not trying to do that by bringing this up…but I was asking Alfredo, “How old do you think the guys in Blink 182 are?” He replied, “Probably in their 30s.” They’re still doing pop/punk. I’ve got nothing against pop/punk, and I’ve got nothing against doing music for money either, if that’s what you’re setting out to do…but at that point, that’s what they’re doing it for. They’re doing it to make money. They’re doing it to provide themselves and their families with food, shelter, and luxuries. Do you think that they actually LISTEN to pop/punk? If they do, then they’re deprived. What artist at the age of 35 hasn’t matured out of pop/punk?

SP: They’re singing about emotions and experiences that haven’t been
their own for at least 15 years.

Exactly! That’s my theory!

JK: That makes perfect sense.

There’s a pop/punk band from my hometown that I see selling about the same amount of records as us. I wonder how long they’re gonna do that for. They’re all around my age.

SP: It’s arrested development.

…and then, when it IS all over, are they gonna be able to look back and say, “Wow…we made some significant art.” I don’t think so.

Miss TK & The Revenge "XOXO"

This is a fun record! One can only love Miss TK and The Revenge’s debut album, XOXO in the same way that one loved the best moments of The Waitresses and The Go-Go’s. We’re not talking about Stockhausen music theory here; we’re talking about music that’s simply enjoyable because it’s great music to listen to. Much like those elder statesmen of new wave pop, Miss TK is simply pop music that’s indebted to the sounds of today’s hip music scene. Yet I’m torn. XOXO is smart in a way, it’s dumb in a way, and it’s kind of hard to reconcile that.

On one hand, the music is typical new-wave inspired indie-rock. You’ve got driving guitars, tempered with some really great groove-minded bass lines and some killer synth beats, all topped off with a sweet yet sassy little girl-sounding lead singer, who writes songs that are about love and boredom and love and life and having fun and love and heartbreak and about love. Miss TK is a sassy combination of Debbie Harry and Belinda Carlisle, giving the music a nice retro-sounding style.

On the other hand, the music is typical new-wave inspired indie-rock. You’ve got driving guitars, tempered with some really great groove-minded bass lines and some killer synth beats, all topped off with a sweet yet sassy little girl-sounding lead singer, who writes songs that are about love and boredom and love and life and having fun and love and heartbreak and about love. Miss TK is a sassy combination of Debbie Harry and Belinda Carlisle, giving the music a nice retro-sounding style.

Sometimes you need not examine something so critically and just accept it and love what you hear and how it makes you feel. Miss TK is obviously a girl in the world, a girl who just wants to have fun, and who can blame her? Songs like “Elevator” and “Hey Baby, Yeah!” make a case for me to simply say, “Girl, keep on, keepin’ on,” whilst I turn up the stereo. You should enjoy XOXO’s prickly, perky and hyper pop music in lieu of caffeine.

--Joseph Kyle

Aritst Website: http://www.misstk.com
Label Website: http://www.gernblandsten.com

Pas/Cal & Asobi Seksu "Last Christmas"

For the first release on Pas/Cal's new Romantic Air label, Pas/Cal and Asobi Seksu have each contributed a Christmas cover song for this 12". Detroit indie popsters Pas/Cal covered the mega-kitschy "Last Christmas" by Wham, and New York shoegaze pop band Asobi Seksu covered the great Ramones classic, "Merry Christmas (I Don't Want to Fight Tonight)".

I'll address "Last Christmas" first. I have a little history with this song. The first version of the song that I heard was by the female-fronted indiepop band, Sarge. For those who don't know the song, its main lyrical sentiment goes like this: "Last Christmas, I gave you my heart, but the very next day you gave it away. This year, I'm giving it to someone else." I'm not a huge fan of Sarge, but I loved that cover. They did a great rendition, driven by slow, heavily distorted guitar stabs and sweet, melodic vocals sung with an amazing amount of passion. It seemed like they took the words seriously.

(Oh yeah, I should mention that when I first heard Sarge's version, I thought it was an original.)

I don't know if you can imagine the disappointment and embarrassment that I felt a little while later when I heard the original version by Wham on the radio. "You mean this song is actually a kitschy piece of '80s dance pop shit?!" Needless to say, I felt very ritually unclean and bereft of indie cred after that.

But really, it wasn't the song itself that was the problem; it was the people who sung it. In the hands of Wham, it sounded like another heartless piece of mass-produced pop tripe, delivered as casually as yet another one of your aunt's Christmas fruitcakes. In the hands of Sarge, it sounded like a sugary sweet, yet surprisingly sincere expression of heartbreak.

So, what does it sound like in the hands of Pas/Cal?

Simply put, it sounds like fun. If you have some sort of Christmas-themed indie DJ dance night, this is the version you're going to want to play. Pas/Cal's version is done in a very upbeat '60s-influenced indiepop style, neither taking the lyrics too seriously, nor singing them lackadaisically. When you hear the cover, it's apparent that they put much effort into making it. It's actually over 6 minutes long, but it's hardly repetitive. Lots of tempo and dynamic changes abound, there are some rocking guitar solos, and they subtly and deftly add and change instruments and riffs as the song progresses. Clearly, Pas/Cal put more effort into arranging this cover than Wham put into writing, arranging, and recording the original.

"Merry Christmas (I Don't Want to Fight Tonight)" is another story.
Written and performed by one of the most important, credible bands of all time, it obviously has an agreeable pedigree. The song is a sentimental, yet realist plea begging a significant other for a daylong cessation of relational discord. The Ramones seemed to have been resolved to the idea that conflicts in relationships are sometimes unavoidable... but damn it, it's Christmas, we love each other (or I at least assume so), and Christmas is supposed to be a happy time.

For this cover, Asobi Seksu was wise enough not to mess with perfection, and ladies and gentlemen, if you don't think "Merry Christmas (I Don't Want to Fight Tonight)" is is perfection, you simply have horrible music taste. I simply refuse to accept the idea of relativist musical taste in this case. Anyway, Asobi Seksu, knowing that significant modification of this song would be both pretentious and unnecessary, play the cover almost completely straight and true to the original. They play it with the same tempo and song structure.
However, they do manage to make it unique by playing the guitar part with the standard distortion-and reverb-drenched shoegaze guitar, which adds an interesting twist. And the other good twist is that, in case you didn't know, Asobi Seksu has a female lead singer. Fans of female indiepop vocals know that having a woman sing a song originally sung by a man can make that song sound better (or maybe not better, just equally great in its own right). I dare say that I think this version sounds cute, but I don't know if I should say that because shoegaze isn't supposed to be cute. Then again, Asobi Seksu isn't your normal
shoegaze band.

And before ending this review, I should mention the cover art. It's definitely not your normal cover art. As you can see, it features clay models of all the members of Pas/Cal and Asobi Seksu, minature replicas of their instruments, and a gingerbread house. It's just really cute, and it's a great incentive to buy the album.

(Oh, and now that I think of it, since Asobi Seksu allowed clay models of themselves to appear in a snowy Christmas landscape in front of a gingerbread house on the cover of this record, one could probably assume that they're just asking to be referred to as "cute".)

--Eric Wolf

Artist Website: http://www.pascalgoespop.com/
Artist Website: http://www.asobiseksu.com/
Label Website: http://www.romanticair.com/