April 25, 2005
Various Artists "Little Darla Has A Treat For You, Volume 23"
Artist Website: http://www.darla.com
Various Artists "Bonnaroo Music Fest 2004"
After the festival's over, though, the organizers continue to give the gift of music: a solid two-CD set of highlights. Much like the festival itself, the CD collection is often well-organized, with a blend of well-known artists mixed in with younger, lesser known artists. Bonnaroo Music Festival 2004 is no exception. Heavy hitters include Bob Dylan, performing an excellent rendition of "Down Along The Cove," weirdos Ween and their song "Zoloft," Steve Winwood and "Dear Mr. Fantasy" and an excellent David Byrne offering, "Dialog Box." There are excellent offerings from younger bands, such as "Big Eater" by The Bad Plus, "One Big Holiday" by My Morning Jacket, Los Lonely Boys' "Crazy Dream" and Damien Rice's "Volcano." Guster's contribution, a cover of the Talking Heads' "(Nothing But) Flowers," is a can't miss track as well. Then again, even songs by Dave Matthews Band and Trey Anastasio are tolerable for a non-fan like me--which is truly a sign that Bonnaroo's doing something right.
The one criticism worth noting is that this set is a bit too jam-band heavy, shutting out other great artists who appeared on the bill, including Mike Doughty, Grandaddy, Calexico, Wilco, Fema Kuti and the Hackensaw Boys. Where are they? They're excellent artists who deserve representation, as the set would benefit from them rather than Moe, Umphrey's McGee and Kings of Leon. But, again, such is the case with the limited space and time alloted; someone's gonna be left out--and besides, the point is to tempt people to come to the festival. In that case--mission accomplished! Bonnaroo Music Fest 2004 is a fun collection of what's easily this country's best music festival that will make you want to go to this year's fest. (I know I do--anyone up for it?)
Festival Website: http://www.bonnaroo.com
Label Website: http://www.sanctuaryrecords.com
The Supersuckers "Devil's Food: A Collection of Rare Treats & Evil Sweets!"
Devil's Food is an odds-n-sods collection, gathering tunes from compilations, studio outtakes and fan club releases. As far as other information about the songs, forget it; these songs are all placed together with no sense of context. After fifteen years, they've managed to accumulate an album's worth of obscure material, and this record's a lot better than your average rarities collection. Originals such as "Kid's Got It Comin'," "Shake it Off" and "Then I'm Gone" are fine originals, highlighting the rock and roll style that The Supersuckers have made their own. They've got a few "country" versions of some of their earlier songs, "Doublewide" and their classic hit "Born With A Tail." A couple of covers are noteworthy, too; their cover of the classic Jerry Reed theme song to Smokey & The Bandit "Eastbound & Down" isn't much of a surprise, nor is their cover of Electric Frankenstein's "Teenage Shutdown," but the same can't be said about their surprisingly faithful version of Outkast's "Hey Ya!" (Visit their website for a hilarious video of it!)
Devil's Food is a great little record; it's fun, it's frantic and it's a sign that The Supersuckers have yet to peak. When your outtakes and set-asides are this good, that's saying something. They could have packages Devil's Food as a record of all-new material, and only the hardcore would have been wise to it. A great little dessert from a meat-and-potatoes band.
Artist Website: http://www.supersuckers.com
April 22, 2005
The Sights "The Sights"
Artist Website: http://www.wearethesights.com
April 21, 2005
Okay "Low Road"
Low Road, Okay's debut record, is a unique, interesting artistic achievement; it's the sound of a man who is in pain, whose life is changing, but he does so without ever addressing his personal hell. Musically, Low Road's sound is limited in the way that a one-man-bedroom band can be, but don't let that fool you. Utilizing the concept of "it's not what you can do, it's what you can do with what you have," Anderson has created eleven songs that are at once beautiful, disturbing and ugly.
When a record starts off with a cloyingly upbeat song that sounds like something off of a children's record yet the song itself is describing bleeding to death, you realize that you're dealing with something that defies the limited notion of "normal." That the song becomes an anthemic and utterly catchy sing-along makes things even more...interesting. The combination of quirky, cute and interesting arrangements that adds to Low Road's instant charm, all topped off with Anderson's voice, which sounds like a happy-go-lucky helium-sucking David Bowie imiation done by a childlike mind such as Daniel Johnston.
Do not think, though, that these cute and quirky moments are happy moments, because they're not. The songs on Low Road are quite catchy--some border on sing-alongs--and, in some cases, extremely heartbreaking. "Devil" has a dance-y rhythm and catchy melody, but the very first line is "We're killing you just like we're killing me/But what can we do." "I don't give a hoot no more," on "Hoot," will reveal itself both one of the catchiest songs you'll hear all year AND one of the most pathetic statements about life you'll hear all year. Then there's "Replace," a melody about Anderson's acceptance about his fate that's built on the melody of "Amazing Grace," that starts off with "I don't live in my head/Somebody killed it dead/I don't live in my head any more." By song's end, you won't hear "Amazing Grace" quite the same.
Low Road's greatest moment, though is on "Oh." It's a simple song with a very basic lyric; when he sings, "I got a full life, oh yeah, the good life, the way it's supposed to be, but it hurts to be stabbed in the back," that you really, truly sympathize with Anderson's plight. On the surface, it's about betrayal of a friend, but the song is deeper than that; when it leads into a conversation, "when I was down and blue, and then you said to me, boy, you're right where I want you to be," you realize that the 'friend' that's betrayed him isn't a person, but it's his body. Or, of course, it's God. Or maybe it's both. Regardless of your interpretation, one thing remains: this is powerful songwriting at its most effective; this song will leave you in tears, and it's more real and emotional and painful than anything Conor Oberst has ever written.
Low Road is a fascinating, captivating debut record. While one wouldn't wish Anderson to go through what he's going through, it's good to know that his illness hasn't ceased his creative process, and that he is using this opportunity--as cursed as it may be--as a blessing. This is a beautiful record that demands your attention, and it's the most honest artistic statement you'll hear this year--or, to be honest, in years. A truly timeless record that opens up and blossoms with each successive listen. Easily one of this year's best records.
Label Website: http://www.absolutelykosher.com
April 20, 2005
The Cops "Why Kids Go Wrong"
Artist Website: http://www.mtfujirecords.com
Label Website: http://www.thecopsmusic.com
The Curtains "Vehicles of Travel"
The Curtains’ new album Vehicles of Travel pushes this progression a bit further in two ways. One is that they’ve harnessed their constant meandering into more song-like structures. They still like to keep things short and sweet --- only three of the album’s 23 tracks crosses the two-minute mark --- but you can spot discernible patterns emerging in the music. The Curtains don’t deconstruct songs so much as they leave them generally incomplete. “Fletcher’s Favorite” is a sweet ode to a kid who likes to wander around vacant skating rinks. It has verses and choruses, but they’re slotted in between an introduction and a coda that sound nothing like each other. On “Personal Resources,” choppy riffs and martial snare rolls underscore a narrative about government corruption. Just when the song starts building momentum, an unaccompanied guitar solo abruptly undercuts it, and the song ends. On this and many other songs, Maxwell doesn’t even sing all of the lyrics that appear in the booklet. The 49-second “Observation Towers” is even more minimal than that --- the guitar introduces the melody, Maxwell sings one verse and the song ends.
Of the instrumentals, “Nite Crew” and “City of Paris” come closest to the riff-driven craziness of Deerhoof. In the former song, Saunier’s synthesizer ekes out an insistent beeping bass line while Cohen slashes out staccato chords. Cohen and Maxwell speed up and slow down according to the aggressiveness of Saunier’s playing. In the latter song, Maxwell taps out a pendulum-like rhythm on his cymbals while bells and guitars harmonize with each other. “The Gadabouts” and “The Bronx Zoobreak” come across like soundtracks to chase scenes in imaginary detective flicks. The acoustic guitar that enters the former song midway through is an especially nice touch, and the latter song’s jazzy drumming and descending bass line could get anyone’s blood racing. “Crooked Weapon” is the only song on Vehicles of Travel to imitate the arrhythmic blowouts of Flybys, and it sounds out of place among the kinder, gentler tracks that surround it.
Not every song on this album works. The least successful tracks are the ones in which Maxwell attempts spoken-word (“Cops in Cologne,” “Soapeaters!”). His speaking voice isn’t assertive enough to sustain a listener’s interest, and the music the band plays underneath him is strangely nondescript. A couple other songs really DO sound like snippets from unproductive rehearsals. However, very few albums with this many songs are consistent from beginning to end…and besides, even the weaker songs pass by too quickly to be truly offensive. It’s good, though, that each Curtains album is a slight improvement over its predecessors. Maybe next time around, the dudes can crank out a masterpiece that will speak entirely for itself so that reviewers like myself won’t even have to namedrop their main gigs. I believe they can do it!
Artist Website: http://curtains.suchfun.net
Label Website: http://www.freneticrecords.com
Okay "High Road"
High Road, Okay's debut record, is a unique, interesting artistic achievement; it's the sound of a man who is in pain, whose life is changing, but he does so without ever addressing his personal hell. Musically, High Road's sound is limited in the way that a one-man-bedroom band can be, but don't let that fool you. Utilizing the concept of "it's not what you can do, it's what you can do with what you have," Anderson has created eleven songs that are at once beautiful, disturbing and ugly. High Road is a lush, downcast record that reminds of Grandaddy and Mercury Rev on 1/100ths of a studio budget and 100 times more pain, and highlighted by Anderson's voice. Childike but wise, he sounds not unlike Daniel Johnston and Vic Chesnutt.
The ugly beast of his sickness doesn't conceal itself very well. Underneath High Road's pretty moments are some moments that are simply heartbreaking. "Good" is an excellent example of this. The song itself is a pretty song that has grand moments that sound like the Polyphonic Spree, but the chorus of "What's happening, Can do without" will break your heart. Of course, the song isn't negative; it grows into a colorful kaledescope of joyous sounds and the refrain of "look for the good then find the good" will warm your heart. Then there's "Sing-Along," which doesn't do a very good job of being subtle about pain. Seemingly about being angry while talking to a doctor or therapist, Anderson's chorus of "I don't believe anything that you say" in reply to some form of optimism in the face of terminal illness will break your heart; it's the fine line between being hopeful and hopeless that's been crossed, and it's not pretty. (And dig the sad, heartbreaking kazoo chorus!)
It's hard not to get wrapped up in Anderson's plight. When, on "Give Up," he sings "I've got to give up, I've got to give up," you'll more than likely think, "no, Marty, don't give up!" Throughout High Road, you're drawn into his world and his pain, and it's hard not to root for him. But all is not lost; hope seeps from even the saddest song on here, due in no small part to Anderson's unique, interesting voice--one that sings of innocence while the world around him burns. Even though the future may be bleak, the present is all that matters, and it's this virtue of appreciation for what you have now is what makes High Road wonderfully compelling.
Label Website: http://www.absolutelykosher.com
Mike Doughty "Skittish/Rockity Roll"
Doughty was no stranger to working by himself; before Soul Coughing, he had developed a name for himself in New York's folk and poetry underground. In 1996, he teamed up with legendary producer Kramer to record a solo album, Skittish. The record--which was simply Doughty and his guitar--was understandably rejected. Like Wilco's Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and Whiskeytown's Pneumonia, the record took on another life amongst file sharing fans--and, to Doughty's surprise, audiences at his solo shows knew this material, prompting him to release the record himself. That it's been nearly seven years since he's released a proper full-length record full of new material is criminal.
Doughty seems quite comfortable in this relaxed, solo atmosphere. Though Soul Coughing was an extremely complicated band that emphasised strong, powerful rhythms and intricate musical backing, on Skittish, Doughty eschews his band's style, opting to make his music with simply a guitar. In his liner notes, he states that Soul Coughing had no room for this kind of music, and it's easy to see why. It's also somewhat understandable why his record label rejected it as well; many of the songs sound like nothing more than demos, and though they're compelling, they're a hundred miles away from Soul Coughing's alterna-funk. At times, songs like "No Peace, Los Angeles" and "Thank You, Lord, For Sending Me The F Train" remind of Dave Matthews and Tracy Chapman; not bd, but just different from what he was doing with Soul Coughing. It's music that's suitable for a quiet coffee house setting; not too loud, not too threatening, thought provoking yet enjoyable. Ultimately, Skittish is nice, pleasant, but somewhat nondescript.
In 2003, he then released a limited-edition EP, Rockity Roll. It finds Doughty breaking the notions of what a solo act should sound like. Though brief--eight songs in fifteen minutes--it whetted the appetite even more than Skittish. With plenty of time for maturity, songs like "27 Jennifers" and "Ossining," Unlike his album, these songs have accompaniments that are fuller; the songs are a bit more upbeat, there's less of a demo feel, and they show the promise of where Doughty's music will go next. What's fascinating about Rockity Roll--and a goodly portion of Skittish--is that Doughty's style is clearly influenced and inspired by "Circles," Soul Coughing's last minor hit, and a song initially dismissed as a record-label compromise. Funny how the circle comes around, isn't it? Added to this reissue are two outtakes from Skittish; two live songs from last year's Bonnaroo festival. The live tracks hint at Doughty's reputation as a consumate live performer.
Skittish/Rockity Roll is a worthwhile compilation, and serves as a prime reminder that Mike Doughty's a talented man who makes great music, and it's a great little appetizer for his proper debut album. Hopefully, his career won't get sidetracked again, because the world needs intelligent music, and Doughty's one of the most intelligent songwriters today.
Artist Website: http://www.mikedoughty.com
Label Website: http://www.atorecords.com
April 18, 2005
The Happy Couple "Fools in Love"
Label Website: http://www.indiepages.com/matinee
Peter Ulrich "enter the mysterium"
Enter The Mysterium is, however, a focused folk record that's inspired by--but not overwhelmingly indebted to--Europe's vast musical heritage. At times, one might think Ulrich is melding electronica with the ancient melodies of the past. It's a risky endeavor; Dead Can Dance attempted this on their last studio album, Spiritchaser, and the results were surprising; it was poorly received and is perhaps Dead Can Dance's lowest point, simply because the elements were not right. It's to Ulrich's advantage, then, that he doesn't have a spotlight of expectation shining on his work; he can freely experiment within the genres of world music, folk and electronica.
The majority of the songs on Enter The Mysterium have well written folk arrangements. Ulrich's voice is not particularly strong--it's very similar in style to Brian Eno's--but he compensates with interesting lyrics, beautiful arrangements and a general intelligence that's lacking in music today. On songs like "Another Day" and "Kakatak Tamai," his mixture of sounds blends into a dark ambient style that's quite fascinating and chilling, while elsewhere, his jazzy "Through Those Eyes," is a catchy tune with ideas you'd wish he'd expand on further.
While there's an occasional chant here, a dulcimer there and percussion elsewhere, you won't find a full-blown foray into Medeval Europe on Enter The Mysterium. He comes close on "Across the Bridge," the Irish jig of "The Scryer and The Shewstone" and "Flesh To Flame," but he restrains those tendencies--which, in an interesting twist, is perhaps the album's weakness; maybe a song that's totally Dead Can Dance in style wouldn't be that bad after all.
Still, Enter The Mysterium is a lovely, sedate record. While it might not scale the grand heights as Dead Can Dance, it does fill the appetite for beautiful world music, and serves as a nice treat between now and the next Dead Can Dance record-which, apparently might not be too long of a wait.
Artist Website: http://www.peterulrich.com
Label Website: http://www.citycanyons.com
Ruins play the kind of music that could only be generated through either rigorous rehearsal or telepathic improvisation, depending on which section of the song you’re listening to. Vrresto’s second track, “Warrido,” sets the tone for the rest of the album. It switches from an odd-metered metal rhythm to a four-on-the-floor disco beat at the drop of a dime. Both Tatsuya and bassist Sasaki Hisashi harmonize with each other in goofy falsettos while singing in an invented language. (I’m shocked that titles like “Warrido,” “Zumn-Vigo,” and “Savollodix” actually appear in their respective songs.) Two minutes into the song, the duo lets go of anything remotely resembling structure, launching headfirst into a flurry of processed noise. Hisashi uses a MIDI interface to make his bass sound like a synthesizer; at one point, his instrument sounds like an organ being violently flat-handed. Toward the end of song, Ruins returns to the original theme, but it proves to be a fluke.
Many other songs on Vrresto announce a theme, only to spend the rest of track going on nonsensical yet exhilarating detours. For instance, “Zumn-Vigo” devotes the first 30 seconds to crashing metal, only to shift into a mellow jazz breakdown. The song’s midsection could be described as “Muppet funk” because of the juxtaposition of intense rhythmic syncopation and cartoonish vocalizations. At the end of the song, Hisashi switches on his MIDI controller to make his bass sound like a symphony of bells. “Larikoschodel” has a section in which both musicians sound like they’re doing imitations of Tuvan throat singing, which is then followed by a series of clashing synthesizer chords straight out of Frank Zappa’s Jazz from Hell album.
Such quick and constant juggling of incongruent ideas can get monotonous or tiring over the course of an hour, which may partially explain why I don’t know anyone who owns everything that Ruins have ever released. Taken in mix-tape doses, though, the band can provide the musical equivalent of a swift smack upside the head to unsuspecting listeners. Vrresto is a snapshot of two expert musicians from a country that already processes information a bit faster than the rest of us, going anywhere and everywhere their minds and hands want to take them. If you’re already a Ruins fan, you should have bought this a long time ago. If you’re not…brace yourself!
Artist Website: http://www5e.biglobe.ne.jp/~ruins
Label Website: http://www.skingraftrecords.com
April 13, 2005
Math & Physics Club "Weekends Away"
Artist Website: http://www.mathandphysicsclub.com
Label Website: http://www.indiepages.com/matinee
Weather "Calling Up My Bad Side"
The principle is certainly true with Calling Up My Bad Side, Weather's debut album. When you set aside the feeling that you've heard their record before, you'll find a band who likes soft, somewhat sad pop music. They do tend to wear their influences on their sleeve, and at times their sound is a bit too reliant on the Britpop style, leaning towards a style that reminds a bit too much of Coldplay and Travis. This isn't necesarily a bad thing, though, because those bands have a high quality style that requires a bit of talent to duplicate--and besides, there are worse bands to emulate.
Gentle melodies are made quite wonderful by vocalist Sean Campbell, who occasionally sounds like a mix between Chris Martin, Britt Daniel, Bono and Sting, and you can't fault Weather for not appreciating and not writing a good melody. From the sad "Falling Down" and the heartbreaking "All This Time" to the joyously upbeat "Calling Up My Bad Side" and "Short And Sweet," these songs have a mature grace about them that's lacking these days. The combination of Campbell's singing and the band's talents results in radio-friendly songs that have a sound that's both modern and, at times, reminiscent of the better pop hits of the 1980s, without all the trappings of sounding retro. "Torn Man Down" and "In My Blood" have an appeal that makes you wish Weather was on the radio.
Despite these little annoyances, Calling Up My Bad Side is an excellent debut record. Sure, it might occasionally sound generic here and there, there's plenty to enjoy here, and many bands should be so lucky as to release such a great-sounding debut. Give this young group some time, and it's a likely thing that their less than original moments will quickly develop into a sound that's all their own.
Artist Website: http://www.thebandweather.com
Label Website: http://www.cakerecords.com
Auburn Lull "Regions Less Parallel"
Regions Less Parallel is a collection of singles, compilation tracks and outtakes from the past ten years. Considering the high quality of their music--and personally possessing a few of the records included here--such a compilation is quite welcome. The split twelve-inch with Mahogany was the band's first major release, and it was a stunningly beautiful introduction, but to the chagrin of those who heard them, the band went silent. For the two years between it and the release of their debut album saw only two other releases, "Sigma" and "A Harbored Distance," both on obscure compilations--and, after Alone I Admire appeared in 1999, the band quietly disappeared again, releasing only "Rural Divide" in the five years between albums.
Auburn Lull's masterpiece, though, is easliy their 2001 Zeal Records single, Behind All Curses of Thought Lies The Ability to Focus on Vacant Spaces. "North Territorial" is a quiet epic; laden with beats, it takes Harold Budd's methodology and updates it for a new generation, quietly and slowly building to a beautiful climax, and the B-Side, "Van Der Graaf," continues the style, but with a darker, cinematic tone; with the atmospherics in the background, the gentle sound of a heart beating becomes a disturbing menace. For these two songs alone, Regions Less Parallel deserves five stars. While the other songs on Regions Less Parallel are beautiful and intoxicating, none of them have the "zeal" of these two tracks.
Unlike most rarities collections, Regions Less Parallel has a seamless flow; a case could be made for saying that this is the great lost Auburn Lull record. If their past track record is any indication, it might be a few years before they release another record, so enjoy this one to the fullest. Then again, it'd be impossible not to.
Artist Website: http://www.auburnlull.com
Label Website: http://www.darla.com
April 12, 2005
The Supersuckers "Mid-Fi Field Recordings Volume 1: Live At The Tractor Tavern, Seattle, Washington"
Artist Website: http://www.supersuckers.com
ZZZZ "Palm Reader"
That's certainly true with Palm Reader. ZZZZ certainly wastes no time in setting down the fun-time vibe, with the upbeat gypsy dance number "Assassination Polka." Invoking the sounds of a rogue bunch of happy rogues, ZZZZ starts off with a fun vibe--and the band never loses its energy; as they travel from the funky "Snowball" to "Bandit King & Queen" to the final jam of "Buncerto," you wonder when they're going to stop for air. The boy/girl vocal interplay gives the music a real nice feel, too, but, really, the record doesn't seem to be about making a lyrical statement as much as making a really great groove. Indeed, at times their sound reminds of great bands like Drums & Tuba, World/Inferno Friendship Society, Brave Combo, Gogol Bordello, Spaceheads and The Coctails, but their sound is all their own.
If ZZZZ had anything to improve on, it would be on working on making each song a little more distinctive. When they flow together like they do on Palm Reader, the record sometimes feels a bit too connected, decreasing the overall intensity of each song. Still, that's a minor flaw for a generally awesome record, and it's a safe bet that this too will change with maturity. Still, Palm Reader is never too heavy, never too boring, and it will keep you on your feet--and dancing, too! The groove cannot be denied, and it's probably a safe assumption to say that their live show is 100 times more electric than the songs found here--which means, of course, that you shouldn't pass on seeing this band live!
Artist Website: http://www.zzzzmusic.com
Label Website: http://www.polyvinylrecords.com
Antony & The Johnsons "I Am A Bird Now"
That's about the best description of I Am A Bird Now, the second album by New York-based Antony & The Johnsons. The singular vision of a boy known simply as Antony, I Am A Bird Now is a record that escapes easy categorization; at times, it's downright contradictory. It's not a record for the faint-hearted, but at the same time, it's meant for those whose hearts are faint. It's a cold, distant record that's full of love and warmth for those who dare to brave the emotional blizzard. It's a grand, lush, symphonic record, yet it's basically a piano record. It's a record that feels like a day-long spiritual exorcism, even though its length is barely thirty minutes.
And then there's that voice. To say his voice is unique is simply stating the obvious; it sounds like an otherworldly combination of Nina Simone, Klaus Nomi and Jeff Buckley--except, in many ways, his is better than all three combined. No, Antony is his own man, and even though this only his second record, he has the strength and the confidence of someone with decades upon decades of stage experience. His is a voice that's come out of nowhere, and it says quite a bit that he can make musical luminaries Boy George, Rufus Wainwright, Lou Reed and Devendra Banhardt sound like mere back-up singers. That he can take four of the most distinctive voices and make them seem second-rate compared to him says much about just how wonderful. (It's also interesting to note that "The Johnsons" consist of members of Jeff Buckley's band, as well as his girlfriend, the excellent Joan Wasser.)
Then there's the songs themselves. Though occasionally his music is flush with string and brass--most notably on the somewhat incongruous "Fistfull of Love," which features Lou Reed and a sexy R&B rhythm track--the record never really strays from the simple piano-based melodies. His lyrics document a journey through pain, loss, failed dreams and confusion--confusion caused by love gone wrong, but more specifically, his songs deal with gender confusion and the pain it causes. Simple arrangements make for more powerful words; it's hard not to avoid the waterworks when you reach the end of the simple "Today I Am A Boy," where he duets with himself over the painfully simple words, "For today, I am a child/For today, I am a boy." "You Are My Sister," a duet with his childhood idol Boy George, is perhaps one of the most touching songs you'll hear this year. "Hope There's Someone" is both a sad song of acceptance, but also a hopeful number about being lonely in the world, a reassurance that even the oddest person has someone in the world that will love them. By the time you reach "Bird Gerhl"--perhaps the most beautiful song on the record--you'll be emotionally spent.
Is it possible for a man to make a record that makes every other record you've ever heard totally and utterly inferior? Not only is it possible, it's been done. I Am A Bird Now is that record. It will leave you breathless, weeping and feeling all alone, yet it will love you, comfort you and make you feel loved. I Am A Bird Now is a classic, beautiful work of art.
Artist Website: http://www.antonyandthejohnsons.com
Label Website: http://www.secretlycanadian.com
April 11, 2005
Kissinger "Me & Otto"
drink, it's best enjoyed in the bar.
Artist Website: http://www.kissingertheband.com
Luxxury "The Drunk EP"
Artist Website: http://www.luxxury.com
Label Website: http://www.omegapointrecords.com
The Bravery "the bravery"
Artist Website: http://www.thebravery.com
Label Website: http://www.islandrecords.com
Engine Down "enginedown"
Artist Website: http://www.enginedown.com
Label Website: http://www.lookoutrecords.com
Milton & The Devil Party "What Is All This Sweet Work Worth?
Artist Website: http://miltonmusic.tripod.com
Crash Berlin "Crash Berlin"
Sometimes I get confused by electronic-minded records. Crash Berlin’s a record I’m not so much confused by as overwhelmed. Through the records thirteen songs, there are several common elements: hard, relentless beats, loud rhythms that are perhaps two seconds away from sexually harassing your soul and singing that’s a soulful siren-song that will lead you to your blissful destruction. Made by Dan Merlot, who’s apparently been involved with and shared the stage with Jane’s Addiction and Aphex Twin and is a veteran DJ in his own right, it’s obvious that Crash Berlin is the work of an expert. Ah, but when you tune in, you’ll be turned on by the vibe of fast songs like “Lady Luck,” “Touch Me Where I Bleed” and “Earth Basic,” and your mind will go into a lysergic state over “Assassination Raga” and “Reach Out To The Sun.” Oh, and Merlot’s got the genius Kool Keith on one track, “Movin’ The Hype Track.” If you like fast-paced techno and electronica, this is the thing for you.
Artist Website: http://www.crashberlin.com
Golden Republic "Golden Republic"
Artist Website: http://www.thegoldenrepublic.com
Label Website: http://www.astralwerks.com
Von Iva "Von Iva"
Artist Website: http://www.voniva.com/
Neko Case "The Tigers Have Spoken"
re talking about Garth Brooks or Hank Williams--if you can't play live, then, well, that means you're not very good.
Alt-country crooner Neko Case's first live album, The Tigers Have Spoken, proves that she's more than just a studio songbird. She's backed by The Sadies, as well as friends Jon Rauhouse, Carolyn Mark and Kelly Hogan, and their accompaniment sounds nothing short of grand. She is in fine voice, belting out song after song with a tenderness that makes you appreciate the beauty in her voice and a toughness that gives these songs a strength and forcefulness that's not found in a studio setting. The setlist for The Tigers Have Spoken isn't a full concert per se, but it is brief and concise, allowing for a more focused spotlight on her talent, and her song choice is interesting and entertaining.
Case offers up great deliveries of several songs out of her enjoyable discography, including "Blacklisted" and a rather rare early song of hers, "Favorite," but it's the covers that really make this an enjoyable experience. Sure, you might not be surprised about her cover of Loretta Lynn's "Rated X," Catherine Ann Irwin's "Hex" or Buffy Saint-Marie's "Softer Shade Of Blue," but the cover of obscure songs by The Shangri-La's ("Train From New York City") and Nervous Eaters' "Loretta" come straight out of left-field. Her covers of traditional songs "Wayfaring Stranger" and "This Little Light of Mine" show that she knows a thing or two about the jewels to be found in Americana's vast Traditional treasure-trove.
The Tigers Have Spoken may be all-too-brief, and it might whet the appetite for more Neko Case records, but it serves its purpose well; it's hard to listen to this record and not come away thinking that Case is easily one of the best--and underrated--country singers of our time.
Artist Website: http://www.nekocase.com
Label Website: http://www.anti.com
British Sea Power "Open Season"
Ditto British Sea Power. Their reputation was sealed by images of the band performing live in naval outfits and having a general turn-of-the-century feel to their releases. Their debut album, The Decline And Fall of British Sea Power, was a massive tome; at times it was thick and heavy, not unlike Moby Dick; it was an okay record, but it just seemed to demand too much of the listener's time, while not really making a definitive statement. The album was a bit disappointing, because it didn't seem to highlight the band's songwriting skills--or its abilities as a powerful live act.
Luckily, their second album, Open Season, is a much more organized and focused record. Touring and the maturity that comes with playing live have certainly worked wonders for the band, because Open Season is the sound of a young band finally finding its voice. Though "It Ended On An Oily Stage" starts the album with a slightly generic guitar lick, it doesn't hurt that said guitar lick is extremely catchy. Lead singer Yan is in fine voice; his singing is strong, and overall the band's sound is fresh and exciting. Yan's singing is occasionally reminiscent of David Bowie, and songs like "Please Stand Up" and "To Get To Sleep" certainly have a feel that will remind you of the Thin White Duke, but they're no glam band. They mix up their more upbeat moments with some really great slower songs; "North Hanging Rock" and "Victorian Ice" are lovely numbers that gives Open Season a nice balance that was somewhat lacking with their debut.
British Sea Power could have easily fallen victim to the fashionable rock band trap. Open Season is simply enjoyable. It's grooving, it's smart and it's beautiful; it's obvious that British Sea Power set a simple goal--of making a great British rock record--and the mission is accomplished. What's more successful than that? If a great record is its own reward, then British Sea Power should be quite happy with the booty of their victory.
Artist Website: http://www.britishseapower.co.uk
Label Website: http://www.roughtradeamerica.com
April 10, 2005
Kawaii "If It Shines, We Have It"
Label Website: http://www.shelflife.com
April 07, 2005
Wowz "Long Grain Rights"
Comparisons to bands like the Byrds and the Beatles may abound on their website, but there’s something a bit more…childlike…about their music. The wholesome innocence of sing-along numbers like “Happy Today,” “He Wanders” and the clappy-sad “Nothing Would Be Better” are reminiscent of a weird blend of Daniel Johnston, Half Japanese and Beck on a Schoolhouse Rocks! tip. The simple melodies are compounded by words that are instantly catchy; it’s easy to envision the WoWz as a great live band, one who gets the audience worked up and happy—even though, of course, sometimes they’re singing songs about breakups and death and not happy stuff. New York has too many people and even more crappy bands, but the WoWz stand out in the crowd.
Literally—they’re the kind of band you’re more than likely see standing out on the street, singing outside subway entrances and street carnivals, entertaining the crowd.
Getting hooked onLong Grain Rights is really easy to do—it’s getting off of them that’s complicated. Once you’ve put this deceptively simple record into your stereo, you’ll find that attempting to remove it is an utterly complicated thing to do. Now, how’s about coming out and wowing the rest of the country? In complicated times, The WoWz’s simplicity and wholesome innocence is a welcome relief.
Artist Website: http://www.thewowz.com
Label Website: http://www.riylrecords.com
Gibby Haynes & His Problem "s/t"
That he’s been rather successful at what he does is even more impressive, but perhaps the weirdest thing is that his tendency to not stay still music-wise is still challenging the listening world. After twenty plus years, Gibby’s decided to step out with a solo record, and it’s a good thing, this.
That the reviews of this record, for the most part, have been rather negative shows that the music world still only thinks they understand Gibby Haynes, when, in fact, they fail to grasp one simple fact: that the only thing you should expect from him is the unexpected. The most surprising aspect of this record is what makes it so challenging: it’s what you might consider…relatively normal. There’s no acid-freakouts here; there’s no loud, challenging screaming moments, either. Though you might hear casual hints of Butthole on “Redneck Sex” and “Charlie”--where, tellingly, Haynes sings “Been a long time since I lost my mind”--for the most part, the material here is straightforward Texas psych-rock, but even then, it’s more ‘rock’ than ‘psych.’ To compare Gibby Haynes & His Problem to his past records would do Haynes—and you—a great disservice.
When you separate Haynes’ past from his present, you’ll be stunned to discover that Haynes has a pretty keen pop sense, and several songs on this record are quite catchy. “Letter” has a quite addictive keyboard lick; “15000” has some vocal manipulation that’s not really that weird but will make you come back for more, and it’s simply impossible to deny the appeal of “Dream Machine,” too. Oh, he’s got the ability to write songs that are quite colorful and unique in a catchy but juvenile way—“Superman,” for instance, where he sings about Superman smoking pot he got from Dan Rather—but for the most part, his songs are relatively straightforward.
“Straightforward.” I never thought the day would come that I’d use that word to describe anything by Gibby Haynes, but the times have changed, and slightly psyched-out rock like that found on Gibby Haynes & His Problem is no longer an anomaly, thanks, in large part, to Gibby Haynes! Keep on keepin’ on, brother. You’re not wrong, man. The rest of the world is…
Artist Website: http://www.surfdog.com/gibby.html
Label Website: http://www.surfdog.com
Aarktica "Bleeding Light"
Such description might seem silly, but in the case of Aarktica, it's certainly apropos. Jon DeRosa's a man who likes his music to be atmospheric, whether it's cold gothic post-pop (Dead Leaves Rising) or country & western (Pale Horse & Rider), his music is always, always heavily drenched in atmosphere. For Bleeding Light, DeRosa--accompanied by members of the Antony Braxton Ensemble--examines a world that's arctic, cold and detatched and ambient. The pace is glacial; the music is extremely detatched and listening is narcotic, and that's most likely what DeRosa set out to accomplish. Unlike those other projects, Aarktica is more of a focus on the mental state; it's beautiful music for thinking, and lyrical content is not the focus.
While Bleeding Light has overtones of Eno--from the quiet, subtle ambient drone to DeRosa's somewhat awkward, drowsy vocals that pop in and out between long periods of gentle instrumental bliss--there's much more than mere rehashing of Music For Airports or Another Green World. Underneath the cathederals of relaxing sound, you'll soon discover that the music is built on late 1990s electronica ("Twilight Insecta"), Eastern rhythms ("We're Like Two Drops Seperated By A Drowning") and free jazz, ("Night Fell Broke Itself") but it never really sounds indebted to any one style. When he sings on "A Wash A Sea Goodbye It's Me" and "Depression Modern," he adds a dimension of melancholy to his work. Knowing that he's a good singer with a beautiful voice on his other projects should be kept in mind, because his singing here is as cold and detatched as the instrumental passages.
Bleeding Light is austere and cold and sounds like it should be played in art galleries and museum foyers. It's also intelligent, gorgeous and worth repeated listens. It is a beautiful soundtrack to a cold weekend, a good night's sleep or a simple forty-five minutes of meditation.
Artist Website: http://www.aarktica.net
Label Website: http://www.darla.com
April 05, 2005
The Lucksmiths "The Chapter of Your Life Entitled San Francisco"
As always, the title track is the main attraction; it's a sad and upbeat little number about being in love with someone who is far away and not hearing from them. (Talk about relevant!) Tali White sings, sadly, in his Tali White way, of how he went "a fortnight without so much as an email, then a postcard scant of detail in which you wished me 'all the best!' from the non-specific Northwest." (Oh, so he loved her too, I see!) But the brother can write a witty chorus, and I love this one: "should it one day come to pass/ that you sit down to your memoirs/where will this go, the chapter of your life entitled 'San Francisco?'" Damn. I can listen to this song over and over and not get sick of it. The next two songs, "Young and Dumb" and "The Winter Proper" are more of the same; the former is a jangly little tune that disguises its melancholy quite well, the latter is a sad little piano-based number. (Who broke his heart? Shame on you. I know several girls who have a thing for you, Tali. Don't fret!) The final song is a country-rock cover of the Bee Gees' "I Started A Joke." Nice! I'm telling ya, buy this one for the title track alone--it's DEFINITELY worth it, especially if someone's recently trampled your heart.
Artist Website: http://www.thelucksmiths.com.au
Label Website: http://www.indiepages.com/matinee
Ticonderoga have mastered the art of arrangement, and frequently keep listeners on their toes by adding new colors or textures to their songs at precisely the right moments. The album’s first proper song, “Northshore,” begins as an acoustic spaghetti western romp. At various points, one of the instruments suddenly drops out of the mix, only to reappear later on in the song. You’d expect this kind of trickery on a dub plate, but the warmth and intimacy of the recording makes clear that the musicians are doing this live. I can almost imagine the members nodding at each other, as if to telepathically communicate when to stop and start. “Kim and Kelly” begins with homemade percussion, weeping violins and world-weary singing, but abruptly shifts into a tangent of jazzy instrumental meandering. “All the Proud Dead” begins with a Polvo-like collision of skittish guitar riffs, but toward the end it fades into a duet between double bass and clarinet. The transition sounds as if someone had surreptitiously slipped Don Byron into the CD changer. The final song, “High Score,” sports a long bridge with layered violins and repetitive riffs that betrays a serious Steve Reich fetish before jolting itself back into the second verse.
Ticonderoga’s arrangements can get a bit too obtuse. Some songs have moments in which the musicians sound as if they’re playing in the same meter but can’t agree on where the “one” is. “Arrowhead,” in particular, sounds like each instrument was punched in from an entirely different song and glued to the same click track. (What makes it even more bewildering is that “Arrowhead” is one of the album’s catchiest and most grandiose songs.) The lyrics follow a similar pattern, or lack thereof. All three members’ voices tend to blur into one another, pitched midway between the clipped tenor of David Grubbs and the croaky slur of Ian Williams. The words don’t align themselves into clear verse/chorus demarcations. It’s as if the members just sang whatever came into their heads in one take, with just enough forethought to ensure that their vocals were in tune and on beat. Only two songs (“Over the Hill” and “Two Old Witches”) have anything close to conventional, repeated hooks.
Ticonderoga’s avoidance of the obvious is both a blessing and a curse. The constant switching of gears and the frequent moments of synergistic instrumental interplay make for an excellent headphone listen. However, many listeners will be awestruck while the CD is playing, only to struggle to remember any of the songs once it ends. This album is a quintessential “grower,” one that should worm its way into adventurous listeners’ hearts after repeated listening.
Label Website: http://www.fiftyfourfortyorfight.com
Artist Website: http://www.ticonderobics.com
South San Gabriel "The Carlton Chronicles: Not Until The Operation's Through"
I thought of all of these wee beasties when listening to Will Johnson's latest opus, The Carlton Chronicles: Not Until The Operation's Through. For Johnson, this record's a bit different. While it fits in with South San Gabriel's formula--dark, atmopsheric music that's gorgeously hazy, slightly stoned and more than a little melancholy--it's different in that it's his first full-blown concept album. The concept? It's about a cat who gets thrown outside at night and runs away but returns because he's hurt and needs an operation. Yeah, it seems a bit haughty, doesn't it? Of course, having a love for all things Will Johnson-related--and knowing that the previous South San Gabriel album was on my top ten list of 2003, I knew that I would be biased towards The Carlton Chronicles. I mean, the man releases so much music, it's easy to run out of different ways to praise his genius, so why not get an expert opinion on this concept record? I quickly decided that the best person to review this record would be Ink, the unofficial Mundane Sounds mascat.
So this evening, it was just me and the boy-cat. I turned down the lights, put some food and water in his dish, picked him up and curled up with him while the music gently played. Though I don't speak Feline, he and I communicate with excellent non-verbal expression. I wasn't sure how he was going to react to this experiment; Ink's all man-cat, he doesn't really go for the 'cuddle' thing. He's also a genius, so I'm confident he'll dig the concept; Johnson writes simple but occasionally obtuse lyrics, but I have every reason to believe that Ink will understand it all and will offer me the appropriate opinion after the record's done.
As expected, when the first notes of the gorgeous "Charred Resentment the Same," his ears perked up, but he really didn't seem that interested. I told him that the record's about a cat's life, he seemed a bit more interested; he sat on my chest, looking at me with great interest. He then snuggled up beside me for the majority of the album. He occasionally gave me a look that was somewhere between smug and stoned, usually at moments where Carlton tells of a general truth--such as "I Am Six Pounds of Dynamite," a lament to being thrown out for the night--and in his own way, he told me 'I know that's right!' to "The Dark of the Garage," which highlights the urge to go out and answer the call of the wild, whilst being stuck inside for no apparent reason other than punishment. Mostly, though, he relaxed while listening. He is a cat, and such human things really don't interest him--he is above us, after all--but the washes of atmosphere and strings and piano and pedal steel guitars is a relaxing lullaby for creatures of all genus and species.
For the most part, I'd say he listened to it patiently, and it seems as if he liked it; he didn't protest, nor did he try to leave, but he did purr the whole time. And if you don't think he understood the concept, think again: when he heard "Sicknessing," the album's touchingly sweet finale, he cuddled up to me in a way that's unlike him, and he told me in his own special way that he loves me and that I'm important to him--which is the theme of the song. He knew what was going on, and his affection and appreciation of me made my heart melt.
The Carlton Chronicles might be a bit of an odd concept--and if you don't have the script that goes with the record, you won't hear the concept at all--but when you give it a chance, you'll hear a mellow, depressed record that's got a stoned-out Texas vibe that's warm and beautiful and moving and is nothing more than a fine addition to Will Johnson's increasingly impressive discography.
Artist Website: http://www.south-san-gabriel.com
Label Website: http://www.misrarecords.com
Transient Tractor "Failure"
Artist Website: http://www.transienttractor.com
Sparkwood "Jalopy Pop!"
Artist Website: http://www.sparkwood.com
Over The Rhine "Drunkhard's Prayer"
Artist Website: http://www.overtherhine.com
Label Website: http://www.backporchrecords.com
April 04, 2005
Charlie Lang (Demo)
Label Website: http://www.nobullproductions.com/
Pit er Pat "Shakey"
Artist Website: http://www.piterpat.com
Label Website: http://www.thrilljockey.com
Sunburned Hand of the Man "Sunburned Hand of the Man"
Artist Website: http://www.sunburnedhandoftheman.com
Adrian Belew "Side One"
Artist Website: http://www.adrianbelew.net/Label Website: http://www.sanctuaryrecords.com/
Yellow Second "Altitude"
Artist Website: http://www.yellowsecond.com
Label Website: http://www.floodgaterecords.com
Nedelle "From the Lion's Mouth"
Artist Website: http://www.nedelle.com
Label Website: http://www.killrockstars.com
The Evens "The Evens"
Artist Website: http://www.dischord.com/bands/evens.shtml
Label Website: http://www.dischord.com
Various Artists "Il Programma di Religione"
Actually, that's pretty much what this is. While the concept is interesting, and the execution is done rather well, the content itself doesn't really lend itself to a tribute. At times, it feels as if this is nothing more than a noise rock project, something similar in nature to John Zorn's Naked City--where sounds go in and out at such a frantic pace, it's hard (and pointless) to look at the individual 'songs,' leaving the listener to consider the larger scope of the project. There's just so much going on with Il Programma di Religione--and it's not exactly easy to keep up with who does what and where--that highlighting one moment becomes a daunting--and downright impossible--task. It's worth pointing out that sometimes mundane sounds contributor Eric Wolf (AKA Sergio Van Lukenstein) appears on here, paying tribute to Pope Innocent II.
While the record may be an epic--kudos to mastermind Shawn Knight for spending two and a half years on this obviously difficult project--it's still an interesting listen. Where else can you go from computerized beats to screaming to heavy duty metal-like riffs to a burst of uncontroable noise and other forms of total weirdness and back again, all within a matter of minutes? Best advice is to simply forget about the concept and just put this in your stereo and let it overwhelm you. It works so much better that way.
Label Website: http://www.boyarm.com
Outhud "Let Us Never Speak Of It Again"
Outhud’s debut album, 2002’s Street Dad, would have been a slightly more appropriate soundtrack to solitude and reflection. You could dance to it, of course, but the lack of vocals and the emphasis on live instrumentation (especially on Molly Schinct’s sonorous cello) made for an aesthetic that was a bit closer to the funkier moments of Tortoise’s Standards than it was to the funk frenzy of Outhud’s doppelganger Chik Chik Chik (!!!). This time around, though, the band almost completely bypasses the mind and aims straight for the booty. The live drums are completely gone, replaced by volleys of equally kinetic and intricate programming that can sound like anything from Detroit house (“One Life to Live”) to a tribal drum circle (“The Song So Good They Named it Thrice”) to Aphex Twin-style drill-and-bass (“The Stoked American”).
Let Us Never Speak of It Again is definitely a more process-oriented record than its predecessor. Outhud member Justin Vandervolgen reportedly spent more than a year mixing and re-mixing the songs after the basic tracks and overdubs were recorded. Although the music is a bit too minimal to sound overcooked, Vandervolgen’s attention to detail is definitely palpable. All of the instruments are played staccato and render subservient to the groove. On “One Life to Leave,” the guitars are digitally chopped up and run backwards until they sound just as percussive as the drums. The normally choppy nature of the music makes the sporadic ambient moments stand out even more. Listen, for example, to the vortex of droning guitars, white noise and sirens on “The Song So Good They Named It Thrice,” or the swell of keyboards, flutes and celli that begins album highlight “How Long.” Moments like the aforementioned keep Outhud’s new music from sounding robotic or bloodless.
Then, of course, there are the vocals. More than half of the songs on Let Us Never Speak of It Again surprise us with singing from Outhud’s two female members, Schinct and drummer Phyllis Forbes (who probably would’ve spent most of the sessions for this album twiddling her thumbs anyway). They’re not exactly the most pitch-perfect singers on the planet (their vocals on the first half of “Old Nude” almost made me hit “eject” prematurely), but their breathy sighs and catchy choruses help the songs get stuck in your head long after the CD ends, which can’t be said for any of their previous work. My two favorite songs on the album have vocals. There’s “One Life to Leave,” in which Schinct and Forbes dismiss naïve people with distorted sneers: “There’s people like me, and then there’s people like you…you don’t see evil.” Then, there’s the awesome slap-bass groove of “How Long,” atop which the ladies lament the aftermath of a broken friendship. “How Long” will probably go on every mix CD I make for the next six months.
Over the last four years, we’ve been inundated with rock bands who think that a four-on-the-floor beat, a scratchy guitar and a “Disco Inferno” bass line are enough to turn their scenester pajama party into a “Fantastic Voyage.” Outhud, on the other hand, have moved far beyond misguided Public Image Limited worship. They’ve put their own sprightly spin on the music of the masters (Todd Terry, Arthur Russell, Giorgio Moroder) to make grooves of their own that could sit comfortably next to them in a DJ set without anyone on the dance floor having to do a double take. The Rapture? Moving Units? Let us never speak of them again. In 2005, Outhud rule the school.
That's it. I’m going out dancing next Friday and there’s nothing anyone can do about it.
Label Website: http://www.kranky.net
Artist Website: http://www.brainwashed.com/outhud