May 31, 2005

Various Artists "Naked Prey Original Soundtrack Recording"

The Naked Prey, released in 1966, is a brutal yet brilliant action film. Set in South Africa, the film's plot is simple: a group of hunters on safari encounter and anger a local tribe, which leads to a slaughter of the party, except for the main character (played by director Cornel Wilde), who is sentenced to be released as the subject of a chase by a tribal hunting party. It's considered an innovative film, due in large part to its beautiful yet extremely disturbing cinematography, simple yet haunting plot and its minimal use of dialogue. Cornel Wilde, who was both the main character and the film's director, considered it to be his masterpiece.

The soundtrack, originally released on Smithsonian Folkways in 1966, is a stunningly fascinating collection of tribal recordings. As one would expect from such recordings, the sound is rough, but that roughness adds a certain dimension that makes them hauntingly realistic. Not much is known about the actual recordings; it's assumed that the producers of The Naked Prey simply took their recording equipment and pressed the ‘record’ button, although actor Ken Gampu (who portrayed the main tribal leader and well as an accomplished South African actor) does appear on the soundtrack.

Despite the dark nature of the film, the soundtrack itself is quite fascinating, capturing the beauty of African tribal life. The music itself is occasionally quite celebratory—witness “Boasting Song Of Men” and “Village Celebration: Musical Examples”—and sometimes it’s otherworldly, such as the “Dancing Song,” “Urban Song” and “Animal Imitations.” These recordings capture an Africa not known by most westerners, and they also help illustrate why Cornel Wilde fell in love with the region. The Naked Prey is a fascinating listen that not only raises interest in the film, but stands as a captivating document of African tribal life.

--Joseph Kyle

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Ume "Urgent Sea"

Most people who actually pay attention to music criticism will agree that when a review is saturated with comparisons to other bands, it’s usually a sign of lazy journalism on the critic’s part. Every once in a while, though, a band comes along whose music owes such a huge debt to another band that writing about it without acknowledging said debt would be delusional at best and ignorant at worst. Such is the case with Houston trio Ume, whose debut album Urgent Sea mimics early Blonde Redhead --- and, by extension, ALL eras of Sonic Youth --- so thoroughly that only the deaf would not be able to notice it.

The only moment of Urgent Sea on which Ume deviates from this template is the beginning of album opener “Wake.” Vocalist/guitarist Lauren Larson plays a slow, heavy and reverb-drenched riff that would make the Melvins’ Buzz Osborne cock an eyebrow. Once she steps up to the microphone, though, the similarity between her high-pitched sigh and that of Blonde Redhead’s Kazu Makino is instantly noticeable (although Larson’s voice is a bit raspier). Larson’s guitar playing, however, is way better than Makino’s, and the frequent tempo changes that she and her rhythm section insert into “Wake” give it an almost epic quality.

The mimicry becomes more palpable on the next track, “A Maze.” It begins with the same tom-heavy drumming and minor-2nd note clusters that many a Sonic Youth song employed during the late 1980s. Bassist Eric Larson steps up to the mike with his slightly flat croon; the juxtaposition with his voice and Lauren’s sounds…well, just like Kazu and Amedeo Pace. On the third song, “Hive-Mind,” Lauren’s voice becomes more unhinged, and her screaming and growling dives right into Kim Gordon territory. Despite the near-total lack of originality, the strength of Ume’s writing and musicianship helps Urgent Sea begin on a high note. Unfortunately, Lauren starts getting carried away about halfway through.

Things start going wrong on the fourth song, “Hurricane.” Lauren grunts her way through the song, which prevents her from reaching notes that she could have easily hit if she simply sang them straight. I don’t even like it when Kim Gordon grunts her way through a Sonic Youth song, so listening to a second-rate impersonation of it is completely out of the question. Lauren’s regurgitation of the same tricks on her guitar (quarter-note staccato melodies, minor-2nd note clusters) starts to grate. By the time the sixth track (“My Sweet Time”) comes along, I start wishing that Lauren would stop singing along to her guitar lines note-for-note. Eric’s vocal appearance on the eighth track, “Push Me Pull U,” ends up becoming a nice change of pace from Lauren’s caterwauling.

As much as I hate to drop the burden of Urgent Sea’s failure solely on Lauren’s shoulders, it has to be done. I think she’s a much better singer and guitarist than her performances on this album indicate, but she’s too obsessed with becoming the Lone Star Kim Gordon to truly take advantage of her skills. Ume writes good songs, and their rhythm section is solid throughout. However, until the Larsons develop a sound that they can truly call their own (or, at least, take more cues from Blonde Redhead’s fifth album than from their third), checking their music out will never be a matter of…well, urgency.

--Sean Padilla

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Eels "Blinking Lights & Other Revelations"

Mark Everett is no stranger to emotionally-driven music. With his band Eels, he's released some harrowingly deep records, such as Electro-Shock Blues, which was inspired by his sister's suicide. Though his last two albums, Souljacker and Shootenany! found Everett drifting away from such heavy-handed personal subjects, his new album, the two-disc, thirty-three song opus Blinking Lights and Other Revelations finds him unloading his soul without restraint. If you met the news of the size of Eels' latest album with a roll of the eyes and a concern that the Man Called E had finally allowed himself the ability to indulge his more depressing side, you're not alone. Blinking Lights and Other Revelations is the result of eight years of work, combining the subjects of the passing of his mother, the suicide of his sister, the death of a cousin on September 11th and his family dysfunctions.

Blinking Lights and Other Revelations is a heavy, disjointed double album that's not very cohesive. Unbelievably, though, it works; it works because every little moment, every little song, every little nuance works towards a greater good--there simply isn't a wasted moment. Thematically, Blinking Lights and Other Revelations doesn't stray too far from previous Eels records. Unlike Daisies of the Galaxy or Beautiful Freak, Everett has focused his attention on his thoughts on relationships within his family, tempering these thoughts with a wisdom that only comes with age. On previous albums, Everett offered lighthearted and cleverly melodramatic pop songs as a balm for his heavier fare, but he's quelled that tendency on Blinking Lights, and it's somewhat of a relief, because on later albums that cleverness seemed quite contrived. While Everett’s yet to lose his funny bone, the humor found here is much more subtle, often piggy-backed with some extremely heavy lyrics. (Then again, it’s hard to laugh after hearing a song like “Son of a Bitch,” which discusses his parents’ emotional weaknesses and failures.)

Musically speaking, Blinking Lights contains some of E's finest songwriting to date. With an unlimited palate--no doubt a result of being dropped--he is able to experiment with different musical ideas and genres. There’s plenty to fall in love with: he pedal-steel laced “Railroad Man” the touching psychedelic, “Flying”-inspired “From Which I Came/A Magic World,” the jaunty new-wave pop of “Hey Man (Now You’re Really Living),” the catchy pop of “Going Fetal” and the orchestral balladry of “The Stars Shine in the Sky Tonight.” Blinking Lights finds Everett breaking away from the tried-and-true Eels formula, experimenting with the sounds that comes to mind—and succeeding in a way his previous records never did. What makes this newfound experimentation even more fascinating is discovering that Everett really isn’t doing anything different with his songwriting; every song could have easily been found on any of his previous records. It’s a contradiction, of course, but contradiction has always been Eels’ specialty.

The initial assumption that Blinking Lights suffers for a lack of restraint is quickly replaced with the realization that, after ten years, Everett's finally able to make the statement he’s wanted to make. It is often suggested that many double albums could have been much stronger single albums, and in many cases such a suggestion is accurate. That's not the case here, though; every song found here is essential; there’s not a wasted moment that feels unnecessary, and even though initial listens might make it seems imperfect and disjointed, in fact Blinking Lights and Other Revelations is ultimately a seamlessly perfect album. It’s easily E’s magnum opus, and it’s no stretch to say that it’s one of this year’s best albums.

--Joseph Kyle

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May 29, 2005

Live: Prefuse 73, Battles and Beans, The Parish, Austin, Texas, May 27, 2005

This was an incredible triple bill. I got to the Parish shortly after the doors opened, and was shocked to see that a line had already formed. When I saw fellow Warp Records artists Autechre at the Parish two days before, it took a while for the standing area to fill up. Some friends of mine speculated that Prefuse 73 drew a bigger crowd because they’re more accessible, but I don’t think it’s that simple. Autechre’s last Austin show sold out way in advance, and that was back when they were supporting Confield, which is arguably their weirdest album.

Anyway, when opening act Beans walked on the stage, the Parish was already 75% full. This was the third time I’ve seen him live, but it was the first in which he didn’t wear a hat and sunglasses, choosing instead of let the audience see his bald, brown forehead drip with sweat. It was also the first time he managed not to confuse everyone with his fast (and occasionally marble-mouthed) delivery. Although two or three people in the audience booed him, they were clearly in the minority. Overall, Beans’ music went over so well that he managed to earn an encore from the soundman (a rarity for any opening act). Beans still does the “perverted, polysyllabic android” shtick better than Kool Keith has in years, and his songs are getting funkier, catchier and funnier by the minute. I especially liked the song in which Beans rapped about the mother of his daughter giving him stress “because I wasn’t in love…just out of condoms.” At first, he apologized to the crowd for not dancing as much as he usually does because he messed up his knee on a earlier date of the tour. By the end of the set, though, he was too hyped up to let a slight limp keep him from dancing.

The second act, Battles, was the only one on the bill that I hadn’t already seen before, but it definitely wasn’t because of a lack of interest. Their pedigree is definitely something to be reckoned with. Member Ian Williams used to play in math-rock giants Don Caballero (a band whose last two stops through Austin rank among the 10 best shows I’ve ever seen IN MY LIFE), and member Tyondai Braxton is not only the son of the legendary free jazz saxophonist Anthony Braxton, but has also become a notable experimental composer of his own right through his loop-driven solo performances and recordings. Does any of this matter when actually listening to Battles’ music? Well, yeah! Battles’ music sounds like --- well, a battle between each member’s individual musical travails. When I watched Ian finger-tap his guitar with one hand while simultaneously playing keyboard with the other, it felt like he had take the techniques he developed in Don Caballero to the next level. Tyondai alternated between similar guitar/keyboard multitasking and constructing loops from his distorted beat-boxing and screaming. Guitarist David Konopka’s riffs seemed to be the glue that held the entire band together, while John Stanier did an impression of the world’s most advanced drum machine on his trap kit. Stanier’s cymbal was positioned so high that everyone in the front row wondered how he’d be able to hit it without standing up, but he did it! Battles’ music might not yet be as fun to listen to on record as it is to see live, but they’re getting there…and as much as I loved Don Caballero, it’s nice to see Ian Williams in a band that doesn’t look like the members completely hate each other.

Prefuse 73 put on a spectacular show. The last time I saw them, main man Scott Herren was joined by his friend and artistic partner DJ Nobody on turntables. This time, Herren and Nobody were augmented by a live drummer who played along to the beats. There were two drum kits set up on stage, and occasionally Herren would man one of them to play along with the drummer. I never had a clue that Scott could play drums (and WELL, at that), so watching him play definitely added an element of surprise to the set. Plus, I automatically love it when bands have more than one good drummer anyway. I was also shocked that most of the set was devoted to older material. A huge chunk of the set came from Extinguished, and only the last three songs were from Prefuse’s latest album Surrounded by Silence. Maybe the mixed reviews that Silence received convinced Herren to do a set of nothing but crowd-pleasers, but that’s really a minor complaint. The encore consisted of a long jam in which the trio was joined by Tyondai Braxton on beat-boxing. It amazes me, the things that man can do with his mouth!

Fun anecdote: at the merchandise table, I was standing in line behind a girl who wanted the members of Battles to autograph her CDs. Ian signed them and passed them to Dave, who signed them as well. Dave then pointed at me and shouted, “Tyondai, can you sign these CDs for her?” I shouted back, “I’m not Tyondai,” and the entire table had a laugh at Dave’s folly. I guess all skinny half-black light-skinned multi-instrumentalists with curly Afros really DO look alike…

May 27, 2005

Metropolitan "The Lines, They Get Broken"

DC-based Metropolitan have been around for several years, and their third album The Lines, They Get Broken, finds the band delving deeper into a swirling, buzzing sound that’s somewhat melodic and somewhat grooving. Though the record lacks a bright spark that makes them stand out in a crowd of their contemporaries—at times they seem to have a bit of a Sonic Youth fixation—songs like “Pakistan International” and “Letterbox” have a poppy appeal that’s quite catchy and will get your toes a-tappin’.

It’s clear that Metropolitan is a trio of accomplished, talented musicians and The Lines, They Get Brokenisn’t technically a bad record, it’s not a very distinctive one, either. If they were to break away a little bit from the Sonic Youth tendencies, that would be a good thing, because the moments where they let their personality and originality shine through certainly prove that Metropolitan is a band who is capable of more.

--Joseph Kyle

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The Shout-Out Louds "howl howl gaff gaff"

Sweden’s really on the ball with great music these days. It seems as if their bands have a better understanding of the history of Rock & Roll, and they also seem to understand the concept of making entertaining music that’s enjoyable and without pretense. Think of the Swedish bands you know of, and you’ll soon notice it’s true, these Swedes sure do know how to make music better, sweeter, and downright nice. Heck, even hard rock bands like the Hellacopters and The Soundtrack Of Our Lives have a really nice pop sensibility that sounds better than American bands.

The latest Swedish import, Shout Out Louds, proves to be one of the better bands to make it to these shores. With a sunny disposition that cannot be denied and a pop sensibility that’s sweeter than sweet, it’s extremely hard to not fall for this band’s music. Though Howl Howl Gaff Gaff, the band’s debut album, is in actuality a compilation of singles and choice tracks from the band’s Scandinavian-released debut album (with the same title, confusingly). That’s not really that big of an issue, though, because that only means that the listener’s getting what they consider to be the best of their best, and with prime material like this, it’s hard to imagine that they could compose songs that are of lesser quality.

And how better could a band possibly be?!? The band has a keen sense of melody, creating songs that are catchy, upbeat and sunny; it’s hard not to fall in love with a band that writes jingle-jangle sing-along songs like “Please Please Please” and “Very Loud.”
Lead singer Adam Olenius has a voice that’s charming and warm and he sounds not unlike Clem Snide’s Eef Barzelay; in combination with a band that can write both fast-paced pop hits such as “Shut Your Eyes” and slower, mellow songs like “Seagull” and “Go Sadness,” the band clearly shows themselves a band that’s capable of handling nearly any style with grace and skill. That they can manage to sound like both the Pixies and The Beach Boys on the same record while never sounding less than 100% original, well, my friends, that’s really saying something.

It will be fascinating to see where Shout Out Louds will go next. Will they go in a more baroque direction, or will they go in a more pop direction, or will they go into a rock direction? Howl Howl Gaff Gaff is your invitation to a world of possibilities, and it’s Shout Out Louds’ passport to future world conquest. World domination? It couldn’t come from a better band.

--Joseph Kyle

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Brian Eno "Music For Films/Apollo: Atmospheres & Soundtracks/Thursday Afternoon/More Music For Films"

Legendary producer Brian Eno is a man who needs no introduction. Starting off as a keyboard player for Roxy Music, he left the band after a brief stint with the budding glam rockers, and that’s when his career became quite interesting. It’s impossible to briefly sum up Eno’s vast, fascinating (and often frustrating) career in one paragraph. The man is a living legend of experimental, rock and ambient music, plain and simple. Everything from punk to prog to New Age to Alternative rock to electronica, there’s been very few genres in the last 30 years that Eno’s not had a hand in creating, improving. His discography is extremely massive, too, and over the past few months Astralwerks has taken great care to revisit and remaster his greatest works.

1978's compilation Music for Films is one of Eno's first collections of fully ambient works, arriving months before he released his genre-defining Ambient 1: Music For Airports. As such, this collection often feels more akin to an artist's sketchbook than an actual album. Eno says as much in his liner notes, stating how these ideas were simply bits and pieces that he had developed for different sources. As such, the record has a very awkward feel; while these compositions are pretty, they sometimes feel incomplete, especially considering that many of these songs are barely two minutes long. Some of these are forgettable, and others are disappointingly brief. Why Eno didn’t try to make some sort of connection between the pieces at the time is a bit puzzling. “Sparrowfall” shows that continuality was possible. The song is offered in three individual sections; in section one, a simple melody is performed on piano, with slight washes of synthesizer behind the melody. The second section is the same melody, performed entirely on synths—and rather cheesy, dated sounding synths at best. The third section blends the piano melody with a synthesized orchestra accompaniment, and it’s a beautiful, haunting melody that results. It’s so gorgeous, though, that you don’t really notice that it’s only ninety seconds long. Music for Films is a good albeit rough, disjointed experiment that hinted at future greatness. (The same problems haunt the somewhat new compilation, More Music For Films, which entails most of 1983’s Music for Films 2, with additional tracks.)

1983's Apollo: Atmospheres & Soundtracks turned out to be one of Eno's dream projects. A documentary maker approached Eno to produce background music for film footage of the Apollo space mission. Eno states in the liner notes that he felt as if the original film broadcast of images from the Apollo missions suffered from a medium that failed to capture the grandness of outer space. Eno felt it necessary to try and capture the spirit of the mission; though he sees the documentary as the story of an adventure, he doesn't feel as if his compositions are "adventure music." Hiring Eno (assisted here by brother Roger and Daniel Lanois) to create the soundtrack proved an inspired choice; he’s capable of making soundtrack music that has a feel that sounds like something you would hear at your local IMAX theater. His compositions are never too self-indulgent or heavy; with Lanois providing pedal steel, the album doesn’t become too hazy or monotonous. That the record leaves you wanting to see the documentary shows should tell you how excellent Apollo is. (A DVD of the film would have been a nice touch for the reissue.)

1985's Thursday Afternoon is considered by many to be Eno's masterpiece; those who think differently do not disagree that this is one of Eno's better compositions. "Thursday Afternoon" is one hour-long track, and it's an experiment with the then-new compact disc. He was attempting to expand the dimensions of music by stretching the capabilities of the new technology by creating a single album-length track. The resulting track is very gorgeous; it's very quiet in places, very prominent in others, and all in all it feels not unlike standing on the street in a small English town on a hazy, cool Thursday afternoon. It flows in and out of audibility and listening to it is an experience that will leave you relaxed and calm. (Thursday Afternoon is also the soundtrack to a film by Christine Alicinio, and it’s rumored that the only way to properly watch the video is to turn the television on its side. Interesting.)

Brian Eno’s career cannot be summed up briefly, but these four reissues certainly help to give you an idea of what Eno’s mid-period career. They are, for the most part, quite essential for anyone interested in ambient music, or for those who simply want to experience beautiful, tranquil music.
--Joseph Kyle

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May 25, 2005

Lycia "Estrella"

The first time I heard Lycia, it was on a free sampler I received from Projekt, perhaps the premier darkwave/goth label of the 1990s, and perhaps the only label that was making a very serious attempt at following in the footsteps of esteemed British label 4AD. I don't remember what Lycia's song was, but I do remember that they sounded quite different than their labelmates, and that unlike other bands, they really didn't seem concerned about fashion or image, and the song sounded more like Aphex Twin than The Cure or This Mortal Coil. I thought their song was rather stunning and beautiful, but admittedly, I never did follow through.

Listening to the recently-reissued , the band's final album (and the first release in a Lycia reissue program), it's quite clear that Lycia was a different sort of band. The duo of Mark VanPortfleet and Tara VanFlower combined their strengths to make music that was haunting, beautiful and stunning, and in this goal, they were quite successful. Estrella found the band at a creative high, and the result was a record that lured the listener and took them into other realms of aural ecstacy. From the tribal "Tongues" to the Harold Budd-like "Clouds in the Southern Sky" and from the transcendent bliss of "Estrella" to the melancholy "The Kite," Lycia exploited the term "atmospheric" to the hilt--and the result was heavenly. Comparisons to The Cocteau Twins were and are inevitable, and while VanFlower's voice never quite reached to Liz Frasier's vocal heights--that's an impossible goal, anyway--her voice, in combination with VanPortfleet's stunning Robin Guthrie-inspired accompaniment, certainly justfied the comparison.

If you're not familiar with Lycia, Estrella is as excellent a starting point as you could find, because this record's beauty is a perfection that most bands could only dream of obtaining. Hopefully the forthcoming reissue series will illuminate this gorgeous darkwave band, and deservedly so.

--Joseph Kyle

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His Name is Alive "summer bird"

I have to admit, I’m starting to become a fan of artists who use the Internet to release downloadable records for their fans, and I’m extremely happy when the artists or bands are ones I happen to love. I’ve loved His Name is Alive for many years now, and I spent a small fortune (for a college student, that is) on buying anything His Name Is Alive-related, but I have to say, their latest single, the free, downloadable Summer Bird EP, is simply their best material in years. His Name Is Alive mastermind War Defever is in fine form, and these four songs capture his recent musical predilections, as well as revisiting vintage sound that reminds a lot of the Fort Lake/Universal Frequencies-era, and the title track, “Summer Bird,” is the first single off of the promised new His Name is Alive album, and if this track’s any indication, the album’s going to be wonderful.

It starts off with a bit of a beat, tempered with Defever’s distinctive piano sound, and then it turns into a girl-sung Seventies-era number (think Melanie) that’s reminiscent of the Nice Day EP, and it’s sung by…Karin Oliver? Could she be back in the HNIA fold? That would be amazing! (I think it’s Erika Hoffman, but the two voices are quite similar.) The song is sweet, but it’s a deep little love song that references Pol Pot and the US/Vietnam situation of the early 1970s. “Here Forever Always,” is a fun little new-wave number that finds Defever and company playing around with synths and dance grooves, and it’s a jaunty little song that tempers a fast beat with Home Is In Your Head-style melancholy dirge vocals; in fact, I’m sure I’ve heard this song before, but I can’t place it offhand. The third song, “Last Summer,” is a grooving jazz instrumental that’s not unlike mid-period John Coltrane, and it shows the depths of Defever’s musical range. The final number, “Get Your Curse,” is an epic, seven-minute number that finds His Name is Alive going for a Bacharach-meets-20/20-era Beach Boys vibe that’s enrapturing and beautiful; the song fades at the halfway-mark and then fades into a gorgeous, Brian Eno-esque ambient sequence.

Summer Bird is gorgeous; simply, totally and utterly gorgeous. For those who have loved His Name is Alive for the past fifteen years, this EP’s not much of a surprise; for those who have never experienced the genius of Defever and the magic of this little band from Livonia, then this record will prove to be an excellent introduction to the band, as well as making their new album something worth waiting for.

--Joseph Kyle

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May 23, 2005

The Stella Link "mystic jaguar...attack!

Mixing post-rock with math-rock and a hint of metal, The Stella Link's debut album, Mystic Jaguar...Attack! isn't quite as silly as the band name might lead you to believe. Mixing up a sound that's epic in style and overwhelmingly instrumental (there are vocals but they're dwarfed by the loud guitars), The Stella Link seem to prefer making grand musical statements. Sometimes what they create sounds really good and original, such as the great "Fog Machine," "Ice Machine" and "Apogee," but at other times, what they do sounds a bit derivative and a little boring. They've got some good ideas, actually, even if haven't managed to accomplish all of them. Occasionally, the drumming seems to be a little high in the mix--a common complaint of most math/art/indie-rock--and if it were pushed back into the mix, allowing the melodies to stand out (such as on "Ice Machine"), the music might be a bit more rewarding. And, truth be told, the singing could be eliminated, and it really wouldn't be missed. If they work on these problems, then it's safe to say The Stella Link could produce something rather distinctive and interesting.

--Joseph Kyle

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Ben Folds Five "Whatever and Ever, Amen"

Has it already been eight years since Ben Folds Five released Whatever and Ever, Amen? Apparently so, even though it doesn't seem like it. This wonderful little record showed up during those heady post-grunge days, and it was a wonderful slice of piano-pounding, Seventies-inspired rock music that was highlighted by Ben Folds' clever songwriting. "Battle of Who Could Care Less" was the number that drew many people in--myself included--but it was thanks to excellent songs like "Kate" and "Song for the Dumped" that made listeners stay. The touching "Brick" became a surprise hit a year after the album's release, perhaps the only time a song about taking your teenage girlfriend to get an abortion made the top 40.

Still, what with this being the ten-year anniversary and all, Whatever and Ever, Amen has been remastered and expanded. My friends, this is a very good thing, because those bonus songs make this already great record even better. Songs "Air" and the very pretty "For All The Pretty People" shouldn't have been lost to obscurity, and the curious Japanese version of "Song For The Dumped" is also quite hilarious, especially when he sings in Japanese and then blurts out "you bitch!" That these excellent songs were regulated to B-sides show that even Ben Folds Five's lesser material still proved worthwhile.

The two songs that make this reissue worthwhile, though, are covers. My friend Kyle once said that he liked Ben Folds Five because they had the ability to make Archers of Loaf and Built to Spill sound like Billy Joel. The first cover is of the Buggles' classic hit "Video Killed the Radio Star," and as far as covers go, it's pretty faithful to the original--meaning, of course, that when you turn it up, it sounds great. The second cover is of The Flaming Lips' "She Don't Use Jelly," and the band turn it into a sexy, sleazy lounge number, complete with female backup singers, a seductive theremin and a general attitude that reeks of rum and dirty thoughts. It is, of course, a completely wonderful interpretation.

For those of you who have yet to experience the magic of Ben Folds Five, this reissue is a great place to start. For those of you who have loved Ben Folds Five for a while, this upgraded version is something you'll need--after all, it's probably safe to assume your original copy of this record is worn out. Besides, you'll probably wear this one out by repeated listens to "She Don't Use Jelly."

--Joseph Kyle

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May 22, 2005

Milton Mapes "Blacklight Trap"

We named Milton Mapes' second full length, Westernaire, one of the best records of 2003, and we stand by that claim. A heady mix of dusty atmospherics, country melancholy and rock power, it's a seamless record that stands on its own and has yet to lose any of the overwhelming power that makes it so beautiful. Comparisons were made to both Radiohead and Bruce Springsteen, and those comparisons are apt; Milton Mapes mastermind Greg Vanderpool certainly bridged the gap between the two. Their sound isn't exactly rock, it's not quite country, and it's not, either--it's a heady blend of all of those elements.

It's obvious that Vanderpool and company were quite happy with Westernaire, because The Blacklight Trap is more of a modification than a maturation. It's not to say that The Blacklight Trap is merely a retread; it's simply a band lingering a little bit longer with ideas that were quite appealing and interesting the first time around. On The Blacklight Trap, Vanderpool and company expand upon the darker, atmospheric moments of their previous two records, but they've lost the elements that were a bit more Britpop-influenced, opting instead for a dustier, more American-sounding style, similar in nature to Son Volt or the more stoned-out moments of Built to Spill. Don't worry, though, because they can still make a great racket; "Thunderbird" has the great guitar riff that any song by that name should have, "When The Earth's Last Picture Is Painted" is a tough, powerful song that Doug Martsch should be all too happy to devise, and "Tornado Weather" is Neil Young's lost masterpiece.

Despite The Blacklight Trap's rawer sound, Vanderpool and the band are in fine form, and the songs convey a powerful image of a simple life in a dusty, sun-drenched West Texas town. Vanderpool sings with a rough but appealing voice that gives his songs a more honest feel, and his voice still has the air of melancholy that's been present on all of his previous records. From the self-explanitory "Waiting for Love to Fail" to "Underneath the River Runs," a song about visiting the scene of a mass murder, Vanderpool's songs are sad and heartbreaking, and it's quite clear that the band's melancholy side hasn't dissipated in the least.

If you loved Westernaire, then you're gonna love The Blacklight Trap. A follow-up to such a great record would be a daunting task for any artist, especially considering how eagerly anticipated it would be. The Blacklight Trap doesn't quite make it to Westernaire's peak. Instead, Vanderpool simply builds on the things that made that record great, and Milton Mapes is still a treasure for those who know.

--Joseph Kyle

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May 21, 2005

Love As Laughter "Laughter's Fifth"

Love As Laughter is the long-running vision of Sam Jayne. And what a long, strange trip it's been, too; from lo-fi weirdness to lo-fi pop sweetness to a little bit of garage-rock to a whole lot of garage rock, you can't accuse Jayne of standing still. When they signed to Sub Pop, the underground was rumbling, threatening to release a new trend upon the world. Along with records by Vue and The Go, it seemed as if Love As Laughter's Destination: 2000 was a step in the right direction for world domination. The band's last record, Sea To Shining Sea, didn't quite conquer the world, but showed a great deal of promise; in it, the band had finely polished its rock machine, and it sounded real nice, too--and a nice respite in a music world that was about to take off in that 'new rock' direction.
When the trend turned around, Love as Laughter was nowhere to be found. In the time since then, a lot has changed. "Rock" has come and gone, label mates The Go and Vue abandoned the good Sub Pop ship, releasing records that nobody bought, and the "new rock" fad died quicker than grunge.

Laughter's Fifth is easily the most polished Love As Laughter record to date. While it might be a bit of a stretch to say that the record sounds "commercial," it's really not a stretch to say that the band's spent some time working on perfecting their sound, cleaning up their act in the studio. If past records have been perfect in their imperfection, everything on Laughter's Fifth seems intentional, and even the one or two flubbed moments seem essential to the overall sonic picture. It's as if they've taken the warts-and-all approach of Exile on Main Street as a commandment.

You won't really find the hard, driving moments of past hits like "I'm A Bee" and "Temptation Island" on Laughter's Fifth. Okay, there's the fun The OC-approved "Dirty Lives," but even then it's only a mid-tempo rocker, and "I'm A Ghost" is pretty rockin', too, but that's about it.. Still, there's a case to be made for Sam Jayne as blues-rocker, and that's simple: it ain't bad! Though it's kind of unusual hearing mellower sounds on a Love as Laughter record, it doesn't really change the dynamic of the band, and Jayne actually sounds better with the stripped down accompaniment. Songs like "Idol Worship! Idol Worship!" and "Corona Extra" highlight Jayne's songwriting skills, and the excellent "Survivors" sounds not only like a long-lost Exile on Main Street outtake, it's also one of Jayne's most moving compositions.

While it might seem odd to consider him a bluesman, Laughter's Fifth indicates that Jayne's quite capable of making an excellent blues/rock racket. You know, kinda like the Stones. Ultimately, this is a surprisingly great record. Who knew that a band chucking its formula for something so different could be so rewarding?

--Joseph Kyle

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May 20, 2005

Crooked Fingers "Sleep All Summer"

This here little limited edition 7" single fills a mighty big void. Crooked Fingers' Eric Bachmann has a beautiful voice that sounds great live, and with Sleep All Summer, that's exactly what you get. Recorded live in Philadelphia on his recent tour with the recently-departed Delgados, the two songs "Sleep All Summer" and "You Must Build a Fire," taken from his recent album Dignity & Shame, are performed here in haunted, stripped down form. He's joined by Emma Pollock on the A-Side, and the two voices together--coupled with the rough feel of the live recording--suggest that the two should work together in the future. His voice is still whiskey tinged and utterly goregous for it, and if you get the chance to see Crooked Fingers, don't pass it up. This little obscurity is worth seeking out.

--Joseph Kyle

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Destroy All Dreamers "À Coeur Léger Sommeil Sangiant"


That's the best word to describe Canada's vast, uninhabited and frigid tundra. It's also the best word to describe À Coeur Léger Sommeil Sangiant, the debut album from Canada's Destroy All Dreamers. This Canadian quartet make epic post-rock that's not unlike Canadian brethern Godspeed You Black Emperor! or A Silver Mt. Zion; that is, their music is loaded full of guitars creating all kinds of dark atmospherics that start off small and grow increasingly dark and loud. Thankfully, they're not playing the imitation game too much; about the only comparison that can be made between them and their more famous countrymen is that they're from Canada.

It's obvious that Destroy All Dreamers has a bit of a sweet-tooth for mid 1980s-era British art rock, the kind that bordered the post-punk, goth and ambient created by bands like The Cure and the esteemed label 4AD. Indeed, at times Destroy All Dreamers sound like the legacy of the Cocteau Twins (especially when they title one of their songs "Swirling Colours Sink") and the much more obscure Dif Juz. Throw in a hint of the gorgeous compositions of Harold Budd, and it's easy to think Destroy All Dreamers have created a sonic time machine. Songs like the title track and the epic "Facultatives Imaginaires, en Robe et en Eclats" are so overwhelmingly gorgeous, you'll wish more bands took this route. If you close your eyes while listening to À Coeur Léger Sommeil Sangiant, you'll quickly find yourself drifitng into a sleepy slumber solace--which, of course, is probably what Destroy All Dreamers intended.

Much like the northern regions of Canada, Destroy All Dreamers is cold and overwhelmingly vast. As a whole, À Coeur Léger Sommeil Sangiant is a breathtaking, near-orgasmic sonic experience; it's heady music for troubled times, and I've yet to hear a record this year that's quite as grand as this. For those of you seeking solace from the heat of the summer or the stresses of the world, there's no better escape from this world than this record. À Coeur Léger Sommeil Sangiant is hands-down one of the best debut albums I've heard in ages.

--Joseph Kyle

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May 19, 2005

Watchers "Dunes Phase"

Angular indie-rock dance music that doesn’t sound like a funk band gone wrong? Yeah, it’s kind of amazing, but they do exist. Watchers have been around for many years now, though their recorded output has been minimal. If you want an indication as to what they sound like, the fact that they’ve toured as legendary No-Wave funkster James Chance’s “Contortions” probably says more than anything a bio could say. It’s that sort of sound that you’ll find on Dunes Phase: short funky rock-based dance numbers that’s sort of retro, sort of not, with jerky guitars taking the place of more traditional rhythms. They’re funky, as you can hear on “Mono Mano” and “The Sway,” and yeah, they’ve got a great beat, too. Vocals are a cross between David Byrne and Ian Svenonious, and you can take that however you want to. At times Dunes Phase seems too short, other times, it seems to be a bit monotonous, but each listen is always fascinating.

--Joseph Kyle

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May 18, 2005

Forever Changed "The Need to Feel Alive"

I once heard a funny but apt quote from King Of The Hill, in reference to Christian Rock. In it, Hank Hill stated to a Christian rock band, "Don't you understand? You're not making Christianity better, you're making rock & roll WORSE." Sadly, that statement is quite true, and even some of my more religious friends agree with that sentiment. There are some bands, though, that break the chains of Christian music mediocrity, such as Danielson Famile, Pedro the Lion, Sufjan Stevens and Starflyer 59. These are artists who make uncompromising music that's strong in artistic achievement yet shows the deepness of their faith.

Then you have those that try hard to be contemporary. Bands come along and claim the contemporary styles as their own--often when the trend is dying out--applying their prinicples and core beliefs to the trendy new, hip sound. It's not unsurprising that the hip thing gets converted into something equally bland as Contemporary Christian Music, all in an attempt to reach a target youth organization. It's also not surprising that these bands occasionally have big hits, too--Stryper, Jars of Clay, Sixpence None the Richer, Collective Soul or Evanescence, anyone?

Hailing from a Jimmy Eat World/Brand New/Further Seemed Forever emo-rock school of influence, Forever Changed falls into that category. In an odd twist, emo's emotionally-charged, heartfelt and personal lyrical content couldn't be more perfect for the deep-seated spiritual statements of Christianity: wrong-doing, heartbreak, disappointment and the need for salvation and redemption. Thus, initially it's hard to hear Forever Changed as anything more--or less--than another boring emo band. Songs like "Great Divide" and "Opportunity (We Could Be The Ones)" are big, anthemic stadium emo-rock that sound as if they're ripe for radio play on the stations that play this modern-rock stuff.

It would not be right to criticize Forever Changed (or any other Christian or non-Christian artist) for their particular beliefs. Though I'm neither a fan of either emo or Christian rock, I can't state that The Need To Feel Alive is a bad record, because they're doing exactly what they set out to do, and it's obvious that they can do things like write good songs and play their instruments. If it's big success that they want, it sounds possible. If it's relevence with the youth of today, for those that go for CCM, then yeah, this will probably be up their alley. For the rest of us, though, Forever Changed comes across as merely business as usual from the Christian music market.

--Joseph Kyle

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The Robot Ate Me "On Vacation"

Ryland Bouchard wanted to make a political record. He wanted to make a record that discussed the separation of music and politics. He wanted to discuss his opinions towards religion (read: Christianity). He wanted to discuss his feelings towards war. He wanted to make pop music. Well, he did just that, and in 2004, he released his two-CD opus, On Vacation, which is seeing a reissue from his new label 5 Rue Christine. (Though, to be fair, both CD's have a running time of twenty minutes, so the two-disc concept makes it seem heavier than it actually is.)

The first thing you'll notice is the music. The Robot Ate Me is nothing if not creative, and the music runs between standard folkie indie-pop to modern takes on 1930s-era big band music. Volume One is a quirky set; with political songs about world diplomacy that sound like Glenn Miller ("Genocide Ball") Disney cartoon music ("Oh No! Oh My! (1994)," "Crispy Christian Tea Time") and songs about consumerist culture that sound downright odd ("You Don't Fill Me Up The Same"). Volume Two is much more straightforward, and it's very pretty, too. "The Red-Headed Girl" and "Apricot Tea" are simply beautiful songs that lose the political bent and have a much more romantic feel; with his pensive singing, Bouchard's voice adds an innocence that is not only unique but also quite refreshing. The boy is clever with his words, and his instrumental choices are quite unique.

Then there's the politics. I'll be flat out and say that I don't agree with his views on religion. He falls victim to the trap of many artists who attempt a political diatribe, and he sinks to making crude, overwhelmingly offensive statements based on stereotypes and prejudices (Jesus and Hitler having sex in a taxi, making a comparison to the Holocaust as "this year's Jesus Christ Murder Marathon," referring to Christians as barbarians and persecutors), which only reduces his commentary to nothing more than singing to an audience that's going to approve of what he has to say and alienating those whose disagree with him or find his imagery offensive. It's not that his message is too harsh or shocking to absorb, it's just that it's occasionally too offensive to be effective. Note to Ryland: the objective is to change the minds of those who disagree with you, and you'll never change the world if you're insulting them or their faith.

It's a lofty goal, making a political statement. On Vacation is a great-sounding record with terribly flawed (and at times downright hateful) lyrics by a young man who would do best to escape the political cliches that close doors and minds to change. Maybe instead of trying to make a statment about the division between music and politics, maybe he should try to understand just why the two do not mix. It cannot be denied that On Vacation is a beautiful record, but his "shocking" political statements ultimately taint the beauty.

--Joseph Kyle

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The Deathray Davies "The Kick & The Snare"

Quietly, The Deathray Davies have become one of Dallas' best-kept secrets. Led by the mysterous and prolific John Dufilho, since 1999 the Davies have released a handful of really great albums, such as 2003's Midnight At The Black Nail Polish Factory and The Day Of The Ray. Their style's always been extremely catchy indie-rock with a bit of a pop-punk edge; playing shows with Guided by Voices, Superchunk and Superdrag placed them rightly among their peers, even if they weren't necessarily mature enough to eat with them at the grown-up table. If there's one flaw with the Davies' enjoyable formula, it's that they don't really change their formula.

A not-uncommon complaint heard around Dallas, though, is that while their records are good, they don't sound radically different from previous records, nor do their songs really sound all that different. Maybe someone tipped off Dufilho, because their fifth album The Kick and The Snare rocks the Deathray Davies' boat in a major--and quite welcome--way. Don't think that they've changed their formula, though--if anything, they've simply delved deeper into the pop elements only hinted at on previous records. The result? An album that stays true to their past sound, yet completely overhauls it and updates it and makes it stronger than ever before. They might be accused of being formulaic, but at least they've improved their formula.

It's obvious from the first seconds of album opener "The Fall Fashions" that The Deathray Davies have grown too big for their pop britches; the guitar riffs are deeper, heavier than before, but it's the piano and horn section that really signal a new chapter in Dufilho's musical career. Luckily, it's uphill from there, as the rest of The Kick and The Snare offers plenty of magical moments that will leave your toe a-tappin'. From the lazy shuffle of "Stumble" to the sweet "In Circles" and the romantic "I'll Sing A Sweeter Song Tomorrow," it might feel as if Dufilho's mellowed out, but the frantic "Clock In Now" and heavy-hitting "Alaska" prove otherwise. The album's true winning moment is "Plan To Stay Awake," a frentic, overcaffeinated rocker that's reminiscent of the Joe Jackson Band's best moments.

It's amazing what kind of magic some people can make with only the most basic of ingredients, and John Dufilho's certainly cooked up some wonderful pop treats. The Kick and The Snare is easily The Deathray Davies' finest hour. It's an enjoyable slab of ear-candy that never loses its freshness.

--Joseph Kyle

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Freiband "Flying"

A fascinating, unique concept, this. Freiband is the project of Dutch experimental composer Frans de Waard, and with Flying, he has taken the liberty of manipulating the Beatles' psychedelic instrumental "Flying." Over eight sections, this twenty-minute piece turns a very familiar song into something completely unrecognizable. It's a wash of static, drone and radio waves, not unlike Wolf Eyes and Black Dice. Distortion and sonic manipulation is the name of the game, and this piece is, at times, soothing, confusing and somewhat disturbing. Overall it's a mellow affair, but it's mellow in an outer-space combat to the death sort of way. Still, fascinating is fascinating, and this little record (a 3" CD, with beautiful packaging) is quite intriguing.

--Joseph Kyle

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May 17, 2005

Tara VanFlower "My Little Fire-Filled Heart"

Tara VanFlower was one-half of darkwave masterminds Lycia, who released numerous records throughout the 1990s. On her second solo album, though, she both expands and eschews Lycia's dark, depressing atmospherics, opting instead for something much...weirder. The use of the word "weird" isn't merely an exaggeration by a music writer who doesn't "get" it--there's just no better word to describe My Little Fire-Filled Heart. It's not quite folk, nor is it goth or electronica or darkwave--it's truly something that defies all categorization.

My Little Fire-Filled Heart isn't traditional music in any sense of the word. VanFlower sings with a little-girl voice that's more mature than Kate Bush yet younger than Joanna Newsom. That is, of course, when she's actually singing. Much of the time, the 'vocals' consist of nothing more than VanFlower harmonizing and singing words that are either distorted to the point of being unrecognizable or are simply too faint to comprehend. Almost all of the songs have some sort of sample or tape-loop as its accompaniment; sometimes, those samples are the only form of melody. For instance, on "Yaya," her faint, whispy singing is over a melody of sampled throat singers and of her speaking some unintelligable words. Then there's "Naked King," which transforms VanFlower into a dominatrix, with her saying things "take it off little man" and "reward yourself" over a beat that suggests the cracks of a whip. The album's highlight is "Wren," an epic eleven-minute song that's nothing more than her singing a sad, melancholy song about love over a recording of rain falling tempered with a jewelry-box melody of "Love Me Tender."

It's utterly beautiful, of course.

My Little Fire-Filled Heart is a record that's too strange to classify, nor do I think it deserves classification. If 2005 didn't already have a musical enigma, then it does now. This is a mysterious record that's gorgeous and beautiful and puzzling and confusing and much more, I simply cannot say, because ultimately words do fail...

--Joseph Kyle

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Interview: A Long Conversation With Why?

Why? is the project of one Yoni Wolf, an Oakland-based lo-fi hip-hop meets folk meets experimental meets whatever pops into his head kind of fellow. He's a member of the respected Anticon crew, and he's been a member of several notable projects, including cLOUDDEAD and Themselves. It is with Why?, though, that he has come into his own, using the moniker for his solo work. And, truly, his stuff was solo, as until recently, Why? was a one-man gig. Records such as The Early Whitney and Oaklandazulasylum did not go unnoticed by the independent world at large. His latest EP, Sanddollars is an even further stylistic shift, as the record introduces a full-band version of Why? Sean Padilla recently sat down with Why?, who are Yoni Wolf (vocals/guitar/bass/keyboard), Doug McDiarmid (keyboard/guitar/bass/vocals), Matt Meldon (guitar/bass/vocals) and brother Josiah Wolf (drums/vocals).

I noticed that there’s a difference between the album Oaklandazulasylum and the new EP Sanddollars. Whereas the album is more computer-band, the EP sounds like a full band and has more live instrumentation. I was wondering how that came about --- how you guys became a band, and how the EP was recorded.

Doug: Yoni, for a long time, has been a “bedroom hermit” kind of recording artist…which is exemplified by Oaklandazulasylum, which he did largely by himself. When it came time to tour on said album, we had to go through as a band and come up with arrangements for obviously different sounds on the record, ‘cause it was done largely on computer. During that process, Yoni was so utterly blown away by what we had to bring to the table… (Everybody laughs)…and we started coming up with arrangements for new songs. A lot of them are actually old songs, but now everyone has a bit more input.

Josiah: Also, it’s the first time that everyone’s lived out here.

Yoni: We’re all from Cincinnati, Ohio, and we all moved out at staggered times. I moved out to the Bay Area in 2001, and these guys came to the Bay Area, one after another, later on.

Have the four of you written any new material together since the formation of the band?

Yoni: Not really on the EP…but there’s an album coming out in September, and about half of those songs were written collaboratively. They weren’t written by all four of us, but some songs are by me and him, me and him…(points to other members of the band)

Do any members other than Yoni pitch in with lyrics, or do you guys just help out with the music?

Josiah: Only on the music…on the full-length, some of the riffs are written by the members of the band. On the EP, the chords and music are all Yoni’s, although we all play on it.

(To Yoni) I had previously seen you perform with Reaching Quiet at the Orange Show in Houston.

Yoni: Oh, really? Two of the guys in my band were in Reaching Quiet as well. That’s a neat place, a very weird place.

I remember the Reaching Quiet album (In the Shadow of the Living Room) being a big, sprawling record with lots of ideas all over the place, whereas the Why? stuff seems to be more concise. The songs are two-to-three minutes and tend to have more actual verses and choruses, instead of hopping from one tangent to the next. Was that a conscious progression, or did it just happen naturally?

Yoni: I think that the Reaching Quiet record is the way it is it because I’m unlearned. I figure things out as I go along, and with that record…I had a poem that was a certain length, and I would just start recording music and try to fit the poem over it. Nowadays I’ll have a poem, but it’ll be put to music before it’s recorded. That makes a difference, I think. A lot of the Reaching Quiet record was about production ideas. For instance, there’s “Slow Polaroids,” in which the guitars are panned hard and go back and forth from one speaker to the next. Whereas now, I’m not as fixated on little anal ideas, and I paint with broader strokes. That’s why I say that the Reaching Quiet record is good to listen to on headphones, whereas the stuff I’m doing now is better for stereos.

Strangely enough, I’ve never listened to the Reaching Quiet stuff on headphones and I’ve never listened to the Why? stuff on a proper stereo. (Yoni chuckles)

Yoni: Oaklandazulasylum is a good one to listen to on headphones as well. There are lots of details in it. The production on that one was way labored over. It’s sort of an extension to the Reaching Quiet record.

(To the rest of the band): Do the three of you play in any projects other than Why?

Josiah: I play drums in a jazz band in the Bay Area, but that’s about it.

Do any of you have formal training on your instruments?

Doug: I met Josiah at the Conservatory of Music.

Yoni: We kinda grew up taking piano lessons. I took a couple years’ worth of piano lessons with Doug, but I learned more about the instrument from my dad.

There’s one song on Sanddollars called “Next Atlanta” in which the main line is “Atlanta smells like exhaust.” Were there any other cities you guys have played in or traveled to that hit your senses in the same way…even if it’s not the smell, but something that stood out in your minds.

Yoni: Every city has something about it that strikes you.

Doug: Some are more memorable than others.

Yoni: I have San Antonio in a song on the full-length that comes out in September. It tends to be more of a situational thing…

Doug: You pretty much remember the best, the worst and the weirdest.

Matt: Salt Lake City…I don’t think it was the best or the worst city, but it was very memorable because it’s so strange…the people we met there. It was a good show, but the show itself wasn’t memorable. It was more about the people we met.

Doug: One of our most memorable shows was in Slovenia. We were supposed to play somewhere in Austria, but the show got cancelled so we quickly set up a show somewhere else at the last minute. It was this small, really poor town. I don’t know how far from the capitol it is. The promoter was really nice. We actually had to come to the border because the border guys were being really difficult with us. Eventually, the promoter just told them that we were a jazz band in order to break through….so if you ever want to play in Slovenia, just tell them that you’re a jazz band.

Yoni: That’s everywhere in Eastern Europe, though.

Doug: The place was played was this weird youth center with maybe 15 people moshing outside, completely drunk and heckling us in broken English.

Was it the good kind of heckling? Did they enjoy the performance?

Doug: It was pretty hard to tell. The few people who listened, we confused with our music.

Yoni: It was similar to those two guys in Raleigh…very similar…

Doug: …but those two guys weren’t fans.

Yoni: It just reminded me of that whole “I hate you/I love you” kind of thing.

What other countries have you guys played in?

Doug: We’ve toured Europe. A lot of Germany, a lot of France, and a lot of Sweden. We’ve played in Serbia and Croatia, which was wonderful.

Yoni: This summer we’re playing Portugal, Spain and Italy.

(To Yoni) How often do you write poetry nowadays?

Yoni: It depends on where I am and what I’m doing. That’s a really good question. When I’m on tour, it’s kind of a rarity in a way.

Doug (to Yoni): Have you written any this tour?

Yoni: Yeah, a little bit.

Doug (to Yoni): You wake up in the middle of night with a notebook and a Dictaphone.

I’m sure the creative process is different for everybody, but I figured that it would be harder to write while on tour because of the lack of solitude and constant movement.

Yoni: Yeah, that’s what makes it tough…always being around people, I don’t always get the headspace necessary for words to come to me. It’s a little bit tough, but they still come. They come in the middle of the night, or in the back of the car on the way to somewhere.

It seems like a lot of the songs on the Why? records are inspired by actual situations or people in your life. Do you get any bursts of inspiration from things that aren’t necessarily directly related to your life? For instance, seeing a movie or a painting and having it inspire you to write a song?

Yoni: Sometimes, I’ll see a movie. That’s a really potent time. After watching a movie, I think it has a lot to do with having meditated for two hours on one thing. You’re not saying a word, you’re staring in one direction and focused on something. It doesn’t really matter what kind of movie, but it’s got to have heart to it. I couldn’t write after watching an action film, of course.

Doug: Well, you wrote “Early Whitney” after Air Bud. (everybody laughs)

Yoni: Yeah, that can happen. Just random words can come that don’t mean anything specifically in my life, but have a certain feeling to them that I want to convey. Not everything is directly about my life, though.

I didn’t get the feeling that the songs were like diary entries, as much as they were just musings that had a little personal touch to them.

Doug: Yeah, musings and reflections on various things.

There are two extremes when it comes to that. You have to hardcore autobiographical people, and then there are the people who go, “I want to write a song about squirrels today…”

Yoni: You must have some of my early stuff, then. (everybody laughs)

Was Sanddollars recorded at home, or have you guys done any work in an actual studio?

Yoni: We mixed that in a studio with Tony Espinosa, as well as the upcoming album. We did a couple of things at a studio, but most of our stuff was recorded either at my house, Josiah’s house or my ex-girlfriend’s house.

Does it feel a little bit more comfortable to record at home?

Yoni: I think so. At a studio, there’s this rush that kinda be cool in a way, but can also be limiting. You feel like you can’t do it exactly how you want to do it because you have to do it right then. Doing it at home, you have more time to reflect and think about exactly what you want.

Doug: Plus, we don’t work the songs out in practice and then record them. We kinda figure out arrangements as it’s being recorded. If I want some guitar in a certain part, I’ll bring Matt over.

I’m about to ask a question about something that I’m pretty sure you guys get asked a lot about.

Yoni: Is it about hip-hop?

Yes. (Ashamed) (Everybody laughs.) I know that a lot of people write about how your music is breaking the “traditions” of hip-hop, but I want to take a different tack on it. What was the most recent hip-hop record you guys heard that genuinely moved you? This isn’t a springboard to talk about the state of hip-hop or whatever…it’s more like a ‘What should I buy next when I go to the record store’ kind of thing.

Yoni: First of all, you’re using the term ‘hip-hop,’ and that’s cool. It means something to me, but for everybody it means something else. I think that the Madvillian record that MF Doom and Madlib did was the last thing that came out that I really liked.

Doug: I would agree.

Yoni: And that’s not counting records that I was involved in. I helped with the Pedestrian record, for example.

To me, I think the Why? stuff is just as ‘hip-hop’ as Madvillain. I recently had the pleasure of seeing KRS-ONE live at Antone’s, and it confirmed for me a lot of the beliefs that I personally hold about hip-hop---that it’s not a specific sound as much as it is the aesthetic behind the sound.

Yoni: I’ve always felt that way as well. I think we have a similar way of thinking about it. We probably grew up listening to the same kind of music. How old are you?


Yoni: I’m 26, which is pretty much the same age group.

I do like, though, the fact that although your lyrics are still delivered in that rapid-fire hip-hop style, there’s a much greater emphasis on melody. I hear that in everything you’ve done from cLOUDDEAD onward.

Yoni: I’ve always felt that melody is a tool, so why not use it?

Some of the harmonies on the cLOUDDEAD stuff are unbelievable. Does everyone in this outfit sing as well?

Yoni: Everybody sings…not on the record, but definitely live.

Are the harmonies as complex?

Yoni: We do what we can.

Josiah: We don’t have a Dose One in the band, but we’ve got this guy…(points at Doug)…who is the second-best thing.

Do you still keep in touch with the other cLOUDDEAD members? If so, what are they doing musically now?

Yoni: Yeah, I still keep in touch with them. Odd Nosdam just finished a full-length that comes out on Anticon in a couple of months, which is pretty great. Dose One is just doing a shitload of stuff. He’s got Subtle and he’s got 13 + God, which is a collaboration between Themselves and the Notwist.

I end up buying most of the records eventually, but I can never figure out the names and faces of people. It just kinda blurs into one big Anticon.

Yoni: That’s something that has been following us over the years. It’s just been the nature of things. I don’t know why.

I think it’s cool, because it’s almost become a seal of quality. If I see the name Anticon, I know that it’s something I’ll want to at least listen to once or twice.

Doug: It’s a blessing and a curse, but more of a blessing.

Yoni: I think we’re sort of the odd man out on Anticon. We’re still definitely hip-hop influenced, but not as obvious as other people. Sometimes we got straight up hip-hop fans coming to our shows…

Doug: …and they love it! They always love it.

Matt: Some people. There’s definitely been some that weren’t into it as much.

I couldn’t imagine people who are familiar with the Anticon name having an instant negative reaction to your music, unless they’re really staunch hip-hop purists.

Matt: Some people just know about Anticon through Sage Francis, and they go to the show because we’re with Anticon.

They go, and it ends up sounding nothing like Sage Francis, even with a live band.

Yoni: Right.

While reading up on your music, I found out that you and Josiah were both raised by a rabbi. I wanted to know if you were still practicers of Judaism, and if so…or even if not, how your faith or lack thereof has influenced your music.

Yoni: My dad was never a real rabbi. He was in a sect of Judaism called Messianic Judaism that believed in Jesus as the Messiah. The rest of the Jewish community doesn’t really see them as valid Jews. It was an interesting upbringing, but as far as our beliefs now, we’re not really into all that stuff. Does it affect my writing?

Doug: Probably not consciously…

Josiah: How could it not?

Yoni: Well, it was my childhood. It was where my whole childhood was at.

Has your father heard your music?

Yoni: He loves it now. For a while, he wasn’t really into it, but we gave the Sanddollars EP to my mom and she gave it to him. He loves it. He’s a songwriter himself, and he’s really into pop songs and stuff like that, and this stuff has a little more of that sensibility. He’s been able to latch on to this stuff and get into it. He came to two of the shows on this tour, which was encouraging in a way.

(To the rest of the band) How about your parents?

Doug: My mom likes the Sanddollars EP, and my dad went to one of the shows. It’s pretty accessible.

Yoni: Doug’s brother loves it. His brother came to three shows on the tour.

Josiah: It’s kinda branching out to where we’ve got people following us around the country…family members. (everybody laughs)

Matt and Doug (in unison): That’s how it starts.

Yoni: Then you’ve got a bus following you…with grandmothers jumping on trampolines and playing vacuum solos (more laughter).

I always think it’s cool when I go to shows and the artists’ parents are there, and they’re beaming and proud while watching their kid. The last time I remember that happening was at a South by Southwest. I can’t remember the artist, but I do remember his dad walking into the club with a cane and nodding his head to the music.

Yoni: It’s nerve-wracking for me. Those are the only shows on tour in which I get nervous.

Matt: There’s some added pressure because you want to impress them…

Yoni: …and make them think you’re actually doing something worthwhile in your life, when you’re really not. (laughter)

Who is Mutant John? (the titular character from Sanddollars’ final track, whose e-mail address Yoni gives out during the chorus)

Yoni: He’s a friend of mine from Israel, actually. He’s been e-mailing me recently, asking me, “What is this I hear about a song about me? Everyone’s e-mailing me now!” (everybody laughs) I apologized to him but he was like, “No, I love it. There’s all these interesting people that I get to talk to.” I think he’s pretty lonely out there.

I actually didn’t think he was a real person. I thought to myself, “This is a pretty cool conceit for a song --- I wonder if anyone’s going to actually e-mail that address.” (laughter)

Yoni: He actually had a deep funk band called Mutant John, but it’s called the Pit That Became a Tower now.

Josiah: He’s a guy we grew up with in my dad’s congregation, and he’s into the whole Christian Jew thing. I guess you could call his current band Christian indie-rock.

Yoni: Have you heard the Danielson Famile? He’s kinda the one who hipped us to Danielson Famile. Since then, we actually got to do some shows with Bro. Danielson.

Are there any other bands that you’ve come across this tour that just blew you away?

Yoni: I’ve liked a couple of bands that we’ve played with.

Doug: There are a lot of them that are really fun to watch live, but then their CDs are just okay.

Yoni: I really liked those guys in Montreal. I can’t remember what they’re called.

Doug: They were called…uh, Donkey Heart?

Yoni: I could see potential in those guys, mainly the main dude. I think he calls himself Dishwasher. (laughter) He gave us his CD, and I think it has a lot of potential. He needs to be sort of refined.

Doug (to Yoni): He kinda reminds me of you when you were 18.

Yoni: He reminds me of myself when I was 18, and I think he’s got a lot of potential.

What do you think is the difference between the music you made when you were 18 and the music you’re making now?

Yoni: Now, it’s a lot more contrived and thought-out. (everybody laughs) It was pure and real…and it sucked back then, but now it’s okay. (more laughter) Back then I had four tracks, but now I have 100.

If you were able to travel back in time to see Yoni at age 18, what advice would you give him?

Yoni: I’d say, “Go back to school. Get a degree in business.”

Doug: “Do something productive with your life, boy!”

Yoni: “Maybe law. Do something.”

That’s pretty harsh. (everybody laughs)

Yoni: You know, everything you go through you’ve gotta go through. You learn it how you learn it. There’s no way to know otherwise unless you’ve actually done it.

I can’t listen to the stuff I made when I was 18, but I know that if I didn’t make it then I wouldn’t be making the music I’m making now.

Matt: If I didn’t play in that Steve Miller cover band, I wouldn’t be playing the hot licks I’m playing today! (everybody laughs)

Actually, that reminds me of one of my housemates who used to play in a Jewish ska band called Skazeltov.

Yoni: That’s off the hook! (laughter)

Therefore, every time he tries to make a judgment regarding music, I simply say “Skazeltov” and he shuts up.

Yoni: That’s a classic example of a band that’s based around its name.

Josiah: Ska is similar to klezmer in that sort of upbeat, fast tempo…

Yoni: “Why am I doing this to myself” kind of stuff? (laughter)

I have one more question before I stop the tape for real. I have two questions about the song “Vice Principal,” because it’s one of my favorites from the EP.

Doug: I’m sorry that we don’t play it.

That sucks. (laughter) The first question is: what was that song inspired by? The second question is: was there any advice that your guidance counselors gave you in high school that stood out, either because of how on the mark it was or how off base it was…and did you listen to any of it?

Yoni: That’s a good question. I can’t honestly say that I have a really good answer to that.

Doug: That song is so off the cuff, though!

Yoni: Well, the first question I can answer but I can’t really answer the second. As far as the song goes…I wrote that in 2000. When I was writing songs back then, sometimes --- the “Miss Ohio’s Nameless” song was written back then…

I actually have the Miss Ohio’s Nameless EP!

Yoni: Well, the title of the Sanddollars song came from that EP, but that song wasn’t on there. I was fooling around because my parents had a piano, and I moved back in with them after living in an apartment for a while. I would write these little things, and I would have melodies to them. Any word that would come to my head I would just sing, and then I’d refine the words later. The original words to the “Miss Ohio’s Nameless” song were like the Wizard of Oz --- (sings) “I am the king of the forest/With a pocket full of dough” --- and then I’d kinda refine the lyrics into what is it now. With the “Vice Principal” song, though, it never really happened…so those are pretty much the lyrics. It was about my sister --- “You can do anything/ You just found your calling” --- I just thought it would be funny to make it about this vice principal. I was always into second-string things…you know, how like Robin is a second-string superhero, or how like the vice principal is not quite the principal. I’ve always identified with that character. It means something to me now…well, it meant something to me back then but I had always meant to go back and refine it. The only reason why it got recorded was because my brother was really into it. He’d say, “Play that ‘Vice Principal’ song; I really like that one!’” He kept pestering me to do it so I said, “Fine…we’ll do it, but I don’t have the lyrics done.” He said, “No, they’re fine!” Doug came over and laid down some ill licks on the tables, and that was it.

That’s one of the reasons why I like the song so much --- the combination of the piano and the turntable scratching.

Yoni: It’s a weird kind of texture, isn’t it?

Yeah, but it’s cool! The turntable scratching goes right where you’d normally expect a guitar solo.

Yoni: Exactly. That’s what we were thinking. “We’ve got this one verse. It’ll be too short if it’s just one verse and a chorus, so we’ll add another verse and put something cool there. Maybe we’ll have a keyboard solo or something.” Then, we thought of the turntable thing and that seemed like the perfect thing, because the sounds are so contrasting. It’s almost like a tap-dancing rhythm the turntables are doing…

(Imitates the exact turntable solo with his mouth): Like that?

Yoni: That’s exactly it. He did it once, and then I made him learn the whole thing and he doubled himself.

Doug: Yoni’s a slave driver in the studio. (laughter)

That’s awesome. I noticed that the lyrics didn’t really stick to one topic, and usually when that happens, I end up getting images in my head to fill in the blanks. When I listen to “Vice Principal,” I think of my high school guidance counselor sitting me down and saying, “I think you might be wasting your brain power with this whole music thing. You should be using your mind for science and law!” (laughter)

Yoni: That makes sense. Unfortunately, I don’t have guidance counselor stories. I got into a couple of fights with some vice principals in my high school. Dr. Howe…

Matt: I had my run-ins with him as well.

Yoni: He was a good guy. I was highly emotional, manic-depressive or something like that. In 11th grade, I went through a serious period of…when I was in a car, I would think, “I wish this car would crash.” That kind of shit. That’s just background information. I got sent to Saturday school for something stupid, and I thought it was ridiculous. I was talking to him and was like, “I’m not coming on Saturday…whatever.” He got upset with me, and I just started crying and acting crazy. (laughter)

People get pretty crunk in high school. I remember when I was high school, I actually set my ID on fire and this crowd gathered. It had to be broken up by a bunch of police officers. I was pissed off because I had been sent to detention for not wearing my ID, and there were people trying to blow up the school that didn’t even get caught.

Yoni: That’s good. I like people who actually get upset about stuff like that. I get upset about stuff like that. Then, there’s the other 90 percent of people that just do anything that they’re told to do and don’t question why they’re doing it.

Well, I’m certainly glad that you didn’t have to deal with any guidance counselors and their crappy advice. Thanks a bunch for letting me do this interview with you guys!

Doug: No problem. It was actually one of the better ones we’ve had to do.

Yoni: Yeah, thanks a lot!

Previous Page

May 16, 2005

Nick Cave "B-Sides & Rarities"

The twenty five+ years of Nick Cave's career have never been anything less than interesting. From his punk days in the Boys Next Door to the insanity of the Birthday Party and his morose blues/goth singer/songwriter turn with The Bad Seeds, there's really not much that Nick Cave hasn't done. One think you must say about Nick Cave's career is that you should always expect the unexpected. His most recent album, Abatoir Blues/The Lyre of Orpheus, is clearly his masterpiece--even though many (myself included) thought it impossilble to make a record better than 2001's No More Shall We Part.

Another thing you must say about Cave is that he's never wasted an opportunity to shine. B-Sides & Rarities is a reflection of that ability. Over the past twenty years, he's released some classic singles--from "Red Right Hand" to "Tupelo" to "The Ship Song" to "Deanna," and unlike most artists, Cave always made sure that even the singles are quality artistic endeavors, believing that even lesser material should be of the same quality as the more available product. Thus, the quality level of B-Sides & Rarities is extremely high--so much so that Cave has stated that this is his favorite Bad Seeds record.

Arranged in a vaguely chronological fashion, the first six years of Cave's career are only hinted at, and even then, several of these songs were released on American versions of his albums. From the blues of "The Moon Is In The Gutter" and "The Six Strings that Drew Blood" to the "Running Scared" and "Black Betty" covers from Kicking Against the Pricks, these earlier songs capture the band's wilder, more frentic side, but they serve more to show the hints of a greater genius yet to come. Not that these songs don't lack the same spark as his later songs--one listen to the venomous "Scum," a vile, harsh rant towards an equally vile, harsh music critic. Though as fascinating as these early glimpses are, they represent Cave as Angry Young Man.

If the Eightes represented the harsher, Old Testament Nick Cave, then 1990 was a pivotal year, one that instigated an unspoken yet quite obvious change for the band. His songs become softer, lusher and lyrically deeper than his earlier work. (It says much that there are only eight of the fifty-six songs on B-Sides & Rarities date from the 1980s.) The Nineties proved to be his most fertile period, due in no small part to the fact that this was the decade where Cave became a father, cleaned up his bad habits and developed a strong, unwavering faith. Tender Prey begat The Good Son which begat Henry's Dream which begat Let Love In which then begat Murder Ballads and The Boatman's Call--each album expanding and developing that same thick, lush sound.

Starting disc two are three songs from a joint single Cave recorded with fellow world-weary, doomed soul Shane MacGowan. Their choice of song is a straightforward and moving version of the classic "What A Wonderful World," both men's histories adding a touching depth to the song, making it a thank-you for two souls who probably should have died years before. Their further collaboration on "Rainy Night In Soho" and "Lucy" hint that maybe these two men should further collaborate. Other highlights include the catchy shuffle of "There's No Night Out In The Jail," an unreleased cover from a tribute record to the Australian Country & Western scene; an alternate version of "Red Right Hand," recorded for Scream 3; "Knoxville Girl," a cover of a traditional American murder ballad and the eighteen-minute version of "O'Malley's Bar."

The third disc finds Cave transitioning yet again, refining the already refined lush, orchestral sounds into something even more spectacular, turning in No More Shall We Part, Nocturama and Abbatoir Blues/The Lyre of Orpheus.--two of which are easily his masterpieces. With age comes maturity, and this is certainly reflected in songs "Shoot Me Down" and "Good Good Day"--perhaps his happiest song before last year's "Breathless." The wise, contented "Everything Must Converge" and "Little Ghost Song" deserved a fate other than being the B-sides to one of his lesser singles. His recent turn towards more gospel-inspired music is also apparent in the brief "I Feel So Good" and the Southern Soul of "Come Into My Sleep." Of the three discs in B-Sides & Rarities, Volume III could easily pass for a new Nick Cave album and none would be the wiser. In fact, the entire collection is worth the price for the "Bring It On" and "He Wants You" B-sides alone. The rest of the collection...well, that's a great bonus!

If there's ever been a need to prove Cave's genius, B-Sides & Rarities does the job quite nicely. After all, what else can you call a man whose tossed-off rejects and outtakes sound as good as everything else he's ever released? B-Sides & Rarities is an essential Nick Cave collection that's necessary for both the hardcore fan and those curious about the man's work.

--Joseph Kyle

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RTX "Transmaniacon"

Okay, so what happens when noise-rock's noisiest couple splits up? Should that mean the end of their band? Does that mean one member gets fired and the other one keeps the band name alive? The lover-as-founding-band-member conundrum has certainly destroyed its fair share of bands. When Royal Trux's Neil Hagerty and Jennifer Herrema parted ways four years ago, the bells tolled for the band. Neil went off on his own, and Jennifer disappeared, destined to be dismissed as the sexy but less respected singer of Neil's band.

Thankfully, she may have been down, but Herrema was far from out. She's kick-started her career by relaunching Royal Trux. Using the name RTX, Herrema and company create the same kind of racket that Royal Trux did. With sour-puss art-rock boy Hagerty out of the picture, RTX takes on a dimension that wasn't seen in the Trux days. With Transmaniacon, it's clearly evident that Hagerty held back Herrema's longing for poppier, listener-friendly music, because this album, if it's anything, it's catchy as hell. With flying guitar solos, Herrema's rough, scrtachy blues-rock moan and some tight-as-hell playing, there's no reason for RTX to not be considered a great hard rock band. Unlike Royal Trux, there's absolutely no irony in their sound, every moment of Transmaniacon is utterly sincere.

At times, the band's sound is reminiscent of classic hard rock of the late 1980s, and I'll be honest, I never expected the day would come when I'd use Royal Trux (excuse me, RTX) and Poision in the same sentence. Use it I must, though, because "Joint Chiefs" and "Low Ass Mountain Song" sound like outtakes from Look What The Cat Dragged In, with the vocal similarites between Herrema and Bret Michaels being quite apparent. The rest of the record has that same kind of hard hair-metal rock feel that is both shocking to hear and refreshing to experience, such as the wonderful "Stoked" and the album closing anthemic "Resurrect." And, truth be told, "Speed To Roam" should have been a hard-rock radio hit; its hard riffs, its addictive (and understated) singalong chorus and overall catchy rhythm deserves to blast loudly from muscle cars owned by dudes named Mike.

Transmaniacon is an interesting record; it's catchy, it's hard, and it's new, yet it's also clearly the sound of a veteran band making music. Herrema is coming into her own, and it's a fascinating thing to hear. Personally, as a fan of Royal Trux, I'm just happy to know that Herrema's back; she was terribly underrated in Royal Trux. It's even more exciting to know she's exploring the pop sensibilities that Royal Trux grudingly experimented with. Here's to Herrema and company producing a long discography of great albums; much like the original Royal Trux, Transmaniacon is a distinctive, shocking (and wonderful) debut to a great project.

--Joseph Kyle

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Accelera Deck "Pop Polling"

I’ve been diligently keeping up with the music of prolific Alabama native Chris Jeely for the last eight years. Through an endless stream of singles, EPs, CDRs and proper full-lengths under the Accelera Deck name, Jeely has staked a claim as one of America’s most underrated electronic musicians. If you listened to his discography in order, a strange trajectory emerges. Jeely’s 1997 debut album, Narcotic Beats, fused My Bloody Valentine-style guitars with jungle and drum-and-bass and rhythms (a juxtaposition that MBV’s Kevin Shields admittedly wanted to pursue, but never did). His next three albums, though, stripped away the guitars, focusing instead on grinding beats that brought to mind a more accessible version of Autechre. After a brief, ill-advised detour into vocal-based folk (on 2001’s Shadow Land), Jeely seems to have returned to the wall of guitars that characterized his debut…but this time, he has stripped away the beats.

On Jeely’s latest album Pop Polling, he runs his guitar through an array of DSP effects, and constructs an ambient sound that often recalls the Austrian composer Fennesz (particularly his masterpiece Endless Summer). “Ferric” begins with layers of rapidly skipping single notes, underneath which a haze of attack-less guitars slowly shift from one chord to the next. Swooping, laser-gun noises ricochet from speaker to speaker, subtly foreshadowing the crescendo to come. At around the halfway mark, a wave of distorted guitars a la Lovesliescrushing enters the mix and holds the song hostage, producing an effect that is both beautiful and frightening. The next track, “Come Alive,” sounds like an imaginary collaboration between Boards of Canada and Wolf Eyes. The guitars are run through a woozy vibrato, and are nearly overtaken by the flatulent noises of tape decay. “Isn’t” is probably the most serene song on the album, consistently entirely of attack-less guitars that sound like the droning of an orchestra.

Unfortunately, “Isn’t” is sequenced so that it serves as a palate cleanser after Pop Polling’s two most abrasive tracks: “Lips” and “Sunskull.” “Lips” is a 12-minute noise improvisation in which Jeely ekes out piercing feedback and irritating scrapes from him guitar, with no discernible DSP used to manipulate them or make them more palatable. Frankly, it sounds like a bored teenager in the garage trying out his new distortion pedal. “Sunskull” is shorter and has more structure, but it lays the digital distortion on so thick that you’ll think someone slipped Merzbow in the CD player when you weren’t looking. These two songs seriously disrupt the flow of the record, as the songs that come before and after it are infinitely easier to digest. “Lips” and “Sunskull” make listening to Pop Polling feel like eating a delicious sandwich, only to bite into a nail that the sadistic Subway clerk buried in the middle.

That sequencing flaw aside, Pop Polling is a fine piece of work from a composer who has gone unnoticed even in the underground for far too long. With his label Scarcelight branching out and releasing music by like-minded artists around the world, here’s hoping that Jeely’s name starts getting around a bit quicker.

---Sean Padilla

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James Kochalka Superstar "Our Most Beloved"

Dear Readers--

This afternoon I picked up Our Most Beloved by artist/boy genius James Kochalka. His latest album, Our Most Beloved, is a compilation of songs that he's released here and there over the past few years. It's a really good thing that this compilation exists, because Kochalka is an excellent, humorous musician and artist who will quickly win you over. I know I've been won over--in fact, let's just take a look at the prevalent role he's had in my conversations today. He's dominated in a way that's quite amusing, and these things say so much more than your regular record review...


Dear Colin Clary--

You were so right about James Kochalka! I'm just sorry it took me so long to finally get around to checking him out. I should have listened to you a long time ago, and now I realize that I missed out on a year's worth of enjoyable songs, silly lyrics and just out and out happiness in song form. Maybe I need to work on my listening skills.


Hey Sandy!

The other night you asked me what was cool in music these days, because you felt out of the loop. I didn't really give a very good answer, I know, but let me tell you now, I got this CD that I simply HAVE to tell you about, by this awesome guy named James Kochalka Superstar. He may not be what's cool with music these days, but he'll become the coolest thing in your stereo deck. He's twisted and funny and somewhat ribald and hilarious and just out-and-out enjoyable. "Frog On Top Of The Skyscraper" is funny as heck--it's kinda like the chat we had the other day about Godzillas attacking scale model skyscrapers set to a casio beat--and it might give you an idea for one of your next building design projects. You should treat yourself to his CD as an end-of-the-semester/before-you-go-out-on-tour gift. I don't think you'll be disappointed.


JosephK: oh god, sean
JosephK: i bought the best
JosephK: CD EVER
SeanP: ?
JosephK: you know how I mentioned that website, to you?
SeanP: yeah
JosephK: Well, i picked up James Kochalka Superstar's Our Beloved CD
JosephK: it's a comp of stuff he put on American Elf
JosephK: and his other records
SeanP: what does it sound like?
JosephK: imagine Jonathan Richman kicking Atom Goren's ass with a Frank Zappa score as performed by a collaboration of They Might Be Giants and the songwriters of Schoolhouse Rock
JosephK: that hurt my head to write but i think i kinda hinted at how genius this record is

Dear Ross--

I hope I get to see you soon, because I want you to hear some songs. "Hockey Monkey" and "Neigh-Neigh and Woo-Woo" they are called, and I want you to hear them because I love to watch you smile and giggle and dance around so. Hurry up and get older, so you can learn and sing these songs all the day long.

Uncle Joey

Dear Dee Jay Cee Pee,

I know it's a little bit early, but I would like to point out to you a great little Christmas ditty that I've recently heard. It's a song called "Sleighride to Heck" by a guy named James Kochalka Superstar. It's a lovely little Vocoder-riddled ditty about Satan kidnapping Santa and how the Superstar gathers up a posse to get Santa back and save Christmas. It's a sea shanty disguised as a Christmas Carol, or is that the other way around? Either and all, I heard it and thought that it might fit nicely in your Christmas Show setlist. The song is on his album "Our Most Beloved," which is utter genius.

Mister Joseph

Dear James Kochalka--

I have no idea how to contact you, but I thought I'd close this review with a personal comment or two. When I bought your CD today, I had a choice between it and a few other records. I debated with myself for a few minutes, but I chose yours, and I'm glad I did. I mean, I've got plenty of records by bands that kind of sound like Grandaddy, but I don't really have any that sound like James Kochalka Superstar. Without boring the hell out of you--or revealing too much personal information about myself, either--I've had an emotionally trying few weeks, and the amount of laughing that I did on the drive home. I feel bad for Ryan Adams--I was going to give him the top billing today, but I can't listen to his heartbreaking record of heartbreak right now...I'm too busy smiling.

Any and all, I hope you are doing well, and thank you for making music, for drawing your comics and for being the Superstar you are.

Joseph Kyle

Artist Website:
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May 14, 2005

Jennifer O'Connor "The Color & The Light"

A good song doesn't need bells and whistles to make it perfect, to make it meaningful. At the same time, when you make music that's not reliant on accompaniment, you have to be real good at what you do, lest you come across lookin' like a fool. Let's not even open the can of worms about the ratio of good folk-style songwriters to utter crap, shall we? Anyway, native New Yorker Jennifer O'Connor's been around a while, and I'm just now learning of her via her excellent second album, The Color and The Light. Her ability to get to the heart of the listener using just a very basic musical formula and very few 'bells and whistles,' well, that's something that is rare these days, and it makes me feel as if I've missed out on a really amazing talent

It's not a problem, though, because there's plenty of goodness on The Color and The Light. Kicking off with the excellent "Beg or Borrow Days," O'Connor sets the stage for the rest of the album--mid-tempo country-tinged folk-rock that's reminiscent of artists like Liz Phair, Kristin Hersh and Mary Lou Lord. She's backed by a band on some songs (such as the excellent "Driving Through" and "Million Dollar Smile") and she's by herself on others (such as the gorgeously sad "The Thought of You), but she's never one or the other--creating a nice stylistic variety that breaks any stylistic monotony that might develop. O'Connor sings with a voice that falls between weary and weathered; these songs tell of love and loss and confusion and confession and they're the sort of songs that come from the experience of living life. Thankfully, she's not self-indulgent or too emotional or too trapped by the trappings of the folk-singer trap.

I like The Color & The Light. It's intelligent and it's enjoyable--two things that don't seem to matter in music any more. Listen when your heart is broken or your heart is happy--Jennifer O'Connor's all-occasion for your emotional situation!

--Joseph Kyle

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