June 30, 2005

Various Artists "Acuarela Discos 3"

For the past decade, Spanish label Acuarela has slowly and quietly built an excellent reputation as arbiters of melancholy music. They've helped deliver some of the best independent music of Spain to the rest of the world, and in turn they've helped introduce many great American acts to a wider European audience as well. The respect Acuarela deserves cannot be denied, for they have earned a name that is synonymous with quality.

Acuarela Songs, Volume 3 is the latest installment of the label's themed compilation. Every two years or so, the label releases a multi-disc set of its favorite artists. Though the artists come from all around the world, they do have one thing in common: each song must contain some sort of reference to the subject of watercolors. It's a lovely concept, and it's one that actually works quite well. Acuarela Songs 3's artist selection is superb, the running order is inspired, and the record feels like a cloudy, overcast day.

As with the previous volumes, Acuarela Songs 3 is overflowing with beauty , which makes it hard to say which songs are 'best,' but several are worth noting. These highlights include Loud's dance-driven "Grandes Ocasiones," the psych-rock bliss-out of Maquiladora's "Untitled (Watercolor #2)" and Early Day Miners' "T.C. Steele," the driving rock of The Impossible Shapes' "Song For Acuarela," the heartbroken country of Lowlights' "Everything to Me" and Tex La Homa's "When I Come Around" and the melancholy folk of The Decemberists' "The King of Spain - V. Oak St. Bldg" and Rivulets' "Waited For You."

If you're a fan of melancholy music or just need something to cool you down during these hot summer days, Acuarela Songs 3 has plenty to offer. A not-surprisingly excellent compilation from a quite distinctive label that deserves your attention.

--Joseph Kyle

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

Mercury Rev "The Secret Migration"

It's been a long, interesting and somewhat unpredictable decade and a half for New York's Mercury Rev. Starting off as a collective that specialized in weird avant-noise, (Yerself is Steam and Boces, they then lost their lead singer and mutated into a band with a sound that dropped the art-rock for an amalgum of rock and jazz (See You On The Other Side). Time passed, and after being dropped by their label, they further polished their sound, this time leaning towards lonesome folk-rock with a trace of psychedelia and baroque-pop tendencies (Deserter's Song), which shocked the world (and the band), and in turn it provided Mercury Rev with their greatest commercial success to date. It was then that the band really exploded, and 2002's All is Dream was a bold, overwhelming record that was quite dark and overly bombastic, with gorgeous orchestrations and a space-rock tendency that had only been hinted at before.

Much like The Flaming Lips, Mercury Rev doesn't sound remotely like the band they were fifteen years ago; their weirdo tendencies replaced by a sound that's lush, drop-dead gorgeous and unlike any other music being made today. The band transcends easy description; the music is as pretty as you'd expect from a band made in the remote areas of upstate New York. Mercury Rev rightfully earned their reputation for grand post-prog rock masterpieces; producer Dave Fridmann's reputation of quality and beauty is built upon his work with Mercury Rev, too. Mercury Rev's musical progression over the past fifteen years has been quite fascinating and quite rewarding.

So, then, why does Mercury Rev's latest album fail to satisfy? All of the elements of the past are in place: the sweet, heartfelt lyrics set to wonderfully lush accompaniment; lead singer Jonathan Donahue's voice is as strong and as childlike as ever. The Secret Migration is a pretty record, but it does find Mercury Rev treading in place. Even though they've retained their delicate, intricate sound, they've distanced themselves from the beautiful orchestrated arrangements of All Is Dream. The gorgeous "In A Funny Way" and "Secret for a Song" try to escape the album's influence, but without the grandiose elements of before, these songs feel somewhat flat. "My Love" and "Across Yer Ocean" also recall All is Dream. It isn't until "In the Wilderness""Arise" that the band seems to escape the shadow of their previous glories; these songs are much more driving and upbeat, recalling--but never revisiting--the better moments of Deserter's Songs.

Mercury Rev hasn't lost the knack for writing beautiful orchestrated rock songs, but The Secret Migration isn't their best work; for the first time in their career, they've repeated themselves. Admittedly, it must not have been easy for the band to follow up such a wonderful artistic statement as All Is Dream. Though Mercury Rev might not have intentionally tried to repeat their past glories, The Secret Migration doesn't do a convincing job of moving beyond them, either. Still, it is an extremely lovely record, even if it sounds too much like a Mercury Rev album.

(A limited edition version of The Secret Migration is available, and is definitely better than the regular edition. The second disc contains radio session renditions of "My Love," "Black Forest (Lorelei)" and "Diamonds," all of which seem to add a definite spark to the somewhat listless album versions. Especially noteworthy are covers of the traditional "Streets of Laredo," Nico's "Afraid" and Captain Beefhart's "Observatory Crest.")

--Joseph Kyle

Artist Website: http://www.mercuryrev.com
Label Website: http://www.v2music.com

June 29, 2005

Interview: 13&God

13 & God is a long-distance collaboration between members of German band The Notwist and California-based Themselves. At first, the collaboration seemed quite vexing: members of an experimental German band that had recently taken their music into a jazzier direction meeting up with people who had helped to redefine the boundaries of hip-hop, collaborating with each other from halfway around the world? It could either prove to be quite interesting or quite self-indulgent. Thankfully, the results of this collaboration, 13 & God, turned out beautifully. The record eschews the more disjointed hip-hop experiments of the Anticon-based members, in favor of a much more tranquil sound that is, at times, quite relaxing. The Anticon-based members of the band, Doseone, Jel and Dax Pierson, had also been experimenting with this mellower side in a new project, Subtle. Both 13 & God and Subtle's plans came to an unexpected and near-tragic halt when Subtle was involved in a major bus accident that left Dax Pierson paralyzed and the future in doubt. Thankfully, through the miracle of modern medicine and a strong man's willpower, Pierson's recovery is going well, and the future of 13&God and Subtle is soon to be back on track.

Much like the recording process for
13&God, we were able to connect with Doseone, Jel and Markus Acher via email. Thanks to Brock Phillips at Motormouth for helping us get these three minds together!

First and foremost, how is Dax Pierson doing these days?

Doseone: Dax is doing well, in both spirit and mind. He remains focused and resilient in his push toward recovery. Specifically, he can move his arms at the shoulder and elbow, up to touch his face. it is what he calls "the one way elbow". He has yet to have feeling return to his hands and fingers, but he has been speedy in his recovery so far. He will return to the Bay area in August after he finishes his second session in rehabilitation, to begin again and start work with us on the next Subtle record.

Jel: Dax is doing well and is with his mom in Houston. He's begun the healing process, getting ready for more physical therapy. And hopfully back in the Bay in August.

How did the collaboration come about? Whose idea was it initially?

Doseone: I'd have to say that both Markus and I had our eyes full of "lets make music together" the first time we met at a poorly lit bar in Munchen...we had a a natural trust and inkling that we were all very similar minded...

Jel: I think it was all in our heads for a while after we met a few years back, and I don't know if the official invitation happened between Dose and Markus or Dax and Markus.

Markus: We met at a themselves show in Munich. I was a big fan of their music, of cLOUDDEAD and all the other Anticon artists, so I really wanted to see them live. We met then at the show and I was very surprised to hear that they were listening to Notwist on the tourbus. We exchanged e-mail adresses and then went on tour together two times in the US. The second time our bus broke down, and there we decided we really should record something together.

When you started the collaboration, did you have any ideas about what you wanted 13 & God to sound like? Did the final result match your initial hopes and expectations?

Doseone: Yes and no and yes. I knew I wanted to hear certain things happen, both as a professional yet untrained songsmith, and as a fan of both of our ways of making music....but I did not hear it all in a dream the night before we made it. Things took work and selectivity but on the whole, fell into place quite easily...everyone doing what they do best...and this first record was how we learned to work with one another...how to find a 13&god sound...but in the end i think songs like "superman on ice" are where we are headed...we've found a new twist on our similar but different takes on music...

Jel: We really didn't think of a master plan for the colaboration, we just laid all our ideas on the table and worked on chunks at a time.

Markus: We didnt have real intentions, except for working with the people whos music we appreciate so much. So we were open to everything. So it could have been anything in the end.

The collaboration between 13 & God was a mixture of both person-to-person collaboration and exchanges via computer/mail. Obviously not being able to collaborate together in the same studio is a disadvantage, but what were some of the advantages of not working face-to-face? Did the months of exchange make the eventual studio collaboration easier?

Doseone: They made it much eaiser...i personaly need my alone time with songs...i feel terrible about them if i don't....there is something about personalizing them and giving them an intamacy injection , that can only be done in the privacy of one's bedroom....and i experiment with vocals quite a bit as well as re-sampling sounds and deciding on song arrangement...collage like if you will...half erasing onething with another cleaner or dirtier version of it slapped on top...but the posse studio time was just as detremental to the greater scheme of the 13&god sound...one can't make all the calls alone on music. day after day..at least i can't...some songs will stump you with the greatest of ease...others seem to finish themselves...having that many gangsters of doubt and good taste in one room only puts you more in the favor of finding the perfect song...

Jel: I think that with us never making music together before and haveing the opportunity to contribute in our most comfortable environments definitely helped the process along. But when we did record together we knew what each other wanted without really saying anything .

Markus: It made it different. You always work different, when you work alone in your room, more concentrated, but also more limited, because your just alone with your ideas. I like both ways of working. But for the next record, we definitely want to develop the song together in the rehearsing room.

Musically, where does 13 & God sit between The Notwist and Subtle? Does it fill a void between the two? Did it give you the chance to pursue musical ideas that you might have had but seemingly weren't quite sure how to accomplish?

Doseone: Absolutly...i really took it upon myself to absorb as much of the notwists "fine taste" as possible...from recording processes to sound selection and grooming...markus micha and martin are all princes in what they do...and every bright light i get to work with rubs off on me...and of coarse..every old song teaches you new tricks...

Jel:Well 13 and god is the Notwist and Themselves...and i think that it's an even amount of both as a whole. But they definitely approach music from a different angle than dose, dax and I. I became more familiar with the "brothers" process and from my view, it was much more controlled than what i'm used to , but i do definitely think that was needed on our end.

Markus: For me personally, there was the possibility to work with different structures, than the verse/chorus-structures we use with the Notwist normally. That was something really new and inspiring to me. I think 13&god has its own special energy and language, but were just at the beginning.

Was 13 & God a one-off project, or will there be more?

Doseone: We will be touring the europe and the u.s. in june and september respectivly... and yes we will begin recording our next record after the next subtle and notwist records are recorded... we are a group proper...as they say in the streets...

Markus: There will be more. We just did one new song for this tour and will record it very soon.

Jel: stay tuned..........

(For more on the plight of Dax Pierson, visit his website, www.daxpierson.com.)

Remora "Enamored"

Remora is the project of Silber Records mogul Brian John Mitchell, a man who clearly knows a thing or two about dark, depressing music that borders between the bleak and the beautiful. For the most part, Remora's Enamored--the first Remora record in four years--finds Mitchell inspired by the same dark forces that inspire his distinctive record label. His songs fall into two distinctive categories: dark instrumental passages and bleak folk-rock. On the instrumentals, Mitchell is inspired; these passages range from violent to tranquil, and they recall the work of people as distinctive as Robin Guthrie, Sam Rosenthal and nearly every band on Kranky. (I'd give you specific names of these passages, but as the track listing is out of order with the album, it would be wrong to assume what is what.)

His non-instrumental songs, though, are quite challenging, but not necessarily in the way he probably expected. His lyrics are somewhat melodramatic, but there's no way a line like "I'd kill my way out of here/If I thought it would keep you alive" (from "Kill My Way Out of Here") could be anything but melodramatic. His singing is earnest, and when he sings "I killed my brother, it was the Fourth of July/He'd just called my mother a whore" on "Let It Die on the 4th of July," it's hard not to break out in laughter. Plus, Mitchell's voice is quite limited, and when he's being melodramatic, it's hard to resist laughing. When he doesn't oversing, such as on "Weakness-Strength," the results are excellent, but those moments are few and far between.

Though Enamored occasionally falls flat, credit must be given for his gorgeous instrumental passages, his attention to making dark atmospherics, and his distinctive record label. If he were to eschew the singing and focus on the instrumental bits, Remora's next record might be more captivating. As it stands, Enamored is a weak work from someone who could easily do better.

--Joseph Kyle

Artist Website: http://www.silbermedia.com/remora
Label Website: http://www.silbermedia.com

Ida "Heart Like a River"

New York's Ida understands the virtue of patience. In 1997, shortly after releasing their third album Ten Small Paces, their record label shut down. The band then signed a deal with Capitol Records, but the relationship never came to fruition; their record, Will You Find Me?, eventually came out in 2000. Their next album, The Braille Night, was a collection of songs recorded during the sessions for their previous album. Ida once again outlived their label, and after four years (more, if you want to be pedantic about it), they've finally released a new album. One listen to Heart Like A River and it's obvious the career hassles and the delays haven't phased Ida one bit. Though now a three-piece, their style has expanded into a bigger, bolder sound, one that incorporates elements of pop, jazz and the blues, elements that started to appear on their last two records. Thankfully, they've sheared some of the bombast that made The Braille Night somewhat disappointing..

From the bluesy "Late Blues" and "Written On My Face" to the oddly upbeat "Mine" and the gorgeous album closer "Forgive," the band's sound is larger than ever; gone are the simple folk arrangements, in favor of complex rhythms and deeper atmospherics. An Ida record always promises gentle beauty, and despite all of the upheaval and the struggles and the delays that have arisen over the past decade, they have yet to betray that simple rule. Both Dan Littleton and Elizabeth Mitchell are in fine voice; Mitchell still sings with a sad lilt in her voice, and Littleton still sounds oddly detatched, but by harmonizing with each other and their bandmate Karla Schikele, their voices often sound quite heavenly. Schikele's two contributions, "What Can I Do" and "Honeyslide," show that she's grown as a musician as well. Her voice recalls Karen Carpenter, and her songs are distinctive enough to create an additional depth to the rest of the record.

It's good to have Ida back on track. Heart Like a River is a strong, beautiful record that quietly makes up for lost time. Here's to a fresh start and a little career stability for this quiet little band; after all they've been through, they deserve nothing more than the ability to make records.

--Joseph Kyle

Artist Website: http://www.idamusic.com
Label Website: http://www.polyvinylrecords.com

June 28, 2005

Hedaya "This Is Where I Keep It"

Hedaya is the one-man project of Simon Kean, an Australian native currently residing in England. He works alone at home, by himself. Lots of people do that sort of thing, it is true, but Kean's onto something. This is Where I Keep It is Hedaya's second album, and it's dark--very dark. Kean mixes the bleakness of Xiu Xiu and Nine inch Nails with the minimalism of Arab Strap and the atmospherics of 4AD, but in so doing, he's created a style that's uniquely his own. Keen understands that scary, disturbing music need not be loud and in-your-face; he also understands that sad music need not be quiet and passive, either. Happy music, this ain't.

Instead, he's tempered bleak, hopeless and sometimes downright violent lyrics to music that's soft, sensual and, at times, quite erotic. Subverting the idea of romance, or simply making sex music for a detatched, desensitized generation? It's your call. When you read words like "I promise you those bruises won't show in the morning/Baby, I had to" (from "My Beautiful Blue") and "Give me your misery, eating your soul away/Feeding your apathy, emotionally drained /Devoid of all empathy/Life you want saved/Leaving all analogies, excuse for the vain (from "Leaving All Analogies") they instantly kill any vestigaes of eroticism. Yet on the other hand, Hedaya's music is so pulsating, so sensual, it instantly deflates Kean's melancholy writing.

This Is Where I Keep It is an instant jaw-dropper of a record. It's a record that demands your attention, and once it has you captivated, it will show you things you didn't wish to know. It is an enthralling listen that will leave you returning to it again. It will expose you to a side of the human condition that's best left to the good people in the psychological health field. It will equally arouse your senses and repulse your decency. It is, of course, quite brilliant. (It's also available free for download at the Hedaya website, a most generous offer for a record so utterly compelling and terribly genius.)

--Joseph Kyle

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

Via Tania "True"

Via Tania is the project of Australian-based Tania Bowers. She's got a lot of friends in the Chicago independent scene, and past records have included assistance of members of Tortoise, Giant Sand and Eleventh Dream Day. True is, in actuality, a single taken from her most recent album, Under a Different Sky. It features two versions of "True"--a new recording and the album version. The album version is lazy and jazzy; it's simple, pretty folk-rock, but the remade version jettisons the guitars and sends it straight into dance territory, and "The Best Thing" shoots Via Tania straight into Bjork territory. She's no Bjork, of course, but she still has a breathy style that sounds quite nice. "Felt Cave" is a remix of "In The Deep," done by A Grape Dope (John Herndon of Tortoise), seems more a vehicle for Herndon's remixing skills than it does Via Tania; it's glitchy and pretty in that Tortoise way, but it's somewhat lightweight and ultimately forgettable. True might not be the best starting place for those unfamiliar with Via Tania--this is a stopgap release between now and her new album that's coming this fall--but it's interesting nonetheless, and it whets the desire to hear more stuff by this obviously talented young woman.

--Joseph Kyle

Artist Website: http://www.viatania.com
Label Website: http://www.chocolateindustries.com

Various Artists "Friends & Lovers: Songs of Bread"

Soft-rock stalwards Bread suffer from an unfair reputation. Their gentle harmonies were quite stunning, and main Bread singer/songwriter David Gates was an unrecognized master of melody. He could write a beautiful lyric that would draw you in and expand in your heart. Bread songs like "Baby I'm A Want You," "If" and "Make It With You" are considered classics in the soft-rock canon, and for good reason; listening to them thirty-five years later, these songs still sound fresh, possessing a timeless quality that transcends the "soft-rock" tag.

Tribute records often fail when the artists don't sound like they're paying tribute to a band. Many fail because they're not so much 'tributing' the band inasmuch as they are performing karaoke. They also suffer from a general lack of love for the subject of the tribute; nothing is more frustrating than hearing a band perform an insincere, ironic cover. What makes Badman's Friends & Lovers: Songs of Bread excellent, though, is the balance of talent is proportional to the quality of the music. While names like Holy Sons and Emily Sparks might not mean much to you, their obscurity doesn't distract from the record's quality, because even the smallest name on Friends & Lovers recognizes the power and the beauty of Bread.

All of the bands involved treat Bread's song with a gentle touch, showing that those involved actually care about what they are covering. Call & Response's take on "Baby I'm A Want You" is a breathless indiepop number; lead singer Carrie Clough could easily be mistaken for another soft-rock heavy, Karen Carpenter, and the jazzy arrangement sounds like vintage Teenbeat Records. Both Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow make appearances here, and both songs help to highlight the influence Bread had on their own band, The Posies. The same could be said of Cake's cover of "The Guitar Man," and let's not overlook Oranger's psych-rock reinterpretation of "Make It With You." It is Rachel Goswell's cover of "If," though, that makes Friends & Lovers so worthwhile. Eschewing the country style of Mojave 3 and her solo career, she makes a welcome return to a style that's much more dreampop than anything she's done in a decade. With a cold, shimmering accompaniment that's actually quite faithful to the original, it instantly reminds of Goswell's previous band, Slowdive, and it also shows just how beautiful "If" really is.

Though most tribute records are mediocre at best, Friends & Lovers is a surprisingly excellent collection. It's clearly a labor of love for those involved; not only highlights some excellent artists, it also helps give David Gates his proper due as a songwriter. If you really need a reason to check it out, do so for Rachel Goswell's "If." You won't be disappointed, and it's a fair guess to say that the other thirteen tracks will win you over. After checking this record out, we recommend that your next purchase should be Best of Bread, but after listening to Friends & Lovers, we bet you'll be thinking the same thing.

--Joseph Kyle

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

Flare "circa"

Before the world was charmed and stunned by Antony & The Johnsons, some of us had our hearts captured by another angelic-voiced boy from New York City. LD Beghtol first drew the world's attention as a guest vocalist on The Magnetic Fields' magnum opus 69 Love Songs, but he's also been busy with other musical projects: Flare, The Moth Wranglers (a collaboration with California-based Chris Xefos), The Three Terrors (a live experience featuring Stephin Merritt and Dudley Klute) and his newest project LD and the New Criticism. That list doesn't cover his writing and his graphic design, either.

In 2000, Flare released Circa a six-song mini album, but it sadly fell out of print. A pity, too, because it was an excellent record that deserved to be heard. Over its six songs, Circa highlighted all of Beghtol's strong points: gorgeous singing, witty (and deeply emotional) lyrics and interesting musical accompaniment. An excellent example of this is "Circa" It's a slow, sad piano number, tempered with haunting violin (courtesy of Ida Pearl) and banjo, morose singing and one of the wittiest lyrics you'll hear: "Ever the charming host/You poured me tepid chardonay/And bored me with your play-by-play of the scene/Circa 1984." The song then takes a turn for the rustic, with the string-and-banjo arrangement bringing the tempo up to an upbeat rhythm. Beghtol sings with a detatched voice that instantly breaks your heart and slays your emotions.

The chamber-pop of "Circa" is carried through the rest of the record; whether it's the brief "Triumph of the Pig People" or the heartbreakig "Item: June 16th," Beghtol doesn't wish to leave the listener's eyes dry. Circa is music for a mid-afternoon weep, but within its sadness, there's a glimmer of hope. "Darkest before dawn," they say, and though heartbreaking, "Save Me Save Me" and "Measure of a Man" hold true to the "Tis better to have loved and lost" concept. Sure, you've just been destroyed by someone you loved, but darling, who hasn't?

The best song on Circa, though, isn't one of Beghtol's originals. "Anywhere (Like The Moon)" is a cover of an obscure song written by fellow Three Terror and Magnetic Fields guest vocalist Dudley Klute. In the hands of Beghtol, the song becomes a lullaby for the forlorn; it's cold, it's desperate and it's utterly heartbreaking. Tempered with a simple arrangement of piano, violin and cello (as well as a militaristic snare drum towards the end of the song), the simple lyrics capture your emotions and will break your heart. At the time, Beghtol had never sounded finer, and listening to the song five years later, it has yet to lose either its potentcy or it poignancy.

This reissue of Circa also collects a few songs from the time. The cover of Lisa Germano's "Lovesick" is even more haunting and disturbed than the original--and that's saying a LOT; Beghtol sounds downright evil, and the use of whispering voices and turbulent accompaniment makes "Lovesick" a painful listen. The other three tracks--songs from various compilations--are quite nice. Their inclusion makes Circa feel like a complete album, and it helps to compensate the record's disappearance . Flare's relative obscurity is puzzling, if not a little troubling--Beghtol is too talented to toil away unknown--but for those who know the beauty of Beghtol's music and the power of his voice, he remains a beautiful pearl.

--Joseph Kyle

Artist Website: http://www.motherwest.com/mw_new/artists/flare/home.html
Label Website: http://www.motherwest.com

June 25, 2005

Robbie Fulks "Georgia Hard"

During Robbie Fulks' first decade as a country raconteur, he released several wonderful records, including the wonderful one-two introductory punch of Country Love Songs and South Mouth. Both albums contain some of the funniest--and best--country music you'll ever hear, with song subjects ranging from the suicide of a Hollywood starlet, the joy of living in the sin of living together to giving the middle finger to Nashville and the joys of scrapple. For the last few years, though, Mr. Fulks has been quiet; Georgia Hard is his first new record in four years. His last album of all-original material, Couples In Trouble went virtually ignored, and it seemed as if Mr. Fulks had chosen to gracefully hang his hat.

Of course, it's not hard to understand why Fulks' appeal might have slipped; with each record, he toned down the funnier elements that made his inital records great. His reasoning was (and is) valid: he didn't want to be considered as just a "funny" musician. There are those who seem to think that this plan has certainly hurt Fulks' career and it makes his records a little less special; these folks seem to suggest that his more traditional country weepers and contemporary ballads aren't as special as his more lighthearted fare. The naysayers would have a point, but these folks would be well to remember his debut album and the song "Tears Only Run One Way." It's not only that album's high points, but it's about as contemporary country as you can get, and it's not as if Fulks hasn't done his share of flirting with Nashville's lucrative temptations--after all, he didn't write "Fuck This Town" for no reason.

On first listen, Georgia Hard sounds as if Fulks has given in to the temptations and trappings of modern country. Though Fulks is insisting that he's created a record that's built upon the tradition of Roger Miller, Bobby Bare and Shel Silverstein--all men who could write a sad song that could make you laugh or a funny song that will make you weep--Georgia Hard feels more akin to Dwight Yokum and Randy Travis--whom Fulks occasionally sounds like. Such descriptions shouldn't distract, though, from the fact that Fulks is a good songwriter who can write a great narrative, and he's got the ability to turn a phrase ("Into each life must fall a little sunshine" on "It's Always Raining Somewhere" being a favorite) that will bring a smile. To be fair, his arrangements are very Seventies-inspired; his backing band should be commended for the lush, velvet melodies that clothe his songs of heartbreak and wrong-doin'. If you grew up in the mid Seventies and early Eighties, you'll remember when country radio had beautiful arrangements like "Doin' Right (For All The Wrong Reasons)" and "Leave It To A Loser."

But it's his songwriting that's always attracted an audience, and Georgia Hard contains some of his best songwriting to date. Sure, there's no "I Told Her Lies" or "She Took A Lot of Pills and Died," but that's okay, because those albums didn't have a "Leave It To A Loser" or "Each Night I Try" or "I Never Did Like Planes." In terms of songwriting, he's in fine form, even if his style has changed. Georgia Hard's most compelling song--and perhaps one of Fulks' greatest moments--is "If They Could Only See Me Now," which is a song of a man finding success and love, but loses it unexpectedly in an odd, tragic twist worthy of M. Night Shyamalan. It's is a breathtaking tale, and its twist will both shock you and impress you, for it's a stunning song.

In an even odder twist, Georgia Hard's lowest moments are "I'm Gonna Take You Home (And Make You Like Me)" and "Countrier Than Thou," the only songs where Fulks attempts to recreate the funnier moments of his past. These songs show, in a very winsome way, that Fulks might have made the right decision to distance himself from the humorous stylings of his past. It's not that he's given up on being funny, either; he's just decided to place the song ahead of the jokes, and "I Don't Like Planes" and "Georgia Hard" utilize a twisted, self-effacing sense of humor that makes both songs feel more human and universal. Listen to these songs when you're heartbroken, and you'll understand exactly what he's talking about.

Georgia Hard is a problematic, flawed record, and even though it's problematic and flawed, it's still an enjoyable listen. If you expect Georgia Hard to sound like the Fulks you fell in love with, you should expect to be disappointed. Instead, listen to it once, let it sink in, and then listen to it again. When you do, you'll realize that Georgia Hard is an excellent record created by a master songwriter.

--Joseph Kyle

Artist Website: http://www.robbiefulks.com
Label Website: http://www.yeproc.com

June 24, 2005

Various Artists "One Scene to Another"

Though our neighbors up to the North sometimes get a bit of ribbing for their clean highways and leftist ways, but their ability to produce excellent bands and musicians cannot be denied. It hasn't been until recently, though, that they've made a visible contribution to the independent music world. One Scene to Another, though, pays tribute to the indie-rock scene of our Canadian friends. This tribute is fascinating, as it's a collection of unknown bands from the Detroit area, and they're paying tribute to the mid-1990s Canadian scene.

Though the bands on One Scene to Another might lack name recognition--save for Mood Elevator, which is Brendan Benson's side project--that doesn't mean they lack quality. Several highlights include the driving new-wave pop of New Granada's cover of Eric's Trip's "Smother" is instantly adorable, and Ten Words For Snow's crunchy cover of Zumpano's "I Dig You" is nice, too. Also noteworthy is The Recital's surf-rock take on Eric Trip's "Follow," The W-Vibe's spaced-out futuristic computer version of Thrush Hermit's "French Inhale" and Fire Engine Red's version of Hayden's "You Are All I Have," which is every bit as pretty as the original.

While One Scene to Another might be a little too heavy on a few bands--several bands are tributed more than once, and many of the bands already had minor American name recognition--that's a minor quibble, because the songs found on here are pretty good themselves, and you probably wouldn't have known these were covers, anyway. It's a nice idea, and it's even nicer that the ones who compiled this record were also sensible enough to include information as to where you can find the original versions. Plus, this is a great stepping stone for finding out about some great Detroit bands and some classic Canadian indie-rock.

--Joseph Kyle

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

The Robot Ate Me "Carousel Waltz"

Following on the heels of the recent reissue of last year's excellent On Vacation, The Robot Ate Me's latest offering Carousel Waltz, is a step back musically and a step forward lyrically. On Vacation was an interesting concept; it was an anti-war commentary, as well as a statement about the role of religion in society, and the lyrics were paired up with some unique, fascinating musical accompaniment. Many of the songs had a Big Band melody, making his songs both otherworldly and nostalgic. The album's biggest flaw was its political slant; writing political music is tricky business, and the songs often fell victim to mistaking patently offensive statements for social commentary.

With Carousel Waltz, The Robot Ate Me mastermind Ryland Bouchard has wisely eschewed his social commentary, opting instead for an album of love/relationship songs. He's also restrained in making grand musical gestures, so those expecting a continuation of the Big Band tendencies will be disappointed. For most of Carousel Waltz, it's just Bouchard and his guitar, a format that's somewhat shocking in comparison to his previous record. There are occasional flourishes of interesting musical ideas, such as the unique drum machine/flute/accordian combination on "Bad Feelings" and the brass backing and choral accompaniment on "Just One Girl," but the album's main formula is merely a boy and his guitar.

Truth be told, the songs on Carousel Waltz don't need any additional accompaniment. Bouchard's songwriting is simple and innocent, any kind of grand backing would simply detract from the heartfelt nature of the songs. His songs cover the spectrum of love and being in love, from reassuring the pleasure of breaking from fear and stating how you feel ("Regret"), reaffirming his need for his lover ("Hi, Love"), to simply telling his lover that he misses her ("Just One Girl"). Bouchard's singing is simple and innocent--occasionally reminiscent of Clem Snide's Eef Barzelay--and his songwriting even moreso, and this combination makes his statements much more powerful and heartfelt. When his voice cracks into an uncomfortable falsetto on "Just One Girl" and "Bad Feelings," it's quite endearing, because he's sacrificing singing ability for sincerity.

Carousel Waltz is easily one of the most beautiful records so far this year. It's simple, it's touching, it's innocent and it's charming. While Bouchard's previous work might have raised interest in his musical composition, Carousel Waltz highlights his lyrical acumen and it shows that he's definitely one of today's better songwriters. For those of you in love or those wanting to simply feel the feeling of feeling love, then Carousel Waltz is an album that deserves your attention.

--Joseph Kyle

Artist Website: http://www.therobotateme.com
Label Website: http://www.5rc.com

Weird Weeds "Hold Me"

Austin, Texas' Weird Weeds refuses to stand still, and that's a major part of their appeal. Their debut album, Hold Me, starts with "Paratrooper Seed," which begins with a pretty flute loop that recalls mid-period Pearls Before Swine, which then leads into a very pretty folk ballad that's reminiscent of Pearls Before Swine disciples Damon & Naomi. It's all well and good, but then, the next song, "50 Dollars," is rougher, losing the folk edge for a jazzy math-rock style that's quite a bit different than before, but it's still as pretty. Don't get comfortable, because the next song, "Castor Plants," ditches that style for a free-formed rock blast that instantly reminds of the more lo-fi experimental moments of Unrest. Moments of soft slide guitar and comatose drum beats are infused with gamelan-style guitar picking and droned-out psych-rock bliss. After listening to Hold Me, it's no surprise to learn that members of the band have connections with Xiu Xiu, Charalambides and Castanets, or that they are the Midwest soul mates of Deerhoof--and especially Deerhoof offshoot Curtains, perhaps one of the few bands with whom you can accurately compare Weird Weeds.

In refusing to define their sound, they've transcended the boundaries of any and all musical genres, their sound classifiable solely as 'experimental' and nothing more. Over thirty-one minutes, Weird Weeds plays the refusing to stay the same game, and surprisingly, it works! All four members of the band are excellent musicians, and their ability to not stand still stylistically actually makes their sound fresh. Hennies is an excellent singer and a great jazz drummer, guitarists Aaron Russell and Kurt Newman are masterful guitar players, but Sandy Ewen is the band's secret weapon; her slide guitar is pretty--apparently, it's fun to watch her live, as she often eschews slide bars in favor for a piece of chalk--and when she sings, it's gorgeous, too. (Note to the band: allow her to sing a little more next time!) The comfortable boy/girl vocal interplay between Ewen and Hennies on the opening "Paratrooper Seed" is quite pretty and introduces the band as gentle people, and it's true; the one constant in Weird Weeds' music is gentleness. Sure, there are moments that are awkward and complicated, such as when Ewen lets loose with a holy-hell scream on "Hold Me/Popcorn Trees," and "Bright-Work" sounds quite ominous, but even in the darker moments, Hold Me is never less than pretty.

It's always exciting to discover an unknown treasure, and Weird Weeds is quietly and quite easily one of Austin's best new bands. Are they jazz? Are they rock? Are they folk? You might not know how to classify them, and describing them is quite difficult, but one thing remains: you've never heard beauty until you've heard Hold Me.

--Joseph Kyle

Artist Website: http://www.weirdweeds.com
Label Website: http://www.editionmanifold.com

June 23, 2005

Duplex "Ablum by Duplex!"

I have a funny feeling that this is not going to be a hit album. Not even an underground hit. Why? Because, even though it's not a twee album, this is probably one of the most twee albums ever. This is more twee than twee.

This record is a children's album. Not an overly schmaltzy piece of tripe that you'll never admit you had after reaching the age of 12 (or for other people, it's not one of those records that you'll discover in the attic when you're 18 and figuring out what to bring to your dorm room and end up playing on your college radio show as a demonstration of your sheer ironic hipster genius). No, this is one of those weird, different children's albums, like No! by They Might Be Giants or any of the Ren and Stimpy albums. When you open up the case and look at the picture of the entire band, it'll be obvious that this isn't a normal children's album when you see that one of the members is wearing a Misfits fiend club t-shirt. The best comparison is that they strike me of a Moldy Peaches for kids. Of course, His Highness, The Wise And Awesome Editor Joseph Kyle does not like the Moldy Peaches and thinks the Moldy Peaches sound juvenile already. But just to be clear, Duplex is what you might get if the Moldy Peaches were actually meant to sound juvenile.

A little bit of background before I describe the music any further: Duplex is named "Duplex" because the band is made up of a group of musicians and kids who live together in the same duplex in Vancouver. The band was formed when musician Veda Hille was asked to make a song for a children's book. She asked everyone in her duplex to be on the song, and eventually, they went into a studio to make the full-length Ablum. The ages of the members range from 3 to 35. Members include 3-year-old Abe Caruso and 11-year-old girls Saoirse Soley and Sierra Terhoch. And please note, these kids are not just bit players, relegated to background vocal duties like kids are on other children's albums. They actually wrote, sang leads, and played instruments on much of the songs. Having the kids take such large, active roles in making the music definitely provides a level of credibilty lacking on other children's records.

The music itself sounds simply like indie and punk rock made for children. What really makes the album are the lyrics and the singing. Especially when the kids sing. I feel weird saying this, but they just sound so cute! Especially on the Saoirse/Sierra duet number, "Camels in the Desert", perhaps the catchiest song on the record. Sure, lyrics like "Camels and elephants like in the desert, live in the desert, live in the desert. Wait, what about me?" don't look like much when you read them, and may even seem grating, but it actually sounds very cute and the song's ending ("Camels and elephants live in the desert... Wait! That's not true!") injects the type of irony that separates this stuff from Sharon, Lois, and Bram.

Oh! And you'll love the punk rock references, too! In the opening song, the anthemic "Yr Mama" (a rousing number about how, despite what the grownups say, kids just want to do things like live in their underwear, never go to bed, and just rock), they manage to sneak in a little bit of "Gabba, gabba, we accept you, we accept you, one of us." "Nücat", a song about a big, rambunctious housecat (and the fastest, punkiest song on the album), features the kids in the band yelling "Oi! Oi! Oi!" in the chorus. Now, I don't know what you think about people screaming "Oi!', but when the kids of Duplex do it, it's so cute! Words couldn't do justice to how cute it is.
Besides that, you have to check out "Salad Song", a funky call-and-response number about the need to hastily eat one's salad so that one can get dessert. If you're raising your kids to be vegetarian in any way, watch out, because this song is disparaging to vegetables ("Iceberg, romaine, it causes me pain!"). Another potential hit single is "Bethlehem", about the Israeli city of the same name. However, this is a fun, upbeat song, sounding almost straight out of a musical, mentioning nothing of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Instead, the song portrays Bethlehem as a holy, morally correct utopia ("Where the food is fantastic. We recycle our plastic. Everybody sleeps in linen, and the cherubs won't let the sin in."). However, I'm not sure how sincere the song is because of the tone in which they sing lines such as, "If you lived here, you'd be holy by now." I just can't figure out if that's meant to be ironic or not. I thought that children's albums weren't supposed to confuse your sarcasm detector like that!

In case you're wondering, Ablum does get educational, but only on the supercute "Multiplication Treehouse" and the Schoolhouse Rock! cover, "Figure Eight". Still, this album is almost all dedicated to pure fun. If you're a sourpuss or are raising your kid to be a sourpuss, don't get this CD!

There is one controversial track, though, the final song, "Pooing and Peeing". It's not very graphic, it's sort of nonsense song in which they sing strangely catchy lines like "He was a-pooing and a-peeing, pooing and a-peeing at the same time." That's as graphic as it gets. Still, I'm sure that not all parents would be happy with that. Personally, I'd rather be able to laugh at these everyday bodily functions than be scared of them and pretend they don't exist. Most people "poo" and "pee" every day. What's the point in suppressing that? Why do we have to pathologize normal bodily behaviors in this fashion? I'd say that Duplex is being revolutionary by including this song on their album and I admire them for this courageous act of defiance. Go Duplex!

So, if you're not scared of poo, pee, and extreme levels of cuteness (but you are scared of salad), I highly recommend this album, even if you don't have kids. I'm definitely not interested in having children, and I've been listening to this album over and over again since I got it a couple of weeks ago. Then again, maybe I have the intellectual sophistication and/or emotional development equivalent to that of a little kid. But if that was true, I wouldn't have been able to write this whole review all by myself, you stupid poopyhead!

--Eric Wolf

Label website: http://www.mintrecs.com

Sleater-Kinney "The Woods"

I love to begin music reviews with big and bold assertions, so here’s another one for our readership to argue over: right now, Sleater-Kinney is the ONLY indie-rock band I can think of that has spent the last 10 years getting incrementally better with each and every album they release. Whenever Sleater-Kinney puts out a new record, you already know that: 1) singer/guitarist Corin Tucker will have a tighter grip on her banshee wail, 2) fellow singer/guitarist Carrie Brownstein’s fingers will be a bit more limber, 3) drummer Janet Weiss will come a few steps closer of realizing her dream of being Keith Moon’s little sister, and 4) together, the band will have a new set of rock anthems that mix the personal, the poetic and the political more smoothly than ever before.

For a while, though, it seemed as if Sleater-Kinney’s excellence was being taken for granted. 2002’s One Beat received a comparatively ho-hum response, despite the production, musicianship and songwriting all bearing a noticeable improvement from that of its predecessor All Hands on the Bad One. For the first time ever, the band’s career needed a kick in the pants…and judging from the recent interviews I’ve read of theirs, no one knew this more than Sleater-Kinney themselves. Thus, they holed up in upstate New York this winter with Dave Fridmann, a producer who’s known for guiding bands through drastic reinventions, and got in touch with the classic rockers buried inside of them. The result is The Woods, an album in which they assert that they don’t just want to be your Joey Ramone --- they want to be your Led Zeppelin AND your Blue Cheer too!

The change is apparent from the first 20 seconds of opening track "The Fox." Fridmann’s distorted production makes the band sounds as if they’re being run through a ghetto-blaster connected to a Big Rat. The fog doesn’t clear up until the first verse, during which Carrie’s string bends seem calculated to induce nausea. Corin’s voice unleashes chilling, bluesy howls that One Beat's final track, "Sympathy," only hinted at. The lyrics examine a brief relationship between a naïve woman and a deceitful man. Whereas the song could’ve easily become a predictable feminist screed (for that, skip four songs to "Modern Girl"), they turn the song into an Aesop-style morality fable by changing the characters into animals. Both the warmer tone of the lyrics and the heaviness of the staircase guitar riffs betray the playful and freewheeling nature of the rest of the album (the sole exception being "Jumpers," which is about suicide).

The second track, "Wilderness," boasts the choppy, trebly Television-style guitar interplay that we’ve come to expect from the band. For the first two minutes of the song, it seems as if the bombast of "The Fox" is a thing of the past…until Carrie cuts loose with an abrasive, fuzzy solo and the other two members follow her through a lengthy psych-rock detour. This strategy is employed on many of the album’s other songs, most notably the 11-minute "Let’s Call It Love," which comes closest to replicating the intense instrumental jams that the band often ends its live shows with.

Corin and Carrie also break loose vocally, delivering some of the most dramatic performances they’ve ever committed to tape. On "Entertain," Carrie disses faux-"new wave" bands, screaming the words "you did nothing new with 1972" by screaming them as if she’s about to choke somebody. When Corin sings about the futility of waiting for a bad relationship to get better on "Steep Air," her slurred, off-key delivery perfectly matches the fatigue and resignation described in the lyrics. One song later, "Let’s Call It Love" finds Corin comparing sex to wrestling and delivering come-ons like "a woman is not a girl/I could show you a thing or two/I’ve got a long time for love." It makes me feel like Robert Plant time-traveled back to the ‘70s and got a sex change!

I will admit that Fridmann’s production takes some getting used to. The climax of "Modern Girl," in particular, made me think my subwoofers were blown. It wasn’t necessary for him to push all of the levels into the red all of the time. Otherwise, I think The Woods should be the album that finally pushes Sleater-Kinney on the other side of the line that separates the indie goddesses from the mainstream darlings. If it doesn’t, you can’t blame it on the band. This is, as usual, their best album yet.

--Sean Padilla

Artist Website: http://www.sleater-kinney.com
Label Website: http://www.subpop.com

June 22, 2005

Clearlake "Wonder If The Snow Will Settle"

As a stopgap between albums, British pop band Clearlake has compiled the B-sides from 2003's excellent Cedars. The material found on Wonder If The Snow Will Settle isn't particularly bad, but it's understandable why these songs were B-sides. Of the seven songs found here, two are remixes of Cedars songs and one is a remix of a song from their debut Lido. The title track removes the original version's melancholy atmosphere and replaces it with a marching-drum beat; like most remixes, it's interesting, but it doesn't compare to the original version. The same can be said of "Almost the Same" remix as well; where the original version was a fast-paced Britpop song that sped along with a nice rhythm, the remix removes every trace of the original melody and replaces it with a solemn, almost dirge-like arrangement. The other four songs are pretty, but other than a rather good cover of Neil Young's "Cinnamon Girl," these tracks are slight, and it's obvious why they were B-Sides. Though not a good representation of Clearlake's greatness, it does serve its purpose, as it whets the appetite for their next album.

--Joseph Kyle

Artist Website: http://www.clearlake.uk.com
Label Website: http://www.dominorecordco.com

June 21, 2005

Nudge "Cached"

Portland, Oregon's Nudge is a bit of an interesting art-rock supergroup. Consisting of members of noise-rockers Jackie O Motherfucker, electronica-funsters Fontanelle and the experimental band Strategy, you would probably not incorrectly assume that the fruits of their collaboration would be noisy, mellow or just out-and-out weird. It's somewhat shocking, then, to discover that Nudge really isn't any of those things, that this band of serious musicians has made a record that's not particularly serious and is, in fact, a loose, casual affair that's an entertaining listen.! And though there are moments that might remind the listener of Fontanelle or Strategy, Cached isn't a side project that builds on each performer's main band.

Instead, what you'll find on Cached, Nudge's third album, is a serious band that's intent on being a bit playful; opting to give the listener fun, funky grooves instead of serious, austere musical passages. Opening number "Classic Mode" is a blend of new wave-minded dub that's heavily reminscent of A Certain Ratio, and is accentuated by the seductive vocals of Honey Owens, which then segues into the mellowed-out groove of "Standing on Hot Sidewalk." The mood is exceptionally casual; on "My New Youth," Nudge find a rough, sloppy New Order/Cabaret Voltaire-ish groove, and then they stop playing completely, which, after a few seconds of electronic squeaks and blips, delves back into the groove. The effect isn't a stop/start; it sounds more like a rehearsal that happened to be recorded--which it very well may be! Melodies are attempted, played around with and abandoned with a curious feel, and though it sounds as if the band's on the verge of falling apart, it's certianly not the case, as underneath all of the loose playing on "Remove Ya" and "Dee Deet" is a groove that blends both dub and early 80s industrial/dance. Does it sound incongruous on paper? You bet. Does it work in practice? Surprisingly, yes.

Cached is a refreshingly light, enjoyable record that never demands too much of the listener and fits comfortably into most settings. It's a record that sounds great when you're getting ready for a night out, hanging out with friends or simply talking to a friend on Instant Messenger. Thankfully, Nudge has proven that being arty doesn't have to be complex or devoid of pleasure. Here's to more fun records like Cached!

--Joseph Kyle

Artist Website: http://www.kranky.net/artists/nudge.html
Label Website: http://www.kranky.net

Nudge "Cached"

Portland, Oregon's Nudge is a bit of an interesting art-rock supergroup. Consisting of members of noise-rockers Jackie O Motherfucker, electronica-funsters Fontanelle and the experimental band Strategy, you would probably not incorrectly assume that the fruits of their collaboration would be noisy, mellow or just out-and-out weird. It's somewhat shocking, then, to discover that Nudge really isn't any of those things, that this band of serious musicians has made a record that's not particularly serious and is, in fact, a loose, casual affair that's an entertaining listen.! And though there are moments that might remind the listener of Fontanelle or Strategy, Cached isn't a side project that builds on each performer's main band.

Instead, what you'll find on Cached, Nudge's third album, is a serious band that's intent on being a bit playful; opting to give the listener fun, funky grooves instead of serious, austere musical passages. Opening number "Classic Mode" is a blend of new wave-minded dub that's heavily reminscent of A Certain Ratio, and is accentuated by the seductive vocals of Honey Owens, which then segues into the mellowed-out groove of "Standing on Hot Sidewalk." The mood is exceptionally casual; on "My New Youth," Nudge find a rough, sloppy New Order/Cabaret Voltaire-ish groove, and then they stop playing completely, which, after a few seconds of electronic squeaks and blips, delves back into the groove. The effect isn't a stop/start; it sounds more like a rehearsal that happened to be recorded--which it very well may be! Melodies are attempted, played around with and abandoned with a curious feel, and though it sounds as if the band's on the verge of falling apart, it's certianly not the case, as underneath all of the loose playing on "Remove Ya" and "Dee Deet" is a groove that blends both dub and early 80s industrial/dance. Does it sound incongruous on paper? You bet. Does it work in practice? Surprisingly, yes.

Cached is a refreshingly light, enjoyable record that never demands too much of the listener and fits comfortably into most settings. It's a record that sounds great when you're getting ready for a night out, hanging out with friends or simply talking to a friend on Instant Messenger. Thankfully, Nudge has proven that being arty doesn't have to be complex or devoid of pleasure. Here's to more fun records like Cached!

--Joseph Kyle

Artist Website: http://www.kranky.net/artists/nudge.html
Label Website: http://www.kranky.net

June 14, 2005

Slow Dazzle "The View From The Floor"

Slow Dazzle is the project of Shannon McArdle and Timothy Bracy, who are two-thirds of New York-via-Athens, Georgia indie-rockers The Mendoza Line. Instead of offering up Mendoza Line-like country-laced rural indie rock, Slow Dazzle's sound is much more urban and somewhat more druggy. McArdle sings the majority of songs on the album; her voice is soft and woozy and somewhat dreamlike; comparisons to Hope Sandoval are justified, but the twang in her voice on country rockers "The Extent of My Remarks" and "Wedding Dance" breaks the comparison. Bracy, who appears on "A Welfare State" and "The Prosecution Rests," sings in a deadpan style that instantly recalls Lou Reed.

The View From The Floor contains moments that hint at Mendoza Line's graceful country/folk sound, such as on the sad "A Welfare State" and the upbeat "Wedding Dance," but there are moments like "Fleur De Lie" and "Now or Never or Later," which brood and shuffle along with a cold, detatched beat that's occasionally reminsicent of--but not indebted to--bands like Stereolab and Secret Machines. They strike the perfect balance between the urban and the rural, and 'there's a tear in my beer' and 'everybody must get stoned' are two musical concepts that fuel their inspiration. (Of course, it's somewhat telling that their band name is inspired by a John Cale record.) Still, the duo has a knack for songwriting, so the rustic country vibe doesn't feel out of place next to the brief moments of glimmering urban psych-rock.

Overall, The View From The Floor is an excellent record, but it does have one flaw--it's too short. They've done an excellent job of weaving their songs together, and the record flows in a seamless way that's quite appealing, but it ends just as it's piqued your interest. Though the songs are well-developed, the album feels incomplete, but that doesn't distract from the excellence of their songwriting. That being said, The View From The Floor is a promising debut, even if you're left wanting more. Apparently, the duo is already at work on their second album, and hopefully they'll offer up more (and more of the same) songs. Either way, Slow Dazzle is a band that's worth seeking out.

Artist Website: http://www.slow-dazzle.com
Label Website: http://www.misrarecords.com

June 13, 2005

Troubled Hubble "Making Beds In A Burning House"

It's been a while since a new artist has overwhelmed me; I haven't been instantly taken hostage by an album in ages. Sure, some records have impressed me. I've heard some really great, really beautiful records this year, some of them will be (or should be) considered classics five years from now, but none of them hit me instantly; Many of them required multiple listens. None of them were from artists I had not heard of before. Iowa's Troubled Hubble, though, has seemingly broken that dry spell. Though Making Beds in a Burning House is the band's fifth album--and debut for new label Lookout!--it's the first time I've heard them, and I have to say--I've missed out.

First things first: it's an instant love affair with lead singer Chris Otepka. It's a fine line between clever and stupid, and he knowingly disregards all concern for such matters. It's a risky proposition, but Otekpa's risk is ultimately rewarding. Otepka sings in a style that's smart but not smarmy; his lyrics are funny but not sarcastic, and his voice is smooth and sweet, and you can't help but think he's singing with a big smile on his face. (Of course, if you'd written such unique and fascinating lyrics, you'd be singing with a smile on your face, too) Thankfully, his voice exudes a certain level of maturity, so he's able to say weird, silly things and not sound weird or silly.

See, Otepka can turn a phrase quicker than anyone I've heard all year. Sounding as if he'd been weaned on a healthy diet of "Subterranean Homesick Blues" and "It's The End of the World As We Know It," (especially on the excellent "Ear, Nose, Throat") Otepka spits out some really, really excellent rhymes and lines. Topics range from songs about politics to songs about keeping a positive attitude and even songs with absolutely no meaning at all, but it doesn't mater, because Otepka approaches every issue with the same amount of Otepka magic--a magic formed by years of watching cartoons, drinking too much coffee and being aware of pop culture.

Those lyrics, though! Consider, then, the following phrases, exhumed and displayed for your edification:

"I know there's mistakes that go along with youth/So choose to replace or take them with you/and I feel so bad now that I'm so old, so angry, so broke so unhappy, tattooed and ugly ("14,000 Things To Be Happy About")

"Love is happiness/And happiness is free/It's a lie that we're told and try to believe/God is love and Love is the Devil/What is your type? You say, 'I've got several'" (from "To Be Alive and Alone")

"Finally I'm right/Finally you're wrong/Finally I dance with confidence to songs/That sing/Of hope/And love/And truth/When you're nothing/You're still something/You're molecules." (from "I'm Pretty Sure I Can See Molecules")

"You know what they say about passing ships?/They're old ladies in leopard print/Who've lived their lives with telescopes/ Who've made mistakes but are now too old." ("Floribraska")

"Las Vegas, last places, lost energy converges, from outer desert spaces like gasses escaping through holes in our layers, are there holes in our prayers when we pray for ourselves before others?" ("Jackpot Stampede Deluxe")

As you can see, Otepka is a clever boy, but it must be noted that his cleverness wouldn't be quite as great without a sharp backing band. The band has the ability to create melodies that are as strong and as tight as any kind of lyrical twist Otepka can throw at them. If Troubled Hubble made instrumental rock, you'd still think they write excellent lyrics. Though they might be accused of taking a few cues from bands like The Dismemberment Plan and Clem Snide, their sound and a style is truly their own--highly rhythmic, highly caffeinated and quite fun. And yes, "I'm Pretty Sure I Can See Molecules," "14,000 Things To Be Happy About" and "Even Marathon Runners Need to Nap" are as funny and as clever as their titles!

Troubled Hubble would have been considered "the next big thing" five years ago. They would have had a big record deal and middling success ten years ago. Now, in 2005, the world's just learning of them, and that's fine. Some will tell you that patience is a virtue that's rewarded with success. After years of obscurity, they've reached a wider audience, and Making Beds in a Burning House is a damn good record. Listening to the other song samples on their website, it's obvious that their magic is no mere fluke; they've had it all along. That the world's just now hearing what they have to say is a good thing, for them and for us; Troubled Hubble grew up and got through those awkward years in obscurity, only to present the world with one hell of a formal debut. Making Beds in a Burning House is, without a doubt, one of this year's best records.

--Joseph Kyle

Artist Website: http://www.troubledhubble.com
Label Website: http://www.lookoutrecords.com

June 10, 2005

Aroah "En El Patio Interior"

Aroah is Irene Tremblay, a Spain-based American folk singer with a light, lovely voice who specializes in sad, melancholy songs that don't necessarily sound sad. Her latest offering, En El Patio Interior, is a six song EP that quite nicely highlights her talents. Her songs have a sweet, innocent feel; her voice reminds of Nedelle and Mary Lou Lord, but her voice and style are all her own. Her music is twangy, yet never overwhelmingly so, and she's got a jazzy tone to her voice that's quite nice as well. "Keys" and "Blue Room" are about heartbreaks, but aren't obsessively depressing, partially because her voice sounds so warm and sunshine-laced. There's an excellent cover of Lou Reed's "Caroline Says II" that's quite pretty, and the title track is sung in Spanish. Although En El Patio Interior is brief, it serves as a nice introduction to a lovely singer.

--Joseph Kyle

Artist Website: http://www.aroah.net
Label Website: http://www.acuareladiscos.com

Various Artists "Sleeping In The Market"

In 2001, Yayehe Smon and his father Mehari, who had immigrated from Ethiopia to Israel, made a return trip to their native homeland, for they chose to retrace their journey from their homeland. In so doing, they chose to create a document of their journey, and the resulting collection, Sleeping In The Market is a fascinating slice-of-life from Amhara, the Ethiopian state they once called home. The collection includes all kinds of different sounds, from a child singing a song about love, a blind beggar performing in the street on a metal flute, traditional songs about God and even a teenage girl singing a contemporary song.

The most captivating selections come from a teenage boy named Atempo, who sings songs while his friends play traditional instruments. His voice is hypnotic and otherworldly; "Ney Ney Ney" and "Aderch Arada" transport the listener to a world they've never experienced before. Sleeping in the Market is a unique collection of field recordings, all of which are very vivid and provide for a fascinating aural experience.

--Joseph Kyle

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

June 09, 2005

Piano Magic "Disaffected"

Piano Magic is the long-running project of Glen Johnson. Over the past nine years, he's released dozens of singles, EP's and compilation appearances, six full length albums on various record labels with nearly as many band lineups. Their revolving-door membership and melancholy music reminded many of This Mortal Coil, the flagship project of the critically acclaimed 4AD label. It's quite astonishing, then, that Piano Magic's brief relationship with the label turned out so unsatisfactory. The Son De Mar film soundtrack was promising, but Writers Without Homes was a surprising disappointment. Piano Magic recovered quickly, though, and their response to their worst album was to release their best album, The Troubled Sleep of Piano Magic.

Disaffected finds Johnson and company continuing further down the Piano Magic path. After nine years, one expects certain things from Piano Magic, and Johnson and company have yet to disappoint. The songs on Disaffected have an added depth that hasn't appeared before--is it possible they've become content with their lot in life? Has Johnson resigned himself to permanant heartbreak? Yes, they're still melancholy--just check out the bleak outlook of "Disaffected" and "I Must Leave London" for proof. Yes, their music is still cinematic--"You Can Hear The Room" and "Your Ghost" are minor epics to the coldness of life.. Yes, they're heartbroken--check out "Theory of Ghosts" and "Deleted Scenes" for futher examination of the heart of someone who's had their love gone wrong. Most importantly, they're still good. In fact, they're more than good...they're better.

Indeed, Disaffected flows quite well; it's a long, continual symphony to sadness. Songs like "Deleted Scenes" and "You Can Never Get Lost (When You've Nowhere To Go)" have the ability to bring you back over and over again, but "Love & Music" quickly becomes a favorite. Though it's the closest that Disaffected comes to having a happy song, it's easily one of their best moments. It's rather upbeat, and the lyrics--about being sixteen and feeling love for the first time. The music itself sounds like New Order--a lot like New Order, in fact. Johnson sounds not unlike Bernard Sumner, and the music sounds as if it was accidentally created by Peter Hook circa 1986. In other words, it's a class act, but it's also uniquely poppy and addictive. It's no surprise, considering that Piano Magic have always been indebted to the early to mid 1980s British underground scene.

In a world where bands like Franz Ferdinand and Interpol (both destined to be one-hit wonders, if truth be told) take superficial inspiration from the past, it's good to know that a band like Piano Magic can draw from the same well of inspiration without resorting to unceremonious (and trendy) plundering. Disaffected is a wonderful continuation of Piano Magic's greatness. True, it doesn't sound radically different from past Piano Magic records, but if this is the sound of formulaic, then may they never again rock the boat.

--Joseph Kyle

Artist Website: http://www.piano-magic.co.uk
Label Website: http://www.darla.com

Bobby Conn "Live Classics, Vol. 1"

Another day, another live album. Luckily for me, Bobby Conn's an artist who's known for wild live shows, and his new live album isn't exactly a live album. Instead of spending a lot of money by dragging a recording console to a live venue, the DIY-minded Conn decided to bring the live show to the studio. Thus, Conn invited fifty people into a recording studio and performed his live set, with no stops, no overdubs and no edits. Beers were consumed, costumes were worn, and by the looks of it, a fun time was had by all.

As expected, this Beach Boys Party!-style performance strips Conn's music of its studio gloss and sheen. The live setting means Conn's glam tendencies have been reduced, and it's glaringly apparent that his passion and soul aren't the products of studio gimmickry. If anything, Live Classics, Vol. 1 shows that Conn's an excellent singer and his band has a death-grip on THE FUNK. The best example of this is "Axis '67, Part 2," which finds the band kicking into a straight-up funk GROOVE that Conn's quite capable of taming. It's a slow, brooding jam (think What's Going On-era Marvin Gaye meeting Isaac Hayes) that's both invigorating and exciting, it's red-hot and it's REAL. Songs like "Baby Man" and "No Revolution" attempt to follow that same manner, and thought they aren't quite as captivating, they're still powerhouses.

The only problem with Conn's music is that he insists on singing in an annoying, white-boy "soul" falsetto. It was extremely annoying when The Make-Up did it ten years ago, and this trick's not aged with time. When he engages this technique, he sends his act straight into self-parody mode, which causes an Instant Track Skip Revolution Now! It's a shame, too, because Conn's much better than that. Then again, his carrying on like he's a white Ian Svenonious and borderline self-effacing parody might make more sense to see him live and experience the hand-waving and flashy costumes in person. Then again, it might not. Still, Live Classics, Vol. 1 allows you to make that choice for yourself.

--Joseph Kyle

Artist Website: http://www.bobbyconn.com
Label Website: http://www.thrilljockey.com

Ryan Adams & The Cardinals "Cold Roses"

Before we begin to discuss Ryan Adams' latest album, let's do something. Let's forget a few things, shall we? Let's forget about his image. Let's forget about how he's portrayed as a swaggering rock star, man-whoring his way around New York City like an unleashed, rabidly horny playboy. Let's forget about how many critics say his music is supposedly bad-boy rock, but it's mediocre at best, because he's simply playing cliches. Let's even forget about Whiskeytown, his vehicle to world's attention. Let's forget all about the things that supposedly make Ryan Adams the Ryan Adams we know and love and love to hate, because, essentially, they're not very important, and as they have very little to do with his music abilities, they're not worth mentioning.

Cold Roses, Adams' sixth album in five years, finds Adams in fine form. While it's true that Adams has always been prolific--he's got a few full-length records that are unreleased, part of which form the Demos album a few years back--he's yet to hit the point of diminishing returns. Last year's Love is Hell, was initally released as two EP's (the first being released the same day as Rock 'n' Roll) when his label refused to release it as an album, who claimed it as "too depressing" to be released as a whole record , proved to Adams' best record to date--but few paid attention. After releasing the one-two release of that record and the excellent (but surprisingly poorly-received) Rock 'n' Roll, Adams regrouped, set aside his ballsy rock fixation, formed a backing band and made a record that rivals Heartbreaker and Whiskeytown's Faithless Street in terms of raw emotion and musical depth.

But don't call Cold Roses an alt.country comeback, because he's been making this kind of music for years. This time around, Adams has given the world a double album, in the classic sense of the word; Cold Roses contains two discs, but each disc contains nine songs, and both discs never run more than forty minutes, and it's packaged in an embossed sleeve that's reminiscent of Seventies album art. Normally, such aesthetic matters should not have much bearing on a record. In this instance, the assumption that he's making a 'classic'-sounding record is instantly proven correct. (Heck, if you really wanted to be pedantic, you could point out that the programming even feels like a classic vinyl record, with the sides ending/beginning at songs five and six, which seems to be echoed in the lyric booklet.)

On first listen, you'll notice that Cold Roses is sad, it's heartbroken, and it's mellow in a Southern California kind of way. While Adams hasn't turned into the Eagles or Fleetwood Mac, he has borrowed their tasteful blending of country and rock, while his backing band never buries his songs underneath big arrangements. Like Heartbreaker and Love is Hell, Adams is once again returning to the theme of heartbreak and disappointment. Thankfully, he's not pulling a "woe is me" attitude, opting instead to explore the different aspects of love in song. The idealism of a broken-hearted person's new love in "Easy Plateau" contrasts the pain and morning-after regret that comes with a careless free-love lifestyle of "Cold Roses." The heartbreak of loss in "Now That You're Gone" and "When Will You Come Back Home" is tempered with the pure emotions of longing in "Friends" and "If I Am A Stranger."

It's hard to pick a song that's "best," because every song on Cold Roses is excellent in its own right. Thanks to Cold Roses' adept design, each song's strength is accentuated. Not considering that an eighteen-song album would be too song-heavy to be appreciated, the two discs make for concise, no-bullshit listening, and it keeps the singular subject matter from overwhelming the listener. Having burned both discs on to a single disc, it's also quite fair to say that Cold Roses could not have worked as a single album--these songs are too good to be ruined by loading down a record and the listener; the magic and beauty of each song would be diluted by making it a convenient for the listener.

Cold Roses is an album to be proud of. It's simple, it's heartfelt, it's beautiful; it's everything every critic expected from Adams after he stunned the world with Heartbreaker. Hopefully, Cold Roses will send those critics back to Adams' previous records, and hopefully they'll get it this time, and they'll cease with this pointless, baseless Ryan Adams bashing. It' no matter if they don't, because Adams' next album will most likely trump Cold Roses. It'll be a hard feat, but then again, Adams really hasn't disappointed us in years.

--Joseph Kyle

Artist Website: http://www.ryan-adams.com
Label Website: http://www.losthighway.com

Great Lake Swimmers "Great Lake Swimmers"

The haunting sounds of crickets chirping instantly sets the musical tone for the self-titled debut of Ontario-based Great Lake Swimmers. Though just now seeing release in the United States, Great Lake Swimmers received critical acclaim upon its release, and understandably so. Great Lake Swimmers is the brainchild of Tony Dekker, and though technically a band, the music's as sparse as any solo act, appearing only occasionally. The music is a blend of country and folk, but the music transcend both genres. With a flushed, hushed voice that's accentuated by the subtle use of reverb (and occasionally sounding like My Morning Jacket), Dekker leads his band through ten gentle, delicate songs that transcend both folk and country and move along with no particular rush. Songs like the gorgeous "The Animals of the World" and "This Is Not Like Home" (both songs accompanied by the crickets that appeared at the beginning of the record) bring tears to the eyes, while the hauntingly lyrical "Marge, A Vessel, A Harbour" is simply beautiful. A fine, beautiful debut.

--Joseph Kyle

Artist Website: http://www.greatlakeswimmers.com
Label Website: http://www.misrarecords.com

Picastro "Metal Cares"

Picastro's Liz Hysen is into dark sounds. Her debut album, Red Your Blues, was a raw, lo-fi recording that was hautningly beautiful, with Hysen's voice shining through a murky, sparse accompaniment. Her second album, Metal Cares finds her focusing even further on atmospheres rather than conventional songwriting. It's a mood record for bleak times, depressing days and sad thoughts, and it's not an upbeat listen in any sense of the word. Its grey, austere artwork accentuates the music within, instantly creating an aural rainy day whenever it's played. It's an ugly, dark record that might not spend a lot of time on your stereo, because its bleakness is simply overwhelming.

Comparisons might be made to Cat Power, but Picastro makes Chan Marshall look like Julie Andrews. Hysen has a deep, throaty singing voice, and it fits quite beautifully with Picastro's lush, moody arrangements. From the throaty, out-of-sync (and terribly distorted) vocals and piano combination on "Common Cold" to the naked, acoustic guitar folk of "Drama Man" and "Blonde Fires," Metal Cares is a startling record that's disturbing, due in part to her downright unintelligable singing. Vocals and instruments blend together; sometimes, Hysen's lyrics aren't very coherent, and when they are, they're just...disturbing.

With that in mind, it's also not unfair to say that it's this ugliness that makes Metal Cares oddly appealing. Whether it's the flighty, haunting violins and ethereal singing of "Raddy Daddy" or the utterly bizarre "Ah Nyeh Nyeh," where Hysen vocally intones sounds (though it's said that she's singing Russian lyrics) accompanied by a piano and violin, there's an appeal to Metal Cares that causes you to hit repeat, even after swearing that you just hated what you've heard. Is it a curiosity about having just heard something that's utterly bizarre? Is it that the music's ugly/beautiful? It's hard to say, because it seems both reasons are valid.

Metal Cares isn't an easy listen, nor is it something that you're likely to return to, but it's a record you won't soon forget, because it...is...WEIRD.

--Joseph Kyle

Artist Website: http://www.picastro.net
Label Website: http://www.polyvinylrecords.com

June 08, 2005

Mahogany "Memory Column: Early Works and Rarities, 1996-2004"

Once upon a time, in a land called five years ago, there was a little record label called Black Bean and Placenta. Now, this label, it was a bit different than most. It strictly produced records and compact discs--artwork was negligable. It wasn't uncommon for a record's cover to be made out of old record sleeves, and most record sleeves were made from construction paper. The label distributed small, impossible-to-find-elsewhere releases from around the world, specializing in noise, lo-fi and art-rock. Mike Landucci would also offer his records for sale at insane prices--five vinyl records for three bucks? Ah, those were the days.

One of my first purchases from him was a grab-bag bundle of vinyl LP's. Included with this collection of obscure noise-rock was a one-sided twelve-inch EP from a band from New York called Mahogany. As was the case with most Blackbean & Placenta releases, there was very little information about the band other than the name of the songs. Then again, the music was so striking and beautiful, I didn't care. From the gorgeous, beat driven "The Age of Rectangles" and the post-punk dance beat of "Metro," to the deep cello melancholy of "In Fulfillment of the Enthusiastic," I was won over by this band that blended Stereolab-like melodies to such post-punk stylemakers as Factory Records and the Cocteau Twins.

As my fascination grew, so too did my hunt for anything Mahogany related. My next purchase was another vinyl record, this time a split with Auburn Lull, which was apparently their debut record. This time, I was reminded by how much this group sounded like neighbors Windy & Carl, and the song "Ameila No. 2" definitely reminded me of Pale Saints. Other purchases included the dark, brooding "Light Will Deserve a Place"/"Cloudless" single, which definitely had a darker vibe than previous releases, a handful of compilations (including the excellent Solutions & Remedies, released by the then-fledgling Clairecords) and a Spanish EP. Eventually, I wound up collecting most everything Mahogany had released. Even though their newest release, a two-disc singles collection entitled Memory Column: Early Works and Rarities 1996-2004 collects most of these records, I'm still glad to have them compiled on one disc.

See, Mahogany's records made me very happy, in a brooding, dark kind of way. Those years of my torrid obsession with the band, they were dark days for me; I was heartbroken and unhappy with life, and Mahogany's style, though melancholy, also felt reassuring. There's something that attracted me to their music, and I never have figured out why. I don't really think I want to. Maybe it was Andrew Prinz's striking, distinctive artwork? I know that Lorraine Lelis' soft, reassuring singing helped make me feel better during those cold and lonely West Texas nights. Perhaps it was the obscurity that appealed to me; the indie-pop elitist who needed something, anything to make me feel special, to make me feel different from my Modest Mouse and Pavement-loving neighbors. In recent years, I've not given Mahogany the same amount of affection, but Memory Column is like finding a friendly love letter from a boy or girl that broke your heart. It's sad that those days ended, but it's a happy reminder of what made you love them in the first place.

--Joseph Kyle

Artist Website: http://www.mahogany.nu
Label Website: http://www.darla.com

Kraftwerk "Minimum-Maximum"

Though live records are often a shady proposition, when it comes to certain artists, there's no question that a live record is essential. Artists like John Coltrane, the Grateful Dead and Elvis Presley definitely accomplished more in the live setting than they did in the studio, and live recordings serve as important documents of their brilliance. On the other hand, bands like The Ramones, the Beach Boys and Guided By Voices all made music that sounded great live, but their live shows didn't really differ much from their studio recordings.

Then there's Kraftwerk. This German groups role in modern music cannot be denied; their computerized music helped to redefine and innovate music, opening up new possibilities for sound, inspiring techo, electronica, dance music, pop music and even hip-hop. Even though their presence within the music world has been minimal, their influence has not ceased after thirty-five years. In 2003, the band released their first new album in well over a decade, which they then followed with a world tour. Minimum-Maximum is a two-disc souvenir of the band's touring, capturing the audio portion of the band's multimedia experience.

If you are familiar with Kraftwerk, then you probably already understand the fundamental flaw with a Kraftwerk live record. Kraftwerk's style is so regimented and streamlined, there's very little room for variation. Sonic perfectionists that they are, it's a foregone conclusion that their live performance would sound perfect (read: sound just like the studio versions). At times, Minimum-Maximum occasionally feels like a greatest-hits package. Of course, one shouldn't expect anything but the classic moments from a band that's been inactive for over twenty years, and the majority of the collection revisits Kraftwerk's best moments.

That being said, Minimum-Maximum is still an amazing record. Songs like "The Robots" and "Computer Love" and "Autobahn" never sound dated, because these songs are still ahead of their time. In the live setting, these classic songs sound even bigger than their studio counterparts; some songs, including "Radioactivity" and "Numbers" appear in radically different arrangements, updating them into something that sounds even more futuristic than before, and these rearranged songs deftly link their past with the present--a present that Kraftwerk definitely influenced. And, on the beautifully sung "The Model," the band even lets slip that they are indeed human, allowing for a rare moment that doesn't feel overtly computerized. There's also something wonderful about the sound of thousands of people applauding these four geniuses, as if somehow their presence makes the Kraftwerk legacy complete.

The only thing that could have made Minimum-Maximum even better would have been a DVD that captures the multimedia spectacle of Kraftwerk's live show--but I bet that's probably forthcoming. Minimum-Maximum is an excellent live document of these amazing innovators of modern music, an excellent overview of the songs that changed the music world, and, quite simply, a damn good time. Try listening to it on your car stereo and not wind up driving too fast.

--Joseph Kyle

Artist Website: http://www.kraftwerk.com
Label Website: http://www.astralwerks.com

June 07, 2005

Anders Parker "The Wounded Astronaut"

Last year, Varnaline mastermind Anders Parker released his solo debut, Tell It To The Dust. The album proved slightly shocking; he successfully distanced himself from his Varnaline past, yet he never really distanced himself at all. It was a creative sleight-of-hand that impressed those who heard it. The Wounded Astronaut isn't so much a follow-up as it is a collection of outtakes from the sessions for his debut. The songs on The Wounded Astronaut are a bit harder; there's a bit more of a rock vibe to these songs, too. Parker still has that throaty, rough singing voice that's reminiscent of Jay Farrar, who not surprisingly also reappears here.

Still, The Wounded Astronaut contains some great songs. The mellow, psyched-out "Everyone Will Shine" is really haunting; "Fast and True" is quite catchy, and "Come Off" and "The Smile" are two songs that should have been on his debut, and though the title track and "I Found You" are lesser songs, they're still excellent. It says a bit about an artist when their outtakes and B-Sides are strong material, and The Wounded Astronaut is a nice companion to Parker's essential debut.

--Joseph Kyle

Artist Website: http://www.andersparker.com
Label Website: http://www.baryonrecords.com

Various Artists "motown: remixed"

As hard as it might be at times, a reviewer must be an objective listener. He or she must remove their prejudices when they listen to a record, because the reviewer must suspend their preconceived notions. After all, it's theoretically possible that what might be wrong. Sure, that musician who claims to be a "sexy mix of Peaches and Britney Spears" might be good. That band that proclaims itself to be "like Nirvana without the lyrics that make you think" may very well be genius. That lo-fi folk guy who claims that "I don't really think I'm very good, but I have heart, and I'll let you decide," could possibly be the next Nick Drake.

I met the news of Motown Remixed with a great deal of skepticism. Having grown up listening to the Four Tops, Supremes, Jackson 5, Marvin Gaye and the Temptations, the idea of radically making over these classic songs just didn't seem right, regardless of the intentions of either the label or the remixer. Sorry, it just doesn't play with me. There's no way you can improve on these songs, so why bother? It just doesn't seem to make much sense to me, and after listening to Motown Remixed, I still can't claim to understand why this project exists. I don't know how Motown could possibly think this has some sort of relevence to today; or that the only way "the kids" could appreciate these songs is to have them dumbed down by being run through the Hip Hop Cliche machine.

Modern hip-hop producers and DJ's remixing classic Motown hits? On so many levels, that just doesn't seem right. On one hand, the Verve:Remixed series seemed like it would have been a major disaster, but it turned out better than expected; but on the other hand, the less said of the utterly terrible What is Hip?, the better. To some (this writer definitely included), the Motown catalog is sacred ground, not to be disturbed, lest you want the ghost of Michael Jackson to haunt your ass. It doesn't help that mediocre hip-hop artists and musicians (and Lil Romeo) have vandalized the good Motown name, either. There are only three moments on Motown: Remixed that make this project worthwhile, and that's because Jazzy Jeff's a genius, ?estlove knows a thing or two about good music, and "War" is a song that's malleable enough to withstand reinterpretations.

And you know what? I have to say this now.

"Quiet Storm" DOES NOT NEED TO BE REMIXED, and unless your name is Marvin Gaye, YOU CANNOT MAKE "LET'S GET IT ON" MORE PERFECT! Period. End of story.

For pimping out his children like this, someone should take the Michael Jackson Ugly Stick and repeatedly slap Berry Gordy ten times harder than the Joe Jackson-style bitch-slap that Diana Ross deserves. Black popular culture (and Michael Jackson) already has a tarnished reputation, and ghettoizing the one truly genius creation of 20th Century Black America into the slums of half-assed Urban Contemporary Hip-Hop ain't helping. It's only because God is merciful that P.Diddy wasn't involved with this project. (Maybe even Mr. Combs could see that this project is crap? If so, it only proves that miracles never cease...)

PS. Ain't nothin' like the real thing, baby.

--Joseph Kyle

Project Website: http://www.motownremixed.com
Label Website: http://www.motown.com

Animal Collective "Prospect Hummer"

Imagine the honor that comes with being a part of the return of a musical enigma. It probably goes without saying that those loveable experimentalists in Animal Collective felt a tremendous amount of pride in being a part of legendary folk singer Vashti Bunyan's first lengthy record release in thirty-five years. (We won't repeat her story here, in hopes you will visit her website and learn more about her.) Turning your back on the music world is a major decision, especially after only one album release--but it's probably an understatement to assume that the only thing more exciting than the inital rush of emotions surrounding your debut record is learning nearly three decades later that you're a cult hero, and that you've got more of a receptive audience now than you did when you first appeared. Thus, it's safe to assume that Prospect Hummer is an exciting project for all parties.

Though the Prospect Hummer EP runs for only fifteen brief minutes, it expands and overwhelms in a way that lasts well beyond the running time.Admittedly, this writer has yet to hear Bunyan's sole release, Just Another Diamond Day, but this EP is as fine an introduction as necessary. The breathy "It's You" sounds otherworldly; accompanied by Animal Collective's gentle, heavenly guitars sound like cascading water falling from a heavenly waterfall. The jaunty title track finds Animal Collective revisiting the sound that made Sung Tongs so rewarding, and Bunyan's singing feels quite natural within the confines of their style, and the simple, upbeat "I Remeber Learning How To Dive" is a straightforward folk number, quite enjoyable and innocent. The only moment that's not particularly essential to the collection is the sole track without Bunyan, the electronica instrumental piece "Baleen Sample." While it's lovely in its own way, it distracts, but it doesn't take anything from Project Hummer's main attraction.

Prospect Hummer arrives on the heels of the news that Bunyan is currently completing her second album. The times have changed and her music is now being heard and has helped to inspire a genre of musicians, and that's a great honor. Though it's not yet known whether or not she works with Animal Collective on this project, this little EP is proof that the two parties should work together again. This is a beautiful, excellent EP that will satisfy fans of both Animal Collective and Bunyan.

--Joseph Kyle

Vashti Bunyan Website: http://www.anotherday.co.uk
Animal Collective Website: http://www.paw-tracks.com
Label Website: http://www.fat-cat.com

June 06, 2005

Interview: David Fridlund

What prompted the decision to release a solo record?

The reason I wanted to do a solo record was that I felt the need of developing myself as a songwriter and a musician.I wanted to try to write songs in a way I hadn't done before and to do this I had to do it on my own, in my own pace and without having to consider anyone elses opinions or limitations. I felt like I was lost with David & the Citizens, like we were doing the same thing over and over and I didn't want to make another album that ran the risk of being a copy of our previous releases.

Describe the recording process for the album. Other than not having a band behind you, how different of an experience was it?

I (assisted by my brother Joel) recorded all the piano and some of the vocals in my apartment, and the rest was recorded at the rehearsal place (except the strings on "Then I Will Miss You" and some other small things). It was no big difference really from how I usually work, since I've always recorded all the demos for David & The Citizens (all instruments included). However, I tried to think differently from how I usually do when arranging the songs and I put a lot more effort in making every instrument play a bigger part. Instead of having lots of instruments doing a lot of things, I tried to narrow it down and peel off a few layers instead of building a wall of sound... For example, I tried to be more thorough when playing the bass and let it work together with the piano or the guitar, which has not always been the case in my earlier recordings. The fact that we recorded the whole record on an 8-track also forced me into thinking differently. Together with my partner Sara Culler, I also worked more with the harmonies and backup vocals than we've done on Citizens recordings. Over all, the recording process was a lot more laid back and easy going than any recording I've taken part in before; time and money was never an issue which is always the case when recording in a studio with a "real" producer.

What song on your album do you feel you put the most work into, and why?

I don't think I put more work into a specific song, the recording process went very smoothly and we never really had any major problems with any of the songs, exept for those that didn't make it to the album for different reasons...well, maybe we worked a bit more on "White Van" than the other songs, since we had to do some ping-ponging to fit everything in. We also recorded some additional harmony vocals on that track in the studio where we mixed the album (Studio Senorita).

If someone were to ask you what song on Amaterasu best represented your overall work, which song would it be, and why?

I think it would have to be "3 Pictures (of you & you & you)," which is the one song that might as well have ended up on a Citizens album. I thought about saving it for the next album when I had written it, but I felt like it would fit in really well on Amaterasu so I kept it for this album. I think it's a link between my older songs and the more recent ones I've written and there's a feel to it that one will find in a lot of my work - from the first EP, up to date.

To you, what song on Amaterasu is the most meaningful?

All songs are very precious to me, of course, but if I have to choose, I'd say "Circles," "April & May." "Then I Will Miss You" and "The Past Floats Like Stones." All these songs are very personal and emotional to me for different reasons.

What's next? More solo work? A return to David & The Citizens? Something entirely different?

Since finishing working on Amaterasu, I've written new songs for David & The Citizens and we're actually about to go into a studio in the countryside outside of our hometown Malmö for ten days to start working on what eventually will be the third Citizens album. Hopefully... I've also been playing live with my solo band and I'm currently working on a bunch of new solo-songs. Hopefully there will be a second solo album out some time in the future, but I'm not in a hurry. I'm off to do a tour with my solo band in Norway the last week in May and hopefully I'll do one in Europe this fall. So - there's lots of things happening!