Beyond Reinforced Jewel Case
What is this? Every once in a while a recording comes along that is so befuddlement-inducing it can't even really be defined, much less evaluated. It's been a long time since I've heard a recording like that, but this is a good example of one. It's almost pointless to try to describe the Barr sound in print. "Obsessive-compulsive hip-hop" only begins to hint at what this music actually is.
The album begins with these words: "How do you start something? You start it . . . How do you introduce something? You start it. Little hands reading at the store, it has started already. It has really, really begun already, for sure." This intro suggests the kind of irritating self-consciousness that taints the worst of indie music, but that isn't really what this is.
At his best, Barr manages to infuse his whacked out, staccato monologues, delivered deadpan over spare drum and keyboard accompaniment, with something genuinely affirming and cool. The lyrical content ranges from willfully absurd to painfully personal: "Did you get the memo? I have been in therapy for my OCD since January and I've gone off my meds and I don't hug as much and as hard."
In the end, Barr just is. The album is full of words: densely packed, tightly flowing, intense clusters of words. But somehow words can't describe it. Listen.
Band of Horses
Live at the Congress in Tucson, AZ - June 28, 2006
Sub Pop Records
Seeing Band of Horses lead singer at the bar at the Historic Hotel Congress, I thought I'd do something I rarely do when I'm at a show I plan to write about — introduce myself. For my money, there's nothing more awkward than rolling up to someone in a band to let them know that you love their music and you're there to write about them for a magazine. Embracing that awkwardness, I walked up to Ben Bridwell and told him just that. His polite thanks would later be revealed to be more-than-polite considering they had just arrived for the show after a 6+ hour in a tow truck aftet their van broke down in El Paso.
What would be described by Bridwell the next day to a Phoenix audience as a shitty show, was anything but from where I stood. BoH powered through a short set of songs primarily from their recently released full-length Everything All The Time, earning and exceeding all comparisons to Built To Spill, Flaming Lips, and labelmates The Shins. Give BoH a minute of your time. You'll find yourself asking them to stay a lot longer.
The Future Crayon
Warp Records, 2006
The Future Crayon is pretty much a collection of Broadcast's essential rarities. Most of the songs here were considered as b-sides, but it shouldn't have been the case, as this is high quality Broadcast material. There must have been a mistake there somewhere, but this collection spanning Broadcast's 10 year career is finally here. Aren't we all glad? I just wished Broadcast made it huge everywhere because this is quality music that should have been widely heard. Although this is not commercial sounding music, this is actually more indie with integrity and I feel that this is how the fans of Broadcast wanted it to be and it should stay that way. I like the sort of anonymity of this band. Their sound is very mysterious yet fresh as expected with most Warp Records artists. If you're still not familiar with the sound of Broadcast, it's actually an excellent musical experience.
- Adhab Al-Farhan
Live at Plush in Tucson, AZ - July 17, 2006
By the time you read this, Camera Obscura will have completed their North American tour. I hope you had a chance to see them in action, because there are few indie pop bands like them out there right now. The Scottish sextet treated a packed house jems from their recently released Merge Records release, Let's Get Out of This Country. Recorded in Stockholm with Jari Haapalainen, Let's Get Out of This Country works equally well as a summer soundtrack or a fireside winter warmer. Seeing Camera Obscura live reminded me of some of my favorite Saturday Looks Good to Me shows and listening to my parents' dusty old albums as a child.
We Never Change
Abacus Recordings, 2006
Metal core never sounded so trendy, well it's actually a trend now. It's horrible. This band sounds a lot like Darkest Hour, one of the better metal core bands out there. The goofy name of the band and their song titles make this genre a joke. Such song titles are "Triple Belly o Poo", "Table Full of Giggles", "And Then I Touched His Freddy Krueger", etc. You get the whole point. It's like emo/screamo meets crap. Bands like these are trying to completely rehash the whole Swedish death metal sound only attempting to Americanize it by emo-izing the whole procedure. The band members looks as if they are wearing wigs to look like long-haired metal bands. I'm not sure if they have real long hair or just making a mockery of real metal bands, but their comb-overs make Donald Trump's actually look cool. This is utterly pathetic. Avoid at all cost.
Daedelus Denies The Day's Demise
Mush Records, 2006
Daedelus only needs the first few moments of Daedelus Denies The Day's Demise to show you the wide array of samples with which he feels comfortable working. Within no time, he juxtaposes sambas and IDM, berimbaos and breakbeats, strings and synths, Brazil and America, the organic and the inorganic. It's impressive enough that these elements can be made to peacefully co-exist on one album, but the most impressive feature of this album is not the fact that he is willing to juxtapose these disparate musical pieces. No, Daedelus is not an anything goes, kitchen-sink electronica artists who looks to blind you with a cartoonish array of unlikely-matched whirrs and bangs; on the contrary, Daedelus dazzles the listener by somehow blending all of these samples into one cohesive sound that can only be described as his own. The best example of this comes on the album's fourth track, "Lights Out," where Daedelus begins with a raw hip hop beat augmented with the ticking of a vibraphone. Suddenly, Daedelus seamlessly shifts to the complex syncopation of Brazilian percussion, allowing the ongoing vibraphone tick to demonstrate to the listener that he is able to alter the focus of the downbeat without disrupting the song. Though "Lights Out" is the starkest example, melodic and rhythmic shifts like that occur throughout the album, making this dream-like album a great listen that's sure to be one of the year's best electronic albums.
Emily Kate Boyd
Live at The Crimson Moon in Dahlonega, GA - July 1, 2006
From Asheville, North Carolina, The Divine Maggees are two women troubadours who met in Boston music school and went on to form a writing and singing duo, Danielle Tibedo on lead vocals and guitar and Cregan Montague on electric fiddle and violin, write amazing, haunting ballads and solidly constructed songs of lives beyond their years. Their musicality keeps up with the songwriting, which spans folk rock Americana with sweetly blending voices and immediately evoking images of Indigo Girls. Yet these women differ from the famous duo in that both their voices are high and blend. With a MFA in sculpture, lead singer and guitarist Tibedo joins with Montague, who has played with Ani Di Franco and fiddle greats. Their songs range from 'River Lady,' a haunting ballad about New Orleans, to 'Sweet Caroline,' 'Trouble,' about existential angst, and 'London Town,' which emotes with passion and a melody that merges with fiddle and rhythm. A crowd favorite, 'Lift Me Up' ended the evening, a Middle Eastern flavored tune that invites belly dancing. Other stand outs were 'Little Black Crow' from their new and second cd 'Love Me Like the Roses,' an album described as 'complex, melancholy and dreamy.' This duo is consistent through their constant versatility and craftsmanship—Montague can really tear up the fiddle, and they never cease to amaze. Emily Kate Boyd of Atlanta, also and MFA in painting, opened the evening with her self penned tunes and music that is eclectic folk and blues, also heavily influenced by her art and citing Doria Roberts as one of her influences. Boyd opened with 'Eat the Covers,' a bluegrass song about social pressures to eat.
Singles. Period. The Vinyl Years 1980-1990
Touch & Go Records, 2005
The Ex is a band that every Clamor reader should dig. In their twenty-plus years, they've changed from Gang of Four-influenced propagandists to being practitioners of a detailed post-punk art rock to a gifted group of improvisers constantly reexamining their boundaries. They remain open to the moment and fearlessly committed to an idea of politics that inspires both action and admiration.
Since forming in 1979, the Ex has cut a wide swath. Inspired by the open palette of Crass and Chumbawamba, the Ex created rhythmically complex pieces with noisy guitar and sometimes shouted vocals from GW Sok and Katherina, their percussionist. Along with Terrie on guitar and, until 2003, Luc on bass, they formed the core of the Ex. Using the openness of the form, they recorded with artists as dissimilar as Sonic Youth chief Thurston Moore, Euro-free perc pioneer Han Bennink, and veteran art rock cellist Tom Cora, whose two full-length collaborations with the Ex (Scrabbling at the Lock and And the Weathermen Shrugged Their Shoulders) are a high point in the catalog. They've worked with dance troupes, done countless benefits, and recently toured Ethiopia and Eritrea, where they collaborated with local musicians. Sok and Katherina never preach (okay, rarely preach) and clearly realize that political art always ends up with a certain ambivalence. Hard questions - about the culture of the political and the politics of culture - are the Ex's stock-in-trade and they don't let themselves off any easier than they do anyone else.
So what do the records sound like? This one, a compilation of their '80s 7"s, starts at the beginning with their first release, All Corpses Smell the Same, a four-song from 1980. This and several subsequent records show the influence of leftist punks like Gang of Four and more than make up for in sincerity what they sometimes lack in subtlety. By the fifth record, 1983's Gonna Rob the Spermbank, you begin to recognize the growth that the Ex is showing and by the end of this 23-song cd, you clearly understand how the Ex began using punk structures less and punk ideology more in building their sound. Their collaboration with Iraqi Kurdish band Awara, "Enough is Enough" makes clear how they collaborate and find space for non-punk noises. Taken together, this compilation serves as a valuable roadmap to how the Ex developed into what they now are while being entertaining and engrossing at the same time.
If all of this sounds really worthy and Sting-like, don't let that scare you. There is a reason NPR hasn't profiled the Ex - the music is loud, smart, and keeps a sense of humor. Go to their website and buy some of these records. Buy this compilation, buy Scrabbling..., buy Aural Guerilla, and buy 2004's brilliant double CD Turn, on which Rozemarie Keener's bowed upright bass often echoes Cora's cello. You'll wonder where you've been for the last twenty years.
Contraphonic Music, 2006
Hairshirt is approximately what the future of music sounded like in 1989. The Detroit three-piece wanders from atmospheric ambience to fairly straightforward guitar rock on this five song EP, going in a few directions from their home base of synthy new wave. On one song, "Snake Bite," singer Amir Husak sounds a bit like a Bosnian Dickie Barrett, and at times his voice gets a little Lou Reed-y, but for the most part this guy sounds like himself - gravelly and earnest, a man who purportedly learned English from Iggy Pop records. The effects-heavy guitar and aforementioned earnest singing are at the heart of these minimalist tracks, which convey the effort with which they were built. There's also a discrepancy between the dark moodiness of his voice and the buoyant major key instrumentation. According to the liner notes, this was recorded, mixed and produced in "countless bedroom studios" and the corresponding thinness of most of the tracks reflects that plural placelessness. I just wish this Lover Politician had something more to sink my teeth into, something to carry with me once its half-hour was up.
Lovitt Records, 2006
Sweltering summer night in the pits of suburban Connecticut and I'm doing what I can to stay hydrated and conscious. They're pumping air-conditioned cool through the VFW hall so the kids are uncharacteristically stay inside and watch every band. One of those bands is Virginia's Haram. This, their debut album, packages the energy and raw power evinced that night into a handy, portable disc (or record).
Thanks to impeccable production (kudos to Jim Siegel), the album sounds like the band is right there in front of you kicking ass and sweating and spitting all over you. Haram roll out a potent brew of rock not too far removed from classically indie-bred guitar-rocking acts like Drive Like Jehu or Hoover. Indeed, the DC sound seeped down I-95 to infect these Richmond and outlying area boys. You have your discordant and pulsing twin guitar attack, the raspy, shouting (though not over-the-top, kick your grandmother in the teeth screamo blabbering assault), the 4/4 rhythms that blend into off-time episodes at the drop of a Stetson hat.
"Fade Away" sums up this approach well, a more sedate, though nevertheless gripping slab of musical majesty. You can feel more than a passing nod to Sonic Youth here and elsewhere, particularly in the middle of "Out of Tune." "Plastic Hearts" reveals their roots a bit (City of Caterpillar, p.g. 99), with a more drawn-out, spaced-out guitar riff a la Godspeed You! Black Emperor. All of it reveals the band's latent penchant for a diversity of sound soon to come.
All This Time
Fat Possum Records, 2006
On their second full length, the Heartless Bastards, apart from having a catchy name, write good songs. That's what it comes down to. If a band can write a tune and sound strong and urgent performing it, live or recorded, they will succeed. Front-person, Erika Wennerstrom, is frequently compared to Janis Joplin. Although Wennerstrom and her band are attempting something completely different, the comparison seems valid. They do have obvious similarities, but overall the tie between the two is overplayed. As a three piece combo, the band explores a number of different rock landscapes. "Brazen" has amid tempo drum shuffle that stands out from the rest. But with the good is the bad and the following track sports some questionable vocal gymnastics. Again Wennerstrom does have an interesting voice, but the songs still fall flat lyrically. The final track leaves off on a dragged out downer. The band has a lot to say, so at least it's genuine. Competent and almost compelling.
No Way Records, 2006
I love it when records like this come out of nowhere. Honor Role was a three-piece first wave hardcore band from Richmond, Virginia. No Way Records has done fans of this genre a great service by committing the band's side of their '82 split cassette with Graven Image to wax. Nine songs in 7 minutes will clue you in, but I'll add early Gang Green and Necros as reference points. Snotty vocals that could've come from a 12 year-old and totally bare bones production add to the authentic '82 vibe - fast as fuck and furious. Lyrics are simple yet appropriate - change one line of this: "Fighting for the Land of The Free/Would President Reagan Die For ME?" and it would be relevant right now. A raging release.
Capture & Release
Hydra Head Records, 2005
While it seems fair to apply the term "metal" loosely to Khanate's dark, crushing, negative, and cold sound, this isn't like the stuff you listened to in high school. While other metal bands sing about or present an image of evil, Khanate seems a bit closer to an actual incarnation of evil: a lumbering, slavering, depraved beast bent on your destruction.
This is a prime example of the genre known as "doom metal," which sounds kind of like the Melvins, only 800 times slower. The beat comes about once a minute. The riffs, if you can even call them that, are so stretched out you'll never recognize them unless you hold your finger on the fast-forward button. The bass is a pool of oily sludge in which you'd be hard-pressed to distinguish any specific notes.
Oh, and the lyrics. Here is another attribute that distinguishes this music from the metal of bygone days. The lyrics are full of not just hatred of others but self-hatred, acknowledging that attempts to love only result in more and stronger hate: "I release, and everything you are is on the ground. You are blood, that's all."
My favorite of the two tracks here (yes, there are only two tracks, but together they consume all of 43 minutes) is the second, "Release." It seems to breathe a bit more than the first. It has some quiet and almost reflective portions. It inhales and exhales and slobbers all over itself and you.
This band includes members of Burning Witch, Atomsmasher, Sun O))), Blind Idiot God, and more. If you like any of those bands, or if for whatever reason you're looking for a blast of intense negativity to darken your day, this is your album.
Lair of the Minotaur
The Ultimate Destroyer
Southern Lord, 2006
Three guys see the need for a Greek mythology-based metal band and decide that they themselves are up to the challenge. This is pure metal with all the standard trappings, coming off like a mixture of Celtic Frost and Black Sabbath but with more "modern" metal vocals. It's slow to mid tempo and punishing, with relentless riffing and a HUGE guitar sound that is loud as all get out without being transparent or slick sounding. Think midrange, man, assloads of Midrange. It also has a groovy 4/4 swagger to many of the parts, giving it a harsh 70's rock vibe much like Entombed's almighty "Wolverine Blues" LP had, making it very suitable for headbanging, beer drinking, etc. Add to all this the totally over the top lyrics (uh, how about "Athena swore revenge on Medusa/With repugnant tusks of a swine" sung without irony? Okay, a tiny bit of irony . . .) and we have the greatest straight up metal album in ages. It rocks, and it rocks fuckin' hard. Oh, and if I ever decide to get another Doberman (ed.note RIP Nikkki), I'm gonna christen him/her the "Grisly Hound of the Pit." For real.
Jamie Lidell's debut, Muddlin' Gears, was dull. Sure, it was a quality recording that was accomplished in its own right, but it offered little to set itself apart from the crowd. It was only when Lidell began infusing northern soul into his brand of IDM on his sophomore release, Multiply, that others began to take notice. For this reason, it seems silly that Warp would want to further promote the record with somewhat traditional IDM remixes of his music. Of course, the formula is fairly standard: allow the brightest stars of the genre's galaxy to remix an up-and-coming artist's work to lend him their light; however, Lidell possesses such an acute understanding of each song's shape and intent that his reinventions of his own work outshine those of super giants such as Four Tet and Luke Vibert. The mixes by other artists all feel too cluttered; they take the focus off of Lidell's incredible voice and shift it to a mess of unnecessary whirrs and bangs. Lidell's contributions, on the other hand, keep the focus on his vocals while highlighting a feature that the original didn't illuminate. Sadly, Lidell only provides three reinventions on this EP (one remix and two live tracks), which may not provide reason for fans of Lidell's to purchase this EP; however, if you've never heard Multiply, Multiply Additions could be a great starting point, one that will leave you delightfully surprised when you backtrack and pick up Multiply.
Love Equals Death
Fat Wreck Chords, 2006
Sounding at times like a mid-to-late-90s melodic skate-punk band, a la Pennywise, to AFI-meets-Alkaline Trio-esque haunting "horror punk" darkness, Love Equals Death maybe trying too hard. While they've more than proven themselves as skilled musicians, cutting time in Tsunami Bomb and Loose Change, among others, Love Equals Death can't seem to find its stride. With some semi-politically charged songs about dropping bombs to I-wear-black-eyeliner-because-I'm-so-emo-and-my-heart-aches, to fist-pumping youth anthems, the band is just too far off the map to be taken seriously. The genre changes are a little too abrasive.
Once you get through the clichéd use of dark imagery and overly ambitious swagger, there are some solid things working here, namely, the ability to write good songs, even if they abandon innovation for imitation. With all that said, Nightmerica will no doubt be the soundtrack to 13-year-old life this summer.
Ethan Miller & Kate Boverman
If All the Land Would Rise
Riot Folk, 2005
Now is a fertile time to release a protest record, and Ethan Miller and Kate Boverman have gone ahead and done just that with their first team effort, If All the Land Would Rise. With songs about everything from Christian hypocrisy to Pennsylvania Mining, racism to the WTO, this duo - partners in love and folk music - wants to make the world a better place. They don't even believe in copyrights, if that sheds any light. A number of these tracks are catchy enough, but their arrangements are often a little too simple and the lyrics fairly general. The pair is most successful at evoking an emotional response in the lovely, and tragic, "Simple Dirt," where the old idiom "the personal is political" bears out as Miller sings from the specific perspective of a lifelong farmer whose family industry, along with its history, is getting swallowed and destroyed by corporate and mechanical McAmerica. It's here and seldom elsewhere that he seems to be singing from a different part of his body than on the rest of the songs, where his singing seems to almost be smiling in its lilt, sounding like a concerted effort to sound like a cheerful peacenik even when the lyrics are rightfully angry. "Riot Folk" suggests revolution, and these folks making this album are certainly on board for the fight, but saying something more clever or something new might do more to mobilize rather than simply join the chorus.
Kill Rock Stars, 2006
Dating is learning by immersion. You learn more about someone faster than in any other day-to-day experience. The stimulus can be overwhelming - watching them, watching them watch you, watching yourself - all while sharing some of your most intimate moments. Combine the intensity of a first date with the accelerated intimacy of the internet and dating vertigo increases. You can feel like you know someone, really know someone, without ever having seen them walk, heard their voice, or followed their gestures.
The new record from Mecca Normal, the long-running duo made up of vocalist Jean Smith and guitarist David Lester, is about Smith's experiences with online dating. One my favorite qualities Mecca Normal, from a story about their "Black Wedge" tour in an early Maximum Rock 'n' Roll through today, is the degree of democracy they share and the way they use it to fill space with sparse instrumentation. On this record that is less in evidence, but the experiment in conceptual writing makes up for it. Smith's observations about online dating are funny, fascinating, and sometimes cringe-worthy.
Smith, as she comes across here, is a pretty fearless dater and puts up with dating's vagaries with an even temper. Even when reporting tedious or self-absorbed behavior amongst her suitors, she never seems pissed. Bored, irritable, and world-weary, sure, but not pissed and it's that generosity that makes her dispatches from the dating front so entertaining. She doesn't seem like she's putting up walls with her wariness in "Attraction is Ephemeral." When she's calling out the callous behavior behind internet personas on "I'll Call You," she's making her point without victimology. And when, on the album's 13-minute centerpiece "Fallen Skier," she sketches a perpetual student and ski bum who's not exactly a fine prospect, she does so without malice - even if you end up hating the guy around minute six.
Smith's voice is a distinctive instrument. It's powerful without belting and sounds unstudied and DIY. I've always found it beautiful, but not sexy. That lack of sexiness is used to great effect here as it lends a conversational quality to even the most involved melodies and reminds you that you're hearing a story being told, not watching one unfold. David Lester's guitar playing is always fascinating - Cocteau Twins, Television, punk power chords - even when the songs seem like background music for the lyrics, as they sometimes do here.
With Jean Smith's skills as a writer, she could easily dash off a dating book a la He's Just Not That Into You and few people could bring off a line like "he stretched the condom like he was making a balloon animal." The Observer reminds us that while dating is a fascinating experience, it isn't all interesting conversations with interesting people. But it can make for great (and sometimes embarrassing) stories born of patience, perseverance, and faith in other people.
Plaid and Bob Jaroc
Warp Records, 2006
Probably the majority of music listeners don't recall the hip-hop group Organized Konfusion, which featured Pharoh Monch. But that point is a moot, for a moment at-least, considering that their music doesn't figure into the description of this music. Greedy Baby is a collaboration between the electronic duo Plaid (Ed Handley, Andy Turner) and filmmaker Bob Jaroc. The name of that group though, Organized Konfusion, does aptly and pretty easily describe the music that is on here. At one moment the ambient noises that are given all of the room on a track will be paired with a drum beat and eventually some melodic figure that is intentionally a bit sloppy or behind the beat. The album as music alone is still Plaid, so it's gonna be what their music has been in the past. But as a whole, the entertainment dollar could go no further. As long as the album is, the DVD is longer with a good many extra short films that Plaid and Jaroc created together. Not standard viewing or listening, but without a question interesting in a twisted-electro-David Lynch-film-score manner.
The Sufferer and The Witness
The label that has given us Nelly Furtado, Enrique Eglasias and Ashley Simpson now graces the masses with the new Rise Against album. Fourth overall for the band and second for a major label, the sound of the band has maintained a basic sense of cohesion over its career. These two latest albums though have one particular aspect that is about as separate from hardcore as any other. Strings. On 2004's "Siren Song of Counter Culture", one track utilized these instruments and on their latest release, the song "Roadside" gets the treatment. Probably, the band genuinely wanted to do this track, or at least some of them, however, it does seem a bit out of place. Is this crass commercialization? Who really knows? And furthermore, who really cares? The rest of this slab is mid to fast tempo punk that some folks like to call melodic hardcore. The only problem with that is that phrase basically means the same thing as pop-punk does. So, if you're in the market for twelve punk tracks that don't matter and a silly ass vocal, guitar and string arrangement, go consumerize this one, or just go buy "Milo Goes to College".
K7 Records, 2006
Imagine electronica with a bluesy and country feel to them, mostly lyrically though. The music has its club music moments and even big band-ish or ragtime tunes as well. The variety on this CD is actually what makes this an interesting album. This CD release, however, is also a good listen out of the dancefloor, meaning it's not annoying to listen to in your stereo at home, like some dance-based music. The music is very simplistic but it doesn't get boring at all with all the singing. Dani's voice is very soulful though not original. I'd say it's just average. Perhaps most electronica fans is familiar with her work with Matthew Herbert. Slappers may even fall into the singer/songwriter category, which is quite unheard of in this form of music. As with most K7 Records releases, it is always worth checking out and hear new music. I never expected to hear something like this.
I've listened to Ska Cubano's Ay Caramba! more times than I'd like to admit. On the surface, it seemed like a good album: the musicians are talented, and their grasp of the myriad of genres they tackle is tight. I kept returning to the CD because there was something off about it, something that I couldn't quite place. Natty Bo's singing and lyrics are somewhat embarrassing, but I knew it wasn't that alone: he keeps his contributions to a minimum, allowing his much more skilled Cuban counterpart Beny Billy to carry most of the singing load. It finally came to me, as I sighed while starting the disc for the sixth or seventh time in a row: this album is boring. It was hard for me to find something wrong with the CD because, technically, there's not that much wrong with it. The problem is that there's nothing spectacular about it, either. The group often lacks the ability to create catchy instrumental melodies, and the warmth in Beny Billy's voice isn't enough to make this a hot album on its own. There are a handful of tracks that stand out, such as the percussion-centric "Bobine," or the dizzying "No Me Desesperes," but these tracks become lost amid the mediocrity. This is an album that was created by extreme enthusiasts of Latino music and, in doing so, they created an album strictly for extreme enthusiasts of Latino music. If rumba, salsa, and cumbia aren't musics over which you obsess, this disc will not be one over which you obsess, either.
Southern Culture on the Skids
Doublewide and Live
Yep Roc Record 2006
Break open the sour mash and beer, fire up that there BBQ, throw them catfish on the skillet. It's Southern Culture on the Skids (SCOTS).
This N.C. based trio have been plugging away at their swamp trash garage blues surf rockabilly thing for 20 years so far. But anyone that sounds this enthusiastic a couple of decades later is okay by me. In fact anyone who writes a song paying tribute to big hair and the '69 El Camino is also fairly high up there.
Their music is almost beyond criticism because it isn't there for people to mull over. I could call it kitsch and retro and say that it's somewhere between the B52's and The Cramps but that'd miss the point, which is to dance instead of ponder. SCOTS's sound is possessed by the spirit of somewhere around 1960: the soundtrack to one of those parties where the details are a little hazy and you didn't catch the name of the person you woke up with. In fact, this live recording smells of spilt beer, wheezy air conditioning and dingy juke joints and the only way I can really describe it is by making up words. Swamp-zuberant! Riff-eriffic! Reverb-erendous! The band whips up a hurricane of sound that would have Michael Brown hiding under his desk and there are more hooks in most songs than in a yellow mouth fisherman's tackle box. If this music doesn't raise a smile and a tapping foot then you are probably dead and if Jack Rabbit Slim's was holding a crawfish boil then SCOTS would be the house band.
The album probably works best as a souvenir of one of the shows and an advert for the next one. In fact I suggest you look them up and go see them immediately. Better still, throw a party and book them. Twang-tastic!
Spit for Athena
Piss is Perfect
Friction Records, 2005
Once I hopped off the Greyhound in Iowa City and wandered around until I found a place called the "Hall Mall." It was an office building that had been co-opted by people who envisioned a punky, non-conformist shopping mall; the Hall Mall featured a tattoo and piercing parlor, a head shop and a zine store.
I frequently thought of the Hall Mall while listening to Spit for Athena's lively and screamy indie rock defined by introspective angst. The sound can only be described as Midwest DIY grunge, like landlocked kids renting out office spaces in an on-going attempt to create an identity and community that is not white middle-class and politically "in the center." Spit for Athena is a musically-gifted trio from Michigan, pouring out boy-pain - singer Levi Bailey croons "Sometimes I think about ending it all but mostly I just think about fucking/dairy products are hard on your digestive system" in "Rubble Yell." Even if Spit for Athena's moody grunge sound is nothing particularly new, it brought back good memories of surprise meetings with non-conforming kids scattered across the belly of this country.
The Sea, Like Lead/Belegost
Electric Human Project & Hard Travelin' Records, 2006
Somewhere in the aftermath of Mogwai's colossal, crushing introduction Young Team, scores of indie-minded musicians decided that ambient, guitar-soaked soundscapes vacillating between loud and quiet passages were worthwhile stock in rock trades. Godspeed You! Black Emperor upped the ante, and with the 21st, century came the flood of bands wielding Telecaster guitars blasted through Fender Twins and Vox amps to deafening degrees (see: Explosions in the Sky, Pelican, Mono). Singing? Who needs that? This genre thrives on mood, and nothing ruins mood more than words. This is epic music. Think Odysseus or Beowulf come to life as rock bands.
The Sea, Like Lead and Belegost share a CD to explore these tumbling, shifting waters, to slow, hair-swinging effect. It may be three songs, but that's 41 minutes and 21 seconds of music. Both bands sound a bit too similar to be sharing such quarters together. Still, they lavish upon us captivating (if somewhat daunting and attention-testing) music.
While listening to this album, I imagined myself crouched down, sweating and petrified, on a small boat sailing up that river in Apocalypse Now. The locals throw their arrows through the white, cotton-ball fog. And then we're out in the vast black night, the sky aglow with the fireworks of soldiers and rebels battling over a bridge. That bridge will be won and lost and destroyed every night. It will be rebuilt every day, only to fall once again. This album, friends, is this torrid saga's soundtrack.
The Hardest Way to Make an Easy Living
Vice Recordings 2006
After two albums Mike Skinner became England's first proper bedroom producer superstar. "Original Pirate Material" and "A Grand Don't Come for Free" were a revelation. Skinner gleefully threw urban styles together and rapped in an unfashionable Birmingham accent, turning the experience of young British males, with its beer drinking, prosaic drug taking, and shambling mating rituals, into a set of witty and catchy tunes.
This succinct third album is a good listen but a curate's egg. One the one hand he extends the simple but poignantly effective emotion of "Dry Your Eyes" into songs such as "Never Went to Church," a tribute to his late father. On the other hand . . .
It took Pink Floyd 15 years to hit "The Wall." It took Skinner about 15 months to come up with his own take on the paranoid star, for whom fame is a lonely and hollow treadmill. In "When You Wasn't Famous" he retreads "Fit but You Know It," reminiscing about crack-fuelled sex with a bimbette pop starlet, whilst complaining that trying to shag other pop stars is harder than shagging groupies. In the title song and "Prangin' Out" he complains about his manager and fears being seen as an average hung-over bloke as another conquest sleeps in the other room. This fear extends to the "toilet papers" - the tabloid press, and the fact that they might discover his sex, drug, alcohol and gambling habits.
I applaud him on his often brutal honesty, and he retains the storytelling skills and ability to drop pearls of eloquence into the chatter. But Skinner has encountered the classic problem that afflicts so many stars. They find that their previously "real" subject matter is now the "unreal" world of five star hotel rooms and free drugs. The world behind the velvet rope of the VIP area.
The Stills' sophomore record sees them moving away from the '80s influence that made their debut such a hit with the tight pants crowd. Instead, they are channeling the spirit of the super sounds of the seventies. Without Feathers contains 12 tracks of mellow, melancholy rock. It opens with "In the Beginning," which combines chugging guitars, an organ, and lyrics like "It's just never what it was in the beginning." They retain their British mope-rock influence, but it is tempered with a generous dose of sunshine and bellbottoms.
This album reminded me a little of the Arcade Fire, with its epic, ambitious songs, and intricate orchestration. However, Without Feathers is less theatrical than the Arcade Fire, less David Bowie and more Big Star. The disc is equal parts Kinks, early electric Dylan, Pink Floyd, and '90s Brit rock. The lyrics are solid throughout, capturing a sense of regret, sadness, and nostalgia, and even when they drop dubious lines like "helicopters are chasing our spirits into the sea," it's sung with such passion and sincerity that it works.
If you feel like being cheered up and bummed out at the same time, or you want indulge in some '70s worship without having to dig into your mom's Carpenters albums, give Without Feathers a spin. So does this mean Interpol's next album is going to have a lot of sitars?
-Patrick Sean Taylor
Wantage USA, 2006
Volumen hail from Missoula, Montana, and are doing their best to put their hometown on the map. Science Faction was recorded over a period of several years, and it shows in the radically varying styles on the album. The disc is all over the place, from the Blues Explosiony "Side of a Box" to the Britpop "Lush & Co." to the punk of "Orson Welles Was Right" to the heavy metal instrumentals of "Descolada" and "Dune."
With most bands, this schizophrenic lack of focus might render them listenable. Fortunately, Volumen are good enough to overcome their stylistic experimentations. The only real missteps were the instrumentals - I'm sure they were tons of fun when they were all rocking out in the studio, but for the listeners at home, not so much. Musically and lyrically the band members add a touch of humor and weirdness, but are serious enough that they don't come off as frivolous. They drop some brilliant lines like "I woke up today in my clothes/ Rips in my shoes exposing toes/ In an empty room," and, "I dunno what kind of guys you like, but maybe tonight I can be what you like?"
Science Faction is a very good album by a band doing their best to keep indie rock interesting. With a little more editing and self-control, these guys could be brilliant. Go Montana!
-Patrick Sean Taylor
First World Fever
GSL Records, 2006
Who suffers from first world fever? Can modern medicine sell us palliatives? Punk rock doesn't seek to answer such questions, just pose them. Year Future pushes a medley of issues, most exploring the meddling of the market in our personal lives. We are "buried alive for most of lives," shouts mouthpiece Sonny Kay. He quotes forefathers Fugazi, "we're not what we own." And he sums up macho-American militaristic attitude when he opines, "You'd still rather be cowboy than injun." Consider this band the injun.
Year Future whips up a potent punk roar on their debut full-length. With a few selections revamped from preceding EPs, the band explodes with a tightly wound detonation of punk fury. Yet Year Future demonstrates more than adequate musical skill and finesse. The delayed-guitar licks recall Dead Kennedys, and perhaps those progenitors of the form are a fair comparison. Both bands exhibit surgical-precision instrumentation propelled by a high-pitched singer bemoaning the fall of modern man in America. Yet Year Future embarks on its own path.
The careening and blistering "Hidden Hand" nicely introduces us to the caustic world of industrialized sickness. As with the other previously heard cuts, the song sounds fresh and reinvigorated thanks to the brand new rhythm section. "Monday" seethes with the dread and bile of facing the birth of yet another workweek.
Guitarist Rockey Crane deserves adulation for his resuscitating the tired, six-stringed form. Consult the strange effected-noises in "Rather Be Cowboy" or the arpeggio riffs of "Lord of the Rungs." The rhythm section of Chris Hathwell and Pete Lyman backs it all up with rumbling, tribal-like power. Listen to the veritable musical tempest of the disco-fied "Born into a Bruise" for evidence. This is a call to arms for our generation.