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Strings for Satellites

(Devil in the Woods; US: 6 Jun 2000)

Strings for Satellites, the title of the second album from Modesto, California band Fiver, is an elliptical phrase that has the sort of poetic ambiguity that I like in album titles. It sets up a mystery factor carried through in the band’s music, a gorgeously complicated style of rock.

Fiver’s songs have a more complex structure than your average rock band. This aspect of their music makes them somewhat reminiscent of bands like Radiohead and Built to Spill, but Fiver has their own sound which is wonderfully unique. They have this really expansive sound that helps add a real sense of mystery to their tunes. The liner notes suggest listening with headphones, and that’s not bad advice; there’s a lot to hear here.

The lyrics really add to the mystery. They can be abstract and poetic (“Strapped in and crashes tested / Matched-up in sound and shapes / Designers never rested / Bent in to fit in place”) and then describe the world in really matter-of-fact, concrete terms. The songs allude to otherworldly things like weather, technology, secrets and kisses while also telling sort-of stories about traveling, loneliness and rock and roll.

The lead singer has this really sweet, gentle voice that can turn rough when the band turns up the rock. His singing that kicks off songs like “The Devil Is Undeniably Real” sounds so beautifully alone that it’s a perfect match both for the dreamy music and the abstract but often surprisingly dark lyrics.

Nearly every song here is my favorite track. “Don’t Tell Me How to Rock, I’m From Here” is the most rocking song, what I’d pick as the single. “Mini-Bunny” has this great, low-key, repetitive quality that ideally matches the lyrical evocation of driving into the great wide open with the gas tank close to empty. Strings for Satellites ends with the majestic, Ennio Morricone-esque “Theme From Lo-Down,” a sign that this band could make brilliant film music. Really, though, they’ve already made the perfect film music: Strings for Satellites sparks great cinematic images with every note played and every poetic phrase gracefully sung.

Dave Heaton has been writing about music on a regular basis since 1993, first for unofficial college-town newspapers and DIY fanzines and now mostly on the Internet. In 2000, the same year he started writing for PopMatters, he founded the online arts magazine, still around but often in flux. He writes music reviews for the print magazine The Big Takeover. He is a music obsessive through and through. He lives in Kansas City, Missouri.

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