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Teargas & Plateglass, Teargas & Plateglass (:Run Recordings/Waxploitation)
Mysterious, reclusive electronic duo Teargas & Plateglass first gained some recognition for dark, dubby remixes of acts like 311 and (International) Noise Conspiracy. T&P, who don't reveal their identity or much else about themselves, say that they don't really know what they're doing. Unfortunately, it shows on their self-titled debut album: 14 tracks and 79 minutes that start off interestingly enough but never progress to the land of relevance. T&P have a facility for making heavy beats, but they are repeatedly, frustratingly squandered on each track. T&P layers every beat with constant, droning keyboards that are intended to sound moody and haunting but end up smothering any sense of dynamism or progress in the music. Teargas & Plateglass calls itself an "illbient anarchist collective", and it seems from the album art and song titles ("911" and "The Fury of an Aroused Spectator", to name just two) that T&P wants to be political, to inspire some anger and action, but this music only makes me want to smash the CD.
Various Artists, Metaphysics for Beginners (Redder)
I've never quite understood the indie record label comp. Unless it comes free with a purchase of another CD, I've never been one to even bother checking these out because there is a good chance I'm not going to like most of what is on it. Rare are the record labels these days with a cohesive vision and roster that is impressive across the board and even rarer are compilations from those labels. What makes Metaphysics for Beginners even more confounding is that most of the artists on this 18-track sampler aren't even on Redder Records. Made up of mostly friends and artists the label admires, the compilation is more of a mix-tape than anything else; unfortunately, it's one that I won't be listening to too often. As is the case with most of these thrown-together compilations there are only a handful of tracks that stick out. Zykos' "Kodiak (Appogee Remix)" is a wonderful hybrid of rock and electronica that evokes the Notwist at their best; a pre-Postal Service Jimmy Tamborello offers up "Rewind (Remix)" by Figurine; and the real diamond in the rough is Satellite Grooves' "Anchor", proof that they should soon be offering Tamborello and Ben Gibbard a run for their money. Notice that the standouts are the more electronic driven numbers. While indie rockers the Detachment Kit, Sufjan Stevens, From Monument to Masses and Saturday Looks Good to Me all offer up tracks, none are particularly memorable. If you like the bands on this disc you probably already own this; otherwise I encourage people to check out the bands I just mentioned on their own.
Hello Goodbye, Heart Attack (Racing Junior)
If Volume One of Kill Bill had been set in Sweden instead of Japan, the house band at that film's climatic finale would have been Hello Goodbye instead of the 126.96.36.199s. Hello Goodbye's emulation of minimalist '50s rock is in full swing on Heart Attack, a crash course in perky pop when it was played by slick-haired Daddy-Os in tight leather jackets. The band's economical lineup (electric guitar, drum kit restricted to snare and ride cymbal, and Lisa Lundkvist's pixyish vocals), while a perfect compliment to its uncomplicated catalog, lacks a solid backbone even for the album's brief runtime (the disc's 14 songs clock in at a mere 32 minutes). Heart Attack churns away with plenty of fun, whether it's the Velvet Underground pulse of "Summer Warmth", the cartoonish squealing in "Black Kneehighs" (Lundkvist's helium voice makes Gwen Stefani sound like Nico), the Stonesy crunch of "Ode to Betty", or the subtle noir of Townes Van Zandt's "Highway Kind". While no doubt a great choice for the soundtrack to your next 1950s theme party, or a funky addition to an eccentric mix tape, Hello Goodbye is nothing more than good kitschy fun.
The Umbrella Sequence, The Disappearing Line/Athena EP (Ohev)
What strikes one on hearing this debut EP, after how staggeringly similar Ryan Rupprecht can sound to Thom Yorke, is that here is a young band who have pulled off an astoundingly comprehensive musical analysis (and emulation) of the most resentfully wayward "mainstream" group on the planet, whilst still adding their own, softening touch to it (shades of The Weakerthans-esque emo, I feel). Two of the of the five tracks weigh in at a very prog six-plus minutes, and the dilution of focus means the songs fail to really grab one's attention, but this is still exceedingly accomplished and the album proper tightens things up nicely. Best of all (and not present on the album) is the band's Riot Robot remix of "The Disappearing Line", its pared-down crunch providing a fistful of the needed immediacy, evoking some Radiohead-mimicked Warp artists whilst giving any emo kid trying to dance a broken ankle.
Otep, House of Secrets (Capitol)
Otep Shamaya has a lot to get off her chest. She hates her life, she hates her government, she hates her upbringing, she hates, hates, hates. There's never anything wrong with such resentment, especially in the metal genre, which often feeds off negative energy, but if the music doesn't hold up its end of the bargain, the results are often catastrophic. "I speak in verses, prophecies and curses," claims Otep as she leads her band, conveniently named Otep (not to be confused with Swedish metal masters Opeth), on their second album, House of Secrets. The lady, whose notoriety as being a rather, erm, difficult artist to work with is exemplified by the constantly rotating lineup in her band; she's only two albums in, yet Otep is already going through band members at a rate prodigious enough to impress Mark E. Smith. Unfortunately, not even the presence of gifted Slipknot drummer Joey Jordison can save this exercise in nu-metal cliches, as the entire album is a shameless Slipknot clone, and nothing more, with none of the vocal melodies that separate Slipknot from the rest of the pack. As for Otep's much-vaunted lyrical talents, she's far from articulate; the anti-Bush rant "Warhead" is mildly impressive, but once you hear her screaming, "I HATE MY LIFE!" over and over, you just tune her out like you do to a caterwauling child. Maggots will get a bit of a charge out of it, but for the rest of us, House of Secrets is merely a tale of sound and fury, signifying zilch. The only thing Otep does is remind you of how much better Opeth is.
Donavon Frankenreiter, Donavon Frankenreiter (Brushfire/Universal)
Donavon Frankenreiter is standing on a beach as the sun sets on the album cover. So, you might think you're either in for a Beach Boys sappy pop run through or something that is more soulful and mellow in the vein of John Mayer and other current singer-songwriters. His self-titled album kicks off with the smooth and polished "It Don't Matter", recalling Don Henley at times in his early solo career. The pop studio perfection isn't there thankfully as this sounds quite organic. "Free", which features a co-writing credit and appearance by Jack Johnson, is a cozy little ditty that sounds quite retro but extremely inviting in a '60s pop vibe a la Mungo Jerry's "In the Summertime". Frankenreiter slows things down and dims the lights on the bland "On My Mind", a track done now 124,931 times before. But who's counting.... Thankfully he can rock out acoustically on the infectious "Our Love" and the slower, mid-tempo pop funk he creates with G. Love (minus his Special Sauce) on "What'cha Know About" and later alone on "Heading Home". Other tunes go down a slower road with less the impressive results, including the patio pop by numbers creation "Bend in the Road". It sounds as if he's gone down the same mellow path too often though, although it's very difficult to find fault with the quality of "Day Dreamer". "Make You Mine" is the sleeper on the album -- another track that has just the right feel for the right moment.
Big Breakfast, Stripper Music (Catamount)
It's anyone's guess where Big Breakfast frontman Peter Joly came up with the title Stripper Music for his band's latest offering; I can't speak for the masses, but well-crafted character studies of grocery baggers and "welfare abusers" aren't the most conducive to pole dancing. Nevertheless, Stripper Music has plenty to offer. The horn-soaked "Sangria" calls to mind Jimmy Buffett; an amiable banjo and harmonica offsets the vitriol spewed in the opener, "I'm Just From Buffalo" ("You're a healthy 40-year-old mother of none / Food stamp user / Welfare abuser / Two-time suicide failure case / Three's a charm, so keep the faith / You're a trash-talking, backwater klansman's daughter / Velvet Elvis hangs on your wall," sings Joly in a sucker-punch delivery that makes you forget how mean-spirited/tongue-in-cheek the song is.). The goofy "Renee's Song" marries a swingin' horn section to silly lines like "She's doesn't like her own last name" in conjuring up a picture of the woman Joly is crazy about. Meanwhile, "Winner and Losers (Baby Blue)" is as close as the band gets to jazzy/sultry; most of the album is bright, horn-inflected country rock. If none of that sways you, then at least revel in 2004's best musical suggestion to date, from "Everybody Should Shut Up": "Maybe for one year / Everybody should shut up / And get caught up on love."
Daisycutter, Daisycutter (self-released)
The BLU-82 bomb, a.k.a. M.O.A.B. (Mother of All Bombs), a.k.a. the daisy cutter, is the largest conventional ordinance in use today. Originally used to create an instant landing area for helicopters in the Vietnamese jungle, it came back into vogue in Afghanistan when it was used at Tora Bora to frighten enemy combatants into surrendering. Deafening as it was, it proved a smashing success. To name your band after such a bomb suggests a certain mindset that Daisycutter at least partially lives up to. A furious assault of noisy guitars, drums, and hip-hop vocals, Daisycutter initially comes across like a lower-budget Limp Bizkit, but a closer inspection reveals that a more accurate (and infinitely more flattering) comparison would be to a group like Faith No More. Though Fred Durst and company may have made ruined rap-metal for the majority of the world, the remaining minority should find Daisycutter's music to be well-crafted and smartly played while remaining aggressive enough to satisfy the Neanderthal within us all.
Gift Culture, Temple at Dawn (Artificial Music Machine)
The press sheet for Temple at Dawn tells you that Gift Culture main man Michael Hale wants to "evoke sonic textures from... DSP algorithms... using such techniques as granular synthesis, spectral synthesis, FFT/IFFT based spectral morphing and interpolation", then goes on to claim that the album "transcends the cold sterility of stereotypical computer music". Those who don't see the contradiction inherent in those statements might enjoy Temple at Dawn, but the best bet is that even they will find Hale's plodding new age compositions less than inviting. The ten tracks here have beats, but, aside from a hint of drum & bass at the album's close, they're not techno. You realize that this is because, after hearing sounds like these -- phased synthesizer swoops, clattering drum machines -- so many times before, they're just not interesting any more. For all the fancy terminology, Temple at Dawn doesn't do much that a 15-year-old Tangerine Dream album couldn't do better.
Tamas Wells, A Mark on the Pane (Popboomerang)
Tamas Wells come from the brittle but brilliant pop school of Grapes Of Wrath and Simon and Garfunkel, though not necessarily in that order. The sweet and whispering harmonies found on "When We Do Fail Abigail" you're swept back into an early sixties folk sound that is timeless. Dreamy almost to a fault with strong and at times highbrow pop sensibilities, the vocals of Tamas Wells and his band mates are almost tear-inducing. Ditto for the rich and uplifting organ meets acoustic guitar style on "Broken By the Rise", a number you almost want to crawl inside of the moment they open their mouths. It's this pattern that never ceases to captivate you, whether on "Chandeliers" or the grin-inducing "Reduced to Clear" that falls somewhere between The Finn Brothers and Alasdair Roberts. "Sad things come in threes," the line goes to start "Annalee Argyle", despite being sung with a lullaby feeling that would put an insomniac into a coma. A lone exception as far as sound harder or rougher is "If You Bring Me Augergines", but to call it harder sounding is like calling Metallica's "Nothing Else Matters" a folk tune. Sadly beautiful.
Deborah Coleman, What About Love? (Telarc)
Deborah Coleman's new album marks 10 years making albums, but music has been her life. Now finally getting the recognition she deserves for her voice and the guitar she plays, the singer only perfects and refines the blues meets soul quotient that the likes of Bonnie Raitt and Sue Foley have taken to the next level. Beginning with the sultry blues of "Bad Boy", Coleman is silky smooth but could be just as welcomed in a smoky barroom. Showing off a bit of Robert Cray, Clapton and Hendrix in her style, songs such as the cover of Delbert McClinton's "Lie No Better" and the fleshed out "Undeniable" are a bit funky but very strong. What sets this album apart from most is that there is nothing really special going on from top to bottom. But rarely has nothing special sounded so damn good and real. A cover of The Everly Brothers' "When Will I Be Loved?" is reworked into a organ-driven blues tune. Go figure! It works though, albeit rather stilted. Fortunately "The River Wild" gets down into a Bayou like groove and never gets away from it, making for a light but quite enjoyable instrumental ride. Another gem is the light pop flavor on the title track. The mid-tempo "Lookin' For a Real Love" should placate all blues aficionados. The same could be said for this fine, heartfelt album.
Brazil, A Hostage and the Meaning of Life (Fearless)
Perhaps as a tribute to the countless arena rock bands who also named themselves after countries and continents, Brazil decides to mix in a little progressive rock with its bombastic rock sound. Brazil's decision to combine the critically derided genres of emo and prog should raise a red flag, as should the eerie similarity between vocalist Jonathon Newby and Styx's Dennis DeYoung, but A Hostage and the Meaning of Life somehow manages to work as a coherent, and listenable, album despite itself. Whenever the songs become too generic, the band produces complex, and almost beautiful, instrumental breaks that, in true prog rock fashion, more than compensate for the often jumbled and nonsensical lyrics. The best example of this is the album highlight "Metropol" which opens with a triumphant keyboard line straight from the Rick Wakeman fakebook, shifts into a surreal commentary on city life and ends with a blast of "L.A. Blues" style atonal saxophone squealing. Burn the lyric sheet and what's left is a fairly impressive example of unlikely genre mixing.