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PopMatters Music Short Takes
our brief reviews of new releases
10 January 2005
Savath & Savalas, Manana EP (Warp)
This follow-up to Scott Herren’s album length collaboration with Latin folk songstress Eva Muns also features her piercingly light vocals, but overall is more reminiscent of his earlier Rolls And Waves EP under the Savath alias. As such the focus is more on sonic composition as a whole than flickering backdrops for Eva’s mournfully tender vocals, and this makes for a more dynamic and vibrant listening experience (check the urgent throbbing of “Denia Viura”) than the lovely but rather stately album. Herren is still in a field all of his own when it comes to matching delicate intricacy with blunted loops and rhythms, and the chemistry between himself, his creations and Eva is still perfect, so it is a minor tragedy that their working relationship has disintegrated. Be consoled during the wait for forthcoming Piano Overlord and Prefuse 73 material (El-P/Ghostface collabo in the can!) from the maestro by these piercingly bright strands of gossamer haze that evoke delight and regret with equal strength. Quietly essential.
The Cinema Eye, Some Nerve (Sound Virus)
The Cinema Eye attempt to take the best of electro-rock with a garage sound, but it's an acquired taste to be sure. Think of a lightweight Metric and you get the idea here as "Not a Word" has lead singer Mollie Wells freaking out with mixed results. Siouxsie and her Banshees might be a fleeting comparison but "Onward, Forward" has that pre-New Wave color oozing out of it. At times it's far messier than it needs to be with "Glass Defense" having Wells seemingly singing from across the street. Groups like controller.controller and Magneta Lane are far better equipped to this brand of rock, but "Pearl" would be pleasing by its third or fourth listen. Too often though Wells and company simply try too hard too often, especially on the over-the-top "Miles Of Space" and ensuing insipid "Sleeved". The group has some assets, but too often they sound like they're trapped in a style that they can't seem to pull off with any greatness.
Various Artists, Unclassics (Environ)
It's amazing that the possibility still exists that with the right access to records and a keen ear, someone can dig up a collection of viable underground body-movers. There are just so many such compilations and DJ-cum-ethnomusicologists trying to do just that, and the odds are against them. Morgan Geist, known for his work in the neo-house duo Metro Area, compiled Unclassics, and he found a clutch of artists, American and European, that just happened to be a little of -- to some ears -- a dance music mother lode. In recent years, the term disco has shaken off much of its glittery bad name from the "death before disco" days. This collection fully embraces funky, electronic slabs of groups from 1978-1985. The gurgling dance floor motions of Purple Flash and a remix of Dance Reaction's "Disco Train" stand out among a percolating set that inspired a set of twelve-inchers of these new classics. Here's hoping Geist keeps digging.
Anders Parker, Tell It to the Dust (Baryon)
Following up his solo debut and work with Varnaline, the latter of which got Steve Earle's musical knickers in a knot, Anders Parker has some warm, earthy and downhome music to offer on this disc. Whether it's the mid-tempo and well-worn title track that lacks a guitar punch but goes on and on, Parker is onto something early. "So It Goes" is another weary tune that finds him on top of his Americana game. He manages to throw in some older waltz-rock influences on the prom-ish "Something New" that builds over time. The Tweedy-esque, orchestral "Innocents" is plodding and trying too often though. A similar blueprint fares better on "Feel The Same" which has Parker hitting some higher notes on the scale. The '60s pop-meets-Southern fried style of "Into the Sun" pales compared to the jewel on the album "Don't Worry Honey, Everything's Gonna Be Alright." Thankfully "Come on Now" is a fine pop tune, sort of like The Handsome Family if they went mainstream.
Denim & Diamonds, Street Medics Unite! (Bloodlink)
I'm not sure what's worse: simplistic disco punk or simplistic politics. On their debut Street Medics Unite!, Denim & Diamonds have managed to combine both into one cringe-inducing EP. When I first spun the CD, the ridiculously simple, uninventive and forgettable synth driven pop had me struggling to get through the entire disc. However, opening the liner notes and reading the scrawled, barely legible lyrics turned me off even more. Throughout the lyrics there is an anti-consumerist and anti-imperalist bent, but it is so ill-presented that it is hardly effective. It's hard to get past the tunnel vision of songs like "Disneyland in Iraq" or "Relics of a T.V. Past". It's difficult to present politically charged punk rock intelligently, but it can be done. However, Denim & Diamonds have yet to figure out how to deliver their message in manner that isn't didactic. It certainly doesn't help that the music itself is so uninteresting. A listen to Street Medics Unite! shows that perhaps Denim & Diamonds' political observations would be better served in essay format.
Reverend Glasseye, Happy End and Begin (Music for Cats)
Picture this: You've got Tom Waits walking along a long, dark country road. As he walks up to a set of railroad tracks, he spots Bright Eyes' Conor Oberst lying in the tracks, waiting for the inevitable train. Oberst takes the opportunity that this unique meeting of the minds provides and gives Waits a vocal lesson. An hour later, Waits starts walking once again, the light and whistle of an oncoming train providing the backdrop. Not too long after, he happens to cross paths with a despondent group of travelers, once part of a nineteenth century medicine show, now without a leader as the Master Curator died that very day of an opium overdose. Waits, new jittery vocal style in tow, volunteers to take over, and Reverend Glasseye is born. All right, so the seven-member Reverend Glasseye isn't actually fronted by Tom Waits, but you get the picture -- What we've got here is a band whose roots lie in mystical carnival vaudeville, and that band's most recent EP Happy End and Begin features songs that could just as easily be dominated by banjo as pipe organ. Song titles like "Spook the Turk's Nag" and "Sins of Portsmouth" give the listener some idea of what to expect, but nothing can prepare anyone for the live behemoth that is "Three Ton Chain", a song that weighs at least as much as its name, almost-but-not-quite collapsing under the weight of distorted guitars, horns, military drums, and the faux-operatics of Adam Glasseye himself. The care that went into these compositions is obvious, though whether you'll enjoy listening to them is not; admittedly, that's part of their charm.
The Jane Anchor, Second Wave (Magnetic)
Philadelphia's, the Jane Anchor play shimmering power-pop grounded in the intensely personal songwriting of Kara Lafty. The Jane Anchor feature three members of Ike (including singer/songwriter John Faye) and was produced by their fourth, Cliff Hillis. It's no surprise then that album bares some similarities to Ike's last effort, Parallel Universe. However, Second Wave isn't by any means a second-rate knockoff. Lafty's music has its own honest voice that is nothing if not sincere; it is bold and self-confident even at its most reflective. During songs like the acoustic ballad "Summer" and the guitar-soaked opener "Crawl," Lafty and the band highlight each other's strengths: Lafty's voice and the band's clean-cut rocking, respectively. Although at times, it feels as though Lafty may be pushing a little too hard to force the emotion, songs like "Give me a Reason" and "Cast Down" show the potential of this band as a cohesive unit.
Visqueen, Sunshine on Dateland (BlueDisguise)
If there's one thing Visqueen's music does best, it reminds us of just how fun American indie rock was a decade ago. The mid-1990s ruled, when it came to fun indie guitar rock...remember Sugar, Magnapop, Fuzzy, Archers of Loaf, Blake Babies, Velocity Girl? Led by singer/guitarist Rachel Flotard, arguably the best female singer in indie rock today, and featuring bassist Kim Warnick (from another great band from way back when, The Fastbacks), the Seattle trio specialize in the kind of fun, melodic rock that evokes a truly happy era in college music. Their second album, Sunset on Dateland, continues where their 2003 debut left off, delivering a half-hour's worth of catchy powerpop, whose sole purpose is to leave you with a smile on your face. Songs such as "Crush on Radio", "Look Alive", and "Friends in Love" are good enough to warrant mainstream attention, but it's the gorgeous "Blue" that steals the show, as Flotard croons in that soulful voice of hers, with the slightest hint of a rasp, then suddenly erupting into a soaring chorus that dares to match the vocal power of fellow Seattle native Ann Wilson. The entire album is completely unpretentious, and devoid of any frills or slick production, but with an instrument as powerful and seductive as Ms. Flotard's voice, that's all a band really needs. Yet another quality album from one of rock's most underrated acts.
DJ Irene, Rockstar (Moist Music)
DJ Irene's been around long enough to have become the top-selling female DJ in the States. That's none too shabby at all in yet another profession mostly dominated by men. Her latest disc, Rockstar focuses on harder rock. Not only in the beats, but in the samples and track selection itself. Irene herself kicks off the whole affair with "Let's Rock 'N' Roll", which is actually a bit diluted with its guitar riff sample played through a keyboard, but the middle section of the tune opens up nicely with a cooler riff and a fat bottom that connects directly with the head and neck to cause the good old rhythmic bob. Other highlights include George C.'s take on the old fave "Sex On Wheels", Double Unit's "Size Doesn't Matter", Bryan Cox's "Crime Pays", and Airscape's "Sosei". There are 28 tracks in all, making this a satisfyingly long mix that clocks in at nearly 70 minutes. Irene's got the skills to keep things cooking for that long, so Rockstar should please old fans and bring in a whole bunch of new ones as well.
Big D and the Kids Table, How It Goes (Springman)
Memo to the guys in Boston punk-ska enthusiasts Big D and the Kids Table: I don't care how much fun you're having in the studio, 20 songs stretching over 76 minutes is too damn long for an album. Why not spread the punk guitar and ska horn attack over two albums? This ADHD-addled society can't take it all in one sitting. It's a shame too, because there are plenty of great characters populating How It Goes, BDATKT's sophomore LP -- the bewildered guy who narrates "My Girlfriend's on Drugs", the struggling musician with a chip on his shoulder toward the Paris Hiltons of the world on "Lax" ("Your allowance exceeds my rent," snarls lead singer Dave McWane, before unleashing a barrage of f-bombs worthy of a longshoreman's production of The Big Lebowski), the German DJ whose coda ends "Cutshow" -- but who has time to meet them all? (Yes, I'm the jerk who chastises a band for their fecundity.) Howsabout this for a solution? A two-disc set, one set punk ("New Nail Bed", "Girls Against Drunk Bitches", "You're Me Now"), the other ska ("The Sounds of Allston Village", "Bender", "(We All Have to) Burn Something") and if so inclined, a listener could put both discs in their CD changer. Just a thought. There's no such thing as too much of a good thing, but a little moderation never killed anyone, either. Recommended for fans of fellow Bostonians Mighty Mighty Bosstones and Dropkick Murphys.
The Wowz, Long Grain Rights (RiYL)
A street corner band making anything but street corner sounds. Oh sure, that rumpled charm is in there, but then so are some damn fine polished melodies and playing. The Wowz are doing The Beatles doing modern rock on the street. There's a slight Camper Van Beethoven bent to the proceedings as well, which never hurts, especially when you can pull it off. At any rate, be sure to check out such fine tunes as "Birds Fly High", "Nothin' Would Be Better", and the bizarre "(646)". My only complaint: the production at times sounds like this album was copied from not-so perfect mp3 files. Some of the tunes here have that "washed out" floppy sound that mp3s can sometimes get when they're not ripped at a good rate. Nevertheless, Long Grain Rights is a lot of fun and a definite keeper.
Dan Friel, Sunburn (Velocirecords)
Parts & Labor's Dan Friel has a new EP that is just as experimental, envelop-pushing and challenging as other releases. The Casio chameleon starts off with "Deadbatteries" that has techno, industrial and some rock elements mish-mashed into some bizarre yet inviting melody. "Greenlights" keeps this frenetic pace going. It's as if Friel has plugged into something Dr. Benson Honeydew might have created with Beaker around. The backbeat is the only constant as the keyboard goes into overtime. Friel also used walkie talkie on this EP to give it more effect. One of the more engaging rock tunes is "Death" which sounds like a cross between Mogwai and Primal Scream. "Tractorcalls" has a lot of rambling guitar bits in it but comes off like a My Bloody Valentine home demo. Friel likes to rock though, albeit in a quirky fashion judging by "7sisters", a deliberately brooding tune that gets to your hips quickly. Wrapping up the 20-minute teaser is "Quitting". Delightfully odd!
Lightnin' Hopkins, Lightnin's Boogie (Just a Memory)
Blues albums have experienced a renewed popularity over the past two years, with a variety of box sets, reissues and compilations hitting the marketplace. Quite a few have lacked originality and/or historical importance, thus the commercial waters are muddied with numerous contenders and pretenders. The release of Lightnin's Boogie however, adds a tremendous live show to the multitude of available blues offerings. Recorded in 1977 at Montreal's Rising Sun Celebrity Jazz Club, the baker's dozen tracks showcase Hopkins smoldering away in wonderfully intimate confines. Playing a mixed set of originals and covers, the Texas bluesman evokes memories of everyone from Muddy Waters to Hound Dog Taylor before an appreciative crowd. Although Hopkins may rate a notch below the top tier of blues heavyweights in the eyes of many, the Rising Sun performance is a solid compliment to his legacy. Even more so, it is a welcome addition to any blues fans library as it provides an album of fresh material to be enjoyed long into the future.
The Youngs, The Youngs (Web of Mimicry)
Art school rock. It rarely works. I'm not sure if The Youngs' take on it works or not. Some of this stuff, like "The Last Migration", sounds like the worst coffeehouse piffle you'd never want to hear, whereas other songs like "Breakdown" sounds like minimalist Eno filtered through Sparks. In the end, it all sounds very collegiate, sometimes mixing Doors-like doom organ with Chris Isaak reverb guitar ("Cold Wind"), and other times it gets dangerously close to sounding like Paula Cole's annoying "I Don't Want To Wait" (the chorus to "Killing of the King"). But the lyrics are always well-read, making sure that you the listener don't actually lump The Youngs into such categories. Too bad for them that it's all so transparent, anyway. In other words, don't bother.
.: posted by Editor 4:10 PM