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PopMatters Music Short Takes
our brief reviews of new releases
16 June 2006
Recyclone & soso, Stagnation and Woe (Clothes Horse)
soso, the idiosyncratically-capital-letter-averse beatsmith behind Canada's fiercely independent Clothes Horse Records, makes shimmering, gorgeous, and unbelievably beautiful beats. His are the perfect piano chords behind the best work of artists from the charismatically-nerdy Epic to, well, soso himself, clear and clean and poetic like the stark black-and-white album art. Recyclone, on the other hand, is a dark whirl of an MC. He spits tumbly verses of flowing apocalyptica, dark visions and pain: "Mechanism of mentality creates car smashing demonology and orgiastic crowbar slavery," the disc begins, adding later on within the first track, "Homeless kittens tossed to the gutter like bent bobby pins and used Q-tips / ...Plastic finger nails, crunched up empty cigarette packages". How, then, do these two styles work when put together? The answer, surprisingly, is such: entirely perfectly. Recyclone's nimble abstractions of urban collapse fit soso's production here to a tee, especially when soso switches up his usual style by mixing in elements of subtly chaotic machinery noise in the background. The percussive sound effects are never enough to quite mar the beauty of the beat, but they add a darker feeling that complements Recyclone's lyrics well. Together, the two artists build and sustain a pitch-perfect mood of strikingly bleak, utter hopelessness, a mood that would probably wear thin if the album didn't end after only seven tracks. Album-closer "The Introduction" blazes its way out on a wonderfully different note, Recyclone's voice shifting and glowing with emotion as soso's beat explodes with new, ominous energy and MC after dope abstract MC shows up to drop a verse. The aptly-named Stagnation and Woe may be short, but it's a masterfully-executed, brilliant mood piece of a short album: worth every red-eyed, sleepless cent.
"Gearbox Therapy": [MP3]
"Episodes of Constant Torture": [MP3]
Spy, Spy (Deathray)
Spy work hard to create an underground mystique: their self-titled debut album (recorded by Steve Albini, natch) is available only on white vinyl or by free download, and the band's press release really pushes phrases such as the Spy's "somewhat mysterious mien." It all seems like a cynical cross between those fake-indie labels used to build hipster cred in the 1990s and the more sophisticated viral marketing of today, but for a few songs it works: "Blame the Fakers" busts out of the gates like everything the Strokes were supposed to be, with garagey guitar attitude and a singer pretending to be bored while sarcastically mentioning his wounded heart, and "Underground" explodes like Depeche Mode filtered through Fugazi, all glam and grit and pop grandeur. Alas, Spy takes a quick turn for the worse, with a series of bland midtempo songs closer to Hoobastank ballads. On "Break My Mind" the band sounds too preoccupied wondering what its stilted guitar lines will sound like shooting for the arena rafters to bother writing an actual song, and by the time singer Chad Etchison declares "the end is nigh" soon thereafter, one could only wish it were so. Things rebound near the actual end with some tracks that recapture the verve and momentum of the opening duo, but Spy ultimately remains an inauspicious debut; fortunately for the band, their capacity for blandness bodes well for their presumed plan to conquer the world after it wins its indie scene points.
Entire album, free download: [MP3]
Rock / Indie
Various Artists, South Beach Sounds: Miami Music Week Vol. 1 (Immergent)
This odd CD/DVD compilation seeks to capture the vibe of Miami's annual Winter Conference, a weekend-long debauchery of the dence music industry, but feels more like a schwag-bag promo disc. The DVD side is laughable, an amateur documentary of girls dancing outside in bikinis and leading questions of big-name DJs as to why Miami and the conference are so great. And then there's the music: the nine tracks on the CD side include three artists -– Murk, Infusion, and Pete Tong -– with two tracks apiece. So, no points for creativity in the mix; and the songs themselves are on the whole forgettable, a mix of at best not-very-progressive house, with throwback trance elements and a commercial sheen. At worst, we get Tong's plodding "Ka Da Ta", a bad chillout groove. The only things worth a listen are the two tracks by Australian dance act Infusion (both of which are included on the UK version of the band's latest release, Six Feet Above Yesterday). "Daylight Hours" opens in tinkling reverie, recalling the group's Phrases & Numbers days, before morphing into an Australian-accented, continually shifting chant with a jittery undercurrent of dirty electro. And "Natural" is a straight-up dance-rock anthem. Apart from these, just wait for this one to turn up in the one dollar bin.
Ellery, Lying Awake (Virt)
Husband and wife whose surname, oddly enough, is not Ellery. It's Golden, as in Tasha and Justin. And for three albums and many tours, they've been delivering many golden musical moments. Using Tasha's fragile but still solid vocals as the centerpiece for near pristine adult contemporary pop like "Anna" and the deliberate piano panache of "Be Like This" with the drums way off in the distance, letting the guitars seize the musical controls that brings to mind 10,000 Maniacs at the top of their game. Meanwhile, "Song For Lovers" has a subtle alt.country undercurrent that keeps it simple and folksy. Doing what they do best, and doing it better than a lot, makes even the percussion-driven tunes that branch out like "Long Coat On" work almost too smoothly. Only during the melodramatic ditties such as "The Simple Things" and "Some Lovely Story" does it get rather slick, polished and sterile. But for some reason, Ellery returns to form with "Know Better Now" that could've been found on any recent Emmylou Harris album.
multiple songs: [MySpace]
Pop / Acoustic / Folk
.: posted by Editor 4:02 AM