No Means Yes
US release date: 12 March 2002
Safer Than Driving
by Jason Thompson
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EPs, if you please
The indie label EP release is often a joy to hear. The reason why is simple: fewer songs equal less space to record a crummy disc. Of course, this isn’t true all the time, but 2001 saw many a “must-have” CD in the EP form, such as Coco B’s Basement Songs’ Firehawks and Dirtybirds, The Exit’s Sing Four Favorites, The Record Time’s, Dream in Color, Dream in Sound, and Monster Movie’s self-titled debut to name just a few. Hopefully, 2002 will also see many an indispensable EP as well.
For the music fan that values quality over quantity, the EP is often a dream come true. A band can showcase its strengths on a handful of cuts without worrying about its sound wearing thin over the course of an entire album. Groups can also utilize the format to get their feet wet (much as Monster Movie did) before diving headlong into LP territory, to test the waters as it were. And then there’s the money factor as well; some groups just don’t have the funds to record an entire album.
The three releases here tend to cover a range from all-out greatness to the merely “good”. Just like LPs, the EP can’t be a winner every time, even if the hit to miss ratio seems a bit more in favor of the shorter format. Up first is Chicago’s Box-O-Car’s smashing In the Future . . . on Mars!, which also happens to be the debut release for the Modern Record Company. Within the four main tracks on this disc, lead singer and guitarist Skid Marks drives his band through a crash course in fun and trashy glam/power-pop rock. On “I Wanna Be a Girl”, the disc’s first number, Skid Marks declares “I wanna be a girl / But I’m just a drag” as the band (featuring Ken Sluiter on guitar and vocals, Dan Polonsky on bass, Cory Hance on guitar and vocals, and Randy Payne on drums) careens through a rather Bowie/Eno-esque (pre-Berlin days) sound. The song mines the same territory that countless glam acts, as well as such groups as Bauhaus (Remember “Boys”, the flip side to “Bela Lugosi’s Dead”?), have covered with much verve in the past. Add this track to the ever-growing pile of great plastic glam anthems.
The other three tracks here are highlighted by the kitschy “Pretty People Revolution” and the dare-to-get-it-out-of-your-head goodness of “Smothered In Kisses”. After closing with the sharp “Under Your Command”, the disc enters its “bonus tracks” section that features three live cuts recorded at Schuba’s in Chicago in March, 2001. Box-O-Car is just as great in a live setting as they are in the studio, and the whole show culminates in a cover of the Eno/Manzanera track “The True Wheel”, which captures the essence of the original as best as any group this good could in 2002. In a word, In the Future . . . on Mars! is a terrific EP to add to any eclectic music collection.
Unfortunately the same thing can’t be said for Crybaby’s No Means Yes. Though it does sport a cool sepia-toned cover shot of a classic Barbie doll gazing into a Ken doll’s eyes, it’s ultimately the music inside the packaging that counts. Too bad for this Atlanta group (who formed from various other bands such as Myssori, Lithonia Power Train, and Fifty Year Storm) that their songs fail to catch a spark. This is their fourth release, and the first one that they didn’t put out themselves.
Crybaby create the kind of moody indie rock that bands such as Tsunami used to capitalize on back in the early nineties. However, their sound doesn’t ever bother to invite the listener in, as if it was just satisfied with standing in the periphery, not caring if it got noticed or not. Vocalist and guitarist Kelly Sirmans has a competent enough voice, but it’s one of those voices that doesn’t feel comfortable within the confines of the band’s music, as it tends to push the volume envelope a little more than the instruments do. Sirmans has a kind of Sarah Machachlan creak to her delivery, though she’s far from the ingratiating melodrama of that artist. The rest of the group, featuring C.J. Bargamian on guitars, Mark Carbone on drums, and Daniel Winn on bass, meander through their songs and play them through without putting forth any real emotion.
There are five tunes here, and it’s honestly tough to pick one that’s any better than the others. The opening track, “Sick”, tends to hold a mostly calm musical base until it reaches the end, where the band lets it rip. The only problem with this is that it just sounds odd, as if the group were trying to force some action into the song. Bargamian and Sirmans favor a Cure-ish guitar sound that doesn’t really jangle, but it’s not quite clean, either. Think of the Faith album. “Sirens” tries to rock, while “Sorry” sounds like a jam band going in a directionless pattern and trying to wind down an interminable song. And while the musical softness of “If Given the Chance” could be damned good, it’s too bad that Sirman’s way-too-loud singing deep-sixes it effectively. No Means Yes isn’t bad, but it certainly isn’t the kind of thing that anyone’s bound to remember after they hear it.
That leaves the Seattle, Washington band Feed and their new release Safer Than Driving. And if you want to talk about great packaging (especially for a self-released disc), look no further than this disc. The CD’s booklet is wonderfully glossy, and features plenty of pictures depicting air travel, from the plastic meals to the in flight movies to the stewardess demonstrating proper use of the oxygen masks. But is the music any good? It is. Though the EP is basically a 50/50 affair with only four tracks, the two songs that aren’t “as good” as the other two still show off a solid and knowledgeable band.
Feed has been around for about seven years and Phil Ek did a bang up job on the production for Safer Than Driving. The band is comprised of Adam Perry on vocals and guitar, Monnix Jelinek on bass, Kevin Jones on guitar, and Adam Levasseur on drums. Together, these guys create a warm, friendly rock sound. The two great cuts here are “My Big Mouth” and “Put It Down”. Both of these feature Perry’s fine vocals, turning in subtle yet satisfying hooks that creep up on you when you aren’t looking. “Put It Down” is especially good, with the guitars raising the bar for this kind of indie rock that doesn’t specifically fall into a certain kind of categorization. If it was on a major, it would undoubtedly be labeled as “Adult Contemporary”.
The other two songs here, “In The Pillow” and “The Last Dream of the Century” are good songs, but they don’t seem to have the same kind of energy that the other songs contain. In Feed’s case, it was indeed good that they went the EP route here, as it seems that a full blown album would have probably been one big hit and miss affair. Still, Safer Than Driving is infinitely better than Crybaby’s No Means Yes, and probably a handful of more popular albums pushing up the charts as of late. Yet the one to own in this trio is definitely In the Future . . . on Mars! from Box-O-Car. The future should certainly hold much acclaim for the Windy City group.