Wherein Our Perenially Disgruntled Critic Finds Love In A Quadratic Equation
By: Clint Darling
After the last three months of sharing the misery of crawling through the stacks and piles, this deluge of unsolicited CD's that besiege Alex, it seemed time to be unrelentingly positive. What the hell do I like? What rocks?
Q AND NOT U -- "No Kill No Beep Beep" on Dischord. Great tracks -- "Kiss Distinctly American" with it's gorgeously beautiful ending reminds me of Pond's greatest moments. "We Heart Our Hive" is tense, muscular and maybe one of the greatest elliptical statements of youth since "Smells Like Teen Spirit". A distinctly East Coast cross between tough TALKING HEADS, PERE UBU and great moments of LA-style punk. I didn't know anything about these guys (well....I still don't....actually) but I like this album. It speaks of good things to come.
PINK MARTINI -- "Sympathique". Not a new release by any means but I ran across it while in Boston and was reminded of how wonderful it is as a soundtrack to a good evening. If this wasn't in your stocking for Valentine's Day you should surprise your Significant Other with a bottle of very good wine and this disc. Guaranteed action, sweet thing, gay-ron-teeed.
NATIONAL SKYLINE -- self titled. The more I listened to this way-too-short CD the more I liked it. Every track on it ended up on my Valentine's compilation not so much because they are about romantic things (which some of it seems to be) but because it is the rock and roll of romance. The music speaks of loss and longing, salvation, fulfillment and belonging. The songs are beautiful.
EARWIG -- "perfectpasttense". Another CD that I was sent recently that seems to be growing on me. It's got a Midwest sensibility like a more-rock version of BEN FOLDS FIVE but can back off to a porch song for a moment or two. This album would have been a brilliant EP which I think someone should point out to every young band. I realize it's just as expensive to put out and, hey man, we've got 74 minutes to fill here!!!! I still remember the EP from VELOCITY GIRL that made me go out and buy their not-as-good album the following year. That EP was good, though...
PJ HARVEY -- "Songs From The City, Songs From The Sea". I quit reading rock'n'roll magazines a while ago and I'm not sure what has been said about this album but do know that it's been written of extensively besides being forcibly placed at #1 on the WZLY chart! The girl has gotten laid and it seems to be agreeing with her. The solid rawk that backs up some fairly ecstatic chirping from PJ gets you tapping your feet and clapping your hands and when she tells you that she's "found a man" all you can say is "Hallelujah, sister."
SOUNDGARDEN -- "Louder Than Love". Whether it's eco-friendly sludge-rock or tongue-in-cheek smart-metal, this album was widely seen as the pinnacle of success upon its release. Little did we know what lay in wait for the Friends of Subpop Legion but this album stands as a real landmark and still sounds original all these years later. If you only know this band for "Black Hole Sun" you owe it to yourself to check out their earlier catalog.
LEO KOTTKE -- "One Guitar, No Vocal". The only album of his that comes anywhere near the all-encompassing experiences that are his live shows -- wordless stories and songs that sprawl across America and find the weird, the wild and the beautiful in every overlooked corner. A legend that we can still see regularly. Leo manages to wring an amazing amount of emotion out of his guitars and this album showcases his distinctive style. It stands up to ever level of attention from listening while cooking to headphones'n'drugs.
WILCO -- "Being There". After a week of heavy rotation at the homestead this album still floors me. Disc One is a tour de force that made me go back and reevaluate the albums by this band that I didn't care so for so much. Let's turn back to the never-ending pile of wasted dinosaur leavings that it's my mission in life to wade through:
"Blitzkrieg Over You! A Tribute To The Ramones" is certainly a great idea but the question that presents itself over and over is WHY? Each of these tributes tries to faithfully recreate a RAMONES song instead of giving them a distinctive stamp. I'd much rather have heard K.D. LANG put a real spin on "I'm Against It" than the lame attempt by SCATTERGUN. Or why not have ROY ORBISON do "The KKK Took My Baby Away" instead of....ohhhhh, wait a minute. I am clueing in a little here. It's another one of these German discs primarily loaded with really hideously bad German bands. Don't be fooled by the title, folks, this is not the Ramones you want to remember! This CD is being foisted off on America as retribution for Dresden....
"Blue Haze: Songs of Jimi Hendrix" is a mixed bag of styles and approaches and, dang, I'm smilin' to hear it! ERIC BIBB and JANNE PETERSON handle a beautifully arranged piano version of "Angel" and FRIEND'N'FELLOW take an acoustic-ish triphop approach to "Purple Haze" and it just does my heart good to hear musicians actually interpret the songs that inspired them. Some of the songs are predictable although good -- BUDDY MILES AND DOUBLE TROUBLE deliver a neo-Hendrix punchup of "The Wind Cries Mary" that is a bit of blues formula as is WALTER TROUT's version of "Hey Joe". But those cuts are redeemed when you hear TAJ MAHAL AND THE HULA BLUES BAND do a twisted-hotel-lounge version of "All Along The Watchtower."
"Right In The Nuts" says it all about this stillborn tribute to AEROSMITH. It sounds like a bunch of pissy 12-year-olds with guitars kicking their Uncle Steven right in the sac. I'm not intimately familiar with the Aerosmith oeuvre so some of the heavy metal subtleties may be lost on me but this disc suffers from a batch of artists who can't break past their own shit-metal stylings and sick need to play the damned songs just like they remember them. Pathetic. I'm considering just forwarding every tribute disc that crosses my desk directly to DAVE WALKER for a savaging that will make the ACLU apoplectic with evil glee. But you can pick this disc up at Everyday Music on Burnside real cheap later this afternoon....
I've got a couple of fond memories of "The Isle of Spight" Festival in Northern-Mid-Lower Canada. The memories had to be carefully massaged back from the damaged portion of my softdrive by a team of technicians from the Retrieval Labs in San Francisco, a painful and expensive process underwritten by my Labatt's-soaked friends at Catch And Release Records. Unfortunately I don't remember visibly seeing any of the six bands documented on this festival-titled disc so it's hard to compare my confused memories of flame and random sexual depravity with what I'm hearing here. Both THE PURITANS and THE MISTREATERS offer overamped punk with a "nice" Canadian edge. EARTHQUAKE PILLS remind me somehow of THIN WHITE ROPE being covered by THE CARS or BLONDIE. The best bits of this album are the announcements. Your slo-core friends will roll to hear Hippy Harry from the Hemp Hospice trace the conspiracy theory against our friend cannabis. Maybe worth the price of the disc if it's cheap.
GRAND THEFT AUDIO's "Blame Everyone" tries to look like THE CLASH and succeeds in sounding like.....ouch, POWERMAN5000 on a New Wave bender. If you like the sound of that let me refer you to ALIEN CRIME SYNDICATE from Seattle who do it better by a long shot. I hope it's not my computer going down but every damned song on this disc has at least a couple of places that sound like the disc is skipping but it seems to be deliberate....the blurb on the back says that these blokes were influenced by "the UK's expanding alt-metal scene" to which I say, "huh?" Sounds like raved-up pussy-metal to me. At the risk of being proven wrong I'll say that the Brits are a bunch of pommy poofters who never really learned to rock. This doesn't.
"Bedlam Ballroom" by SQUIRREL NUT ZIPPERS is....nice. Just....nice. Look, I really wanted to like this album but I keep thinking of ways that it could be better. I'm not a long-time fan of the Zippers but expected something more. What "more" I expected I can't quite put my finger on but if you stack this up against something like PINK MARTINI it comes up woefully short while mining the same turf so.....off to resale it goes despite the neat-o CD-ROM videos!
I thought I would have some pithy fun with FORREST MCDONALD's album "What's It Gonna Take?" but, despite not being a fan of the blues and despite Forrest lookin' like a soap opera extra who hasn't figured out how to button his shirt properly, I, well...I like it. It's not going to make heavy rotation but the disc beats the shit out of two-bit crap artists like JOE COCKER or current VAN MORRISON. Any one of the musicians could have been the featured artist with their name splashed across the world in lights, each earns their moment in the spotlight and from the pictures on the jacket each has waited a long time for a little light to shine on them! It's the blues and the blues done well are a good thing. Put this on while you're cooking breakfast for that new guy from the bar down the street and you'll find yourself on the table sooner or later rock'n'rolling to the backbeat and thinking how lucky you are to be you. Go get 'im.
This isn't new but I'll throw it in here anyway. "Music For Interplanetary Travel" by Portland/Eugene schizos DRIVE starts off like a long-lost TANYA DONNELLY album and although they've broken up and moved on to other things I don't think I ever got a chance to poke the corpse...let's see if it wiggles? Shall we? If you find this anywhere, don't hesitate to buy it -- the folks at (probably) NAIL will thank you for getting another copy out of the warehouse. This isn't an album that should humiliate any of the members of the band -- a little lightweight and predictable once you get used to the chord changes but good mixed-gender pop music that doesn't suck. Having been able to see Drive play a couple times around Portland I am sorry to see them ride off into the sunset -- there was some potential there. For really anal completists or those who want to be waaaaay ahead of the next big thing, the male half of this band is now involved with THE BELLA FAYES, a band making some ripples in Portland and talked about on the short list for summertime's alternative wonderland, AIMFEST. It's like having a stash of COLOURFINGER 45's in the garage -- may never amount to anything but ya' just never know!
Now, I do not have the worlds greatest sound system at home (I save that for work!) but "a horse named cisco" by Seattle's (?I think?) THE JIMMY STUARTS sounds like it was recorded under a blanket. And I mean Pendleton, baby. It's hard to fuck up a guitar sound but the drums are so muffled as to be excruciating. This doesn't sound "live" but there's no recording information on the liner, just the note that someone mastered it (and I assume made it better than it was? look, I'm really sorry your name is there, Barry, but I'm not holding you responsible). If we look past the crappy recording to the equally crappy music, well....we got crap. These guys might rock OK as the opening band at the Meow Meow but I'm not about to give 'em more than that based on this. Blech.
COMMOTION might hail from Boulder, CO and they can appear on E-TOWN at any time, I imagine, further sedating the already brain-dead audience of that bag of pap with selections from "Head West"....wait, wait, wait....I heard an interesting edition of e-Town once. Can I really be that cruel? Sure! Why not? The host is boring in a way only gentrified Baby Boomers can manage and thinks he's pretty freakin' hip to have a guest who might be a troublemaker (!) because he's an "artist" who copies AMERICAN MONEY!!!! Wow!!! Why didn't I think of that?? Wow!! That's really edgy!! Maybe we could get this edgy flute band, Commotion, to come down and play right on the air!!! Wow!! Later, if they're feeling mellow, they'll jog over and be on NEW DIMENSIONS. BLAH!!! But I've got an older hippie friend who still smokes a lot of pot and he's going to love this...
That's it for now -- I can't listen to any more. I need to put one of the good ones back on and cleanse myself with some volume and good pasta and maybe some of that organic turkey sausage from Nature's on Fremont. A nice chianti will go pretty well and maybe I can drum up some friends to wander up to Chez Wha' for some backgammon and drinks. Who's coming along? Let's go....
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