The Ones That Lured Me In
By: Clint Darling
It finally happened -- Alex lugged three big bags of CD's over and dumped them in a pile on my bedroom floor, promo material and stickers and glossy photos cascading into the closet to sit next to the old dress shoes I never wear anymore.
RAYOVAQ's "Tendency To Sway" caught my eye with the small photo of a ferris wheel on the cover, sunset behind the wheel lighting a window into the CD. The neat-o graphics trick of putting each line backwards or upside down or wrong-way round or whatever....well, I just wish that I could read the damned thing without a mirror and a headstand. The music is much more accessible than the art and somebody has done this girl wrong in a big way. I'd like to thank whoever screwed up this much because she's turned it into neatly packaged lyricism that reminds me of the AFGHAN WHIGS in a heroin stupor or, in sunnier moments, like a less orchestral BEN FOLDS FIVE with some major nods to VELOCITY GIRL thrown in during the fast bits. More slow-core than not, this is four-piece indie rock at its American best: moody, introspective, beautiful and muscular. Even with only five songs clocking in at a little over half an hour, it's going to take more than one listen to unearth your favorite part of this. The songs start slow and build to glory before turning and heading up the other side of that ferris wheel and into the sunset.
I missed the sticker for Ariel Publicity on the MAGGI, PIERCE AND EJ album "For (Inspired By The Music Of Jeff Buckley)" and if I had seen it first I probably wouldn't have put this on. For whatever reason, her clients are uniformly bright-eyed dreamers with patchouli oil bags swinging between the tips of their dreadlocks and they just piss me off. But I really liked the opening notes of "Ferdinand" and it wasn't until Maggi started singing that I became disenchanted. Some really nice guitar work and good sounds but what it comes down to is very heartfelt pap about how Jeff Buckley is watching us all from his perch in a six year olds conception of Heaven and I'm just not buying it.
Bastards! It's that goddamned write-the-lyrics-backwards trick AGAIN and I want to read these! Shit! I was already thinking COLDPLAY and RADIOHEAD after the first song and the lads in THE STARS OF AVIATION turn out to be English by birthright so now the comparison seems to be unfair stereotyping but is it possible that there's a whole generation of Brits who have inherited a very polite version of the sturm und drang of American postpunk? Their "Greatest Disappointment" ep is very nice. Very Coldplay. In fact, with just a slight change in the voice this could be outtakes from the aforementioned band which is not at all a slur....oh, jeeeez....right down to the falsetto thing.....but y'know they're not bad songs and taken on their own merits I've gotta like it. What are we calling this? Britfolk? Some questionable mixing and production choices keep this out of the A-list but it sure gets my attention.
DEXTER FREEBISH are...are...well, they are every bad thing about "alternative" radio. "A Life Of Saturdays" is a suck-ass version of every derivative song you've never wanted to hear again for the rest of your life. This album is eleven songs of crap, crap, crap, crap, crap, crap, crap, crap, crap, crap, crap. Thirty years ago they would have been pounding the streets of LA trying to sell themselves as "the next LOVE" while two decades back the key phrase would have been "the next Peter Frampton" and now they're the next radio-fodder foot-soldiers. This will sell well in Clackamas and be considered daring.
Filling the political niche and sounding like a bad cross between THIN WHITE ROPE and PELL MELL, ROTO are a two-men-and-friends crew who toss off angular mathematical riffs. On "The Low Power Hour" the focus seems to be the lyrics and those read like BILLY BRAGG or early GANG OF FOUR. But the delivery...well, it's a lot less like RAGE and a lot more like LOST DOG or any group of stoned grad students.
Rachel Browning seems to have misplaced a man somewhere and her latest project, DEMI-DRYER, is perhaps a better vehicle than DRYER for her loss. I'm a little soft on the point of an offshoot project naming itself after the parent but whatever floats your boat. The fact that it could be mistaken for the other is even more confusing. I had to listen to this not just because they are Portland folks but mainly because they've bugged me for about a goddamned year with email on everything up to and practically including their toe-nail care schedules. Dryer is a little more country than alt and this is more folky than anything else but I don't dislike it at all. It evokes long sad road trips in my mind and while I wouldn't want to actually listen to it during one for fear of driving off the road while pondering the slow, melancholy pointlessness of it all it's good while I'm hanging out at home. Drink before listening.
MICHAEL GIRA has probably not been a household name but he has the sort of pedigree that lets you say "oh, yeah...I know who he is" when you have it spelled out for you. His new project THE ANGELS OF LIGHT pours bitter post-punk brilliance through barbed-wire kisses on "How I Loved You". Sounding like YO LA TENGO in a fit of resigned anger, hitting the road with MARK LANEGAN's whiskey bottle and vacationing in a Disneyworld of muted colors and sullen seas -- this is late-night cigarette smoking music for every occasion. Did I mention that I liked it? If just one in a hundred American consumers would switch from the next Back'n'Sync album to this American gem there'd be a lot more hope in the world.
I can't work up to being mean in any way to APRIL HALL and her album "Something Like That" but it doesn't hold much in the way of surprises or new vistas. April is solidly aboard the girl-with-guitar school of folksy-country-pop and she does it really well. I can see her opening for any number of female artists that I like but at the end of the album she's more disposable, more forgettable than the artists who have paved the way for her. I want her for a neighbor, an in-law or serving on my local PTA so that we can have her play at BBQ's and fundraisers but I don't want her on my radio until she gets a vision of where to take her music. My roommate, on the other hand, who listens exclusively to PAULA COLE, SARAH M and that Lilith-ilk will love this and enjoy it. Is there a DMX channel for this?
SPACE STATION sound like JELLYFISH or a kinder, gentler WIRE TRAIN doing DAVID GRAY impressions on "There's Nothing Routine About Space Travel." Hmmmm. A little too eclectic, jumping from style to style without giving out enough groove to really get anybody going. I'm trying to imagine who would like this...I could see it being a big hit in England if you remixed it and pumped the shit out of the bass but....hmmmmm. I am tapping my toes but it's more or less involuntary. Damn it, get out of the CD player and quit working on my central nervous system!
A very good friend of mine has been making albums for years, often at great expense, and they suck. The Kale Music release of PALE BOY is exactly the same. It's maybe better than you or I could do and I have to give them props for orchestration and playing ability (horns, strings, acoustic guitars...I can't do all that) but...but...the songs suck. I just don't care about any of the situations nor do I want to hear these voices. Especially when they waver and fall flat. You can tell that a great deal of care and time went into a lot of this but in the end the whole is simply not up to the sum of its parts, it's sabatoged and held back by stupid lyrics and terrible delivery. For some reason this sounds French. Perhaps it's the tuba and flugelhorn?
Because OLEANDER are on Republic/Universal, "unwind" will get airplay and they will appear at radio station festivals across the nation this summer. Scroll back up to my thoughts on Dexter Freebish only this album has twelve songs.
OTIS TAYLOR is here to talk to you about justice, injustice, damnation and redemption on "White African." With insistent fingerpicking and vagrancy blues sitting on his shoulder, a throat full of bile and a sadness born of love, he preaches the blues the old-fashioned way. You're not going to listen to it much but when you do you're going to be moved to testify along with him. He's talking the truth.
CAMPGROUND EFFECT from Denver, CO had me suckered into expecting something along the lines of NATIONAL SKYLINE or Rayovaq (i.e., good) but the old doll on the cover and the artsy reel-to-reel tape deck picture on the inner sleeve were betrayed by predictable grungy pop. Not wistful enough about the possibilities to be called emo. Just aggro-pop with barely passable vocals.
PFILBRYTE's name sounded familiar when I pulled "Preservatives Affirmative" out of the bag and I rooted around until I found that he had produced and contributed to The Space Station's effort. So there was some trepidation as I slid this sucker into the tray only to be happily confounded. The relationship is obvious -- same influences walk all over the place (hell, this guy/gal/entity probably is one of those bands) but it's better realized here and makes me want to crank up the volume and get funky all over the place. This would make a killer soundtrack to the happy-road-trip scene in the movie before the cares and harangues of life suck our hero into a spiral of self-destruction.
As advertised, THE STINGRAYS SURF BAND (really? would I not have guessed by the first half of the name?) delivers just that on "Don't Fear The Reverb" along with a quick shout to BOC on the title cut. Although The Stingrays do well at the genre, there's nothing in the package that does anything daring or non-generic. Imagine a surf band dreamt up by the brilliant minds who thought of THE MONKEES. It's not hard to do surf well since all you need is attitude and reverb. Master the slide, crank the Fender and let 'er rip. It's surf-punk, it's classic surf, it's Nu Surf...I don't care what you call it, no one can possibly hate it in small doses. The more I think of it the more I wonder if surf isn't the perfect musical form -- accepting of all, loving all equally, malleable, pliable and resilient. Shit, surf music is the Jesus Christ of rock'n'roll!! Although were that totally true I'd be able to turn the other cheek to this corporate-sponsored swill.
Like a bastard child of DIO and early SOUNDGARDEN, ZERO HOUR wallow in a metal sea near misty mountains and smoke-wreathed battlements on "The Towers of Avarice". I have to give credit here for a pretty good job at this stuff or else you'd have been reading a Spinal Tap review ("wallowing in a sea of retarded sexuality...."). I can't fault this on its merits -- excellent dynamics, jackhammer metal guitars, good vocals -- but are there that many D&D fans out there anymore?
Any band with a name like A NIGHT OF SERIOUS DRINKING; that gives props to The Bottom Of The Hill in San Fran and whose publicist describes them as "moody croon-pop".....that oughta be right up my alley but these boys fall short on "One After Another". Although the liner notes tell me that the songs were recorded live as a group, they also indicate that the vocals were laid later and it's in the vocals that we find our gap -- Anthony Bonet does an excellent job on guitar but his voice is just not enough to carry an otherwise solid group of songs. The musicianship and playing are impeccable but cease to matter once he starts singing. All it takes is one good iceberg, don't it?
VITRIOL is a title, a moniker, an emotional discharge and nothing to hold onto. BEN CHRISTIAN GREEN has put together something that may be "art" but it's not anything I'd recommend to anyone. I can remember pushing open the unlatched door to a friends basement room on the rundown western edge of Seattle's U-District and finding it empty. The unmade bed, the water stains on the bare concrete walls and a THROBBING GRISTLE record scratching endlessly around and around against the label in the center of the cheap record player. This album is quite similar in sound -- not to Throbbing Gristle but to the scratch of the label against the stylus. Why?
THE COLORBLIND JAMES EXPERIENCE's "Greatest Hits" reminded me right off the bat of a cross between THE MONOCHROME SET and ROBYN HITCHCOCK. This is probably popular in Europe. In a rare moment of truthfulness, the liner notes sum it all up: "When The Colorblind James Experience does finally cease to exist, it will be quickly and completely forgotten."
KANARY. "Porno Church Of The Ugly Man". Proof that women can write stilted prose and predictable riffs as well as AC/DC. Maybe more reminiscent of BACHMAN-TURNER OVERDRIVE?
Winding up on a pop backbeat, FRISBIE summon the spirit of 1964 on "The Subversive Sounds Of Love" and really benefit from the contrast to Kanary. Isn't it funny the way little things can really help your review? Having your CD next to one that really sucks can make you sound so much better! Frisbie would make a great tour with SUNSET VALLEY -- bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, these young boys from the heartland take optimism to a whole new level. Simple, plainspoken and probably Lutheran, they are the youthful musical followup to Garrison Keillor.
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