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February Music Guide

Brokeback
Looks At The Bird

(Thrilljockey)

Doug McCombs has no doubt chosen the honorable path. As a bassist specializing in low-end, moody dub tones, he has consciously embraced a soft melodic minimalism that one rarely associates with his instrument in a solo-project setting. Rather than applying the masturbatory technical bombast of a Wooten, Hamm, or even Claypool, McCombs plucks his strings as if they were vocal chords, expertly manipulating his thud staff to speak quiet, confident Chicago tones. New permanent member, upright bassist Noel Kupersmith, strengthens McCombs' low flow ruminations by adding a jazzy tangent, and expanding upon the casual collaborative sound that has marked Brokeback's first two records. Not only does Looks At The Bird succeed as divergent extension of McComb's work with Tortoise, but it touchingly and unknowingly acts as a respectful elegy for the recently passed Mary Hansen of Stereolab who graces the record with a voice as optimistic and rich as McComb's controlled and dulcet bass playing.

- Steve Marchese

The Soft Pink Truth
Do You Party?
(Soundslike)
LISTEN

Rumor is that in 2001 Matthew Herbert dared Matmos' Drew Daniel to make a House record. The result ? A wired slab of angular dance floor programming titled "Soft Pink Missy" that successfully unified a deep house groove with Daniel's talented experimental creativity. A couple years later and Daniel is at it again, dropping this full-length LP, one sure to have skinny white robots fashioning invisible orbs and boxes with their hands on dance floors everywhere. And with good reason, because Daniel's unquestionable programming mastery represents the perfect response to 2002's surplus of mediocre dance music -- it is intelligent yet lacks pomposity; exudes a likeable, sincere sarcasm, and easily provides ears with eleven tracks worth of superior technical acuity. If you thought a successful marriage of IDM, House and R&B was impossible, think again because Do You Party? is the most compelling evidence yet that robots may have souls.

- Steve Marchese

Postal Service
Give Up
(Sub Pop)

It's little coincidence that this record finds a release date around Valentine's Day, a noble if not ill-fated Hallmark holiday that tends to abandon most of us to heightened loneliness. Whether you are one of the lucky ones to have landed true love, or one of the unfortunate souls destined for a Friday date with the bottle, Give Up is a record you can trust in. Saccharine is an understatement, because when Jimmy Tamborello (Dntel) and Ben Gibbard (Death Cab for Cutie) collaborate over long distances (hence the band's name), they string together sweet pop perfection as if it were a candy necklace. Gibbard proves himself an emotive, inspired lyricist, his memorable vocal melodies positioned triumphantly in Tamborello's synth-heavy production. Although guitar and organic percussion seem to surface occasionally, there is no mistaking Give Up for anything but the new wave record that it is. And you'd be remiss to write it off as another half-baked, opportunistic 80s offering, because hidden within the Casio nostalgia is some of the most solid pop songwriting of this young year.

- Steve Marchese

Crooked Fingers
Red Devil Dawn

(Merge)


Ex-Archers of Loaf frontman Eric Bachmann spent the better part of the '90s slinging defiant noise-pop gems from the underground. The Archers' brand of skuzzy indie-rock tingled with irreverence, reviling the corporate governorship of mainstream music without the pop-niceties or lyrical abstraction of Pavement or Guided by Voices. In his post-Archers afterlife Bachmann, operating as Crooked Fingers, traded in the raucous rock act for a subdued sound, the distemper that knifed from his lyrics dulled to melancholy, and remarkably, after his transformation, his songs remained as poignant and stirring as ever.

On Crooked Fingers' third long-player, Red Devil Dawn, Bachmann sounds like Tom Waits covering Neil Diamond. (And if you balk at the idea of Neil, you're tragically misinformed. Just because he's got your mother's brassiere hanging above his mantle piece is no reason to browbeat the poor guy's music.)

Bachmann's smoky growl placed in contrast with rich, hook-heavy arrangements provides some lovely, if somewhat somber, moments: the down-tempo verse on "You Can Never Leave" mounting into a surging chorus as Bachman seethes, "With thirty years of hopes and dreams breathing down my neck/Such a sad sad thing that I set you free cause I can't get you back"; the mariachi-inspired horns on "Sweet Marie" -- the "Sweet Caroline" of Bachmann's career, though his take on love is slightly more deranged involving "sparkling wine and sniffing glue" and putting the smack down on his love's new beau; and the stark acoustic landscape of the album's closer, "Carrion Doves" giving way to a swell of hopeful strings, to name a few.

A downtrodden throughline unravels as the album progresses brought into focus by Bachmann's stormy imagery and confessional tone: the road to clarity begins at the end of a dark path of despair and ruin. Love only makes sense when it's lost. A string of lies leads to one simple truth. Bachmann's apocalypse of the soul guides him to a revealing conclusion on "Disappear," one that seems to sum-up his philosophy and explain why most visionary songwriters find inspiration at the bottom of the barrel: "There's beauty in an ugly thing/Redemption in demise."

--Daniel Schulman


Jan Jelinek
La Nouvelle Pauvrete
(~Scape)

Jan Jelinek's new full-length, the follow up to his Scape Records debut "Loop-Finding Jazz Records," finds the master of deep, minimal techno moods in a more mirthful and extroverted state of mind. On "La Nouvelle Pauvrete," Jelinek is joined by The Exposures, the anonymous backing accompaniment of which sounds a bit like Ronald Lippok of Tarwater singing to himself, but are apparently vocal contributions from Jelinek himself.

The occasional vocals on "Pauvrete," whether intentionally or not, provide a touch of cheekiness and seem a bit gaudy, like a lounge singer over-reaching the mood. However, they mostly provide texture and help a few of the more low-key numbers breathe. The hushed vocalisms of "Facelift" highlight Jelinek's penchant for introspection, the feeling of which is even more deeply internalized on the following track "There Are Other Worlds."

Deep bass lines propel the funkier tracks forward at an easy, groovy pace, and Jelinek continues to expertly apply a nice layer of glitchy micro-rhythms throughout. Tracks like "My Favorite Shop" and "If's, And's and But's" reveal Jelinek's playful side, with his sampled jazz sounds up front and center in the mix to create dynamic micro-house tracks with real flavor and soul.

In his ongoing search to find his inner groove, Jelinek seems to have found a new voice -- one that has compelled him to emerge from underneath the subtlety and detail of his craft. The result finds Jelinek struggling to strike a balance of sorts between inward expressions and mirthful, outward exuberance. Here's hoping there's more of the latter to be enjoyed in the coming years!

--SK

Harkonen
Shake Harder Boy
(Hydra Head)

Harkonen, from Washington state, have unleashed their second full-length entitled "Shake Harder Boy," the follow-up to their amazing and highly underrated self-titled debut on Wreckage Records. "Shake," a monument of monolithic metal, is less technical than their debut and applies the more straightforward approach the band seemed to take on their 2001 Hydra Head single "The Grizz".

Harkonen pummel their fans with big blasts of sound, creating tension and release from chorus to verse. More riff-conscious and screamier than ever, Harkonen have honed their sound down to a big, Helmet-esque ball of energy. Definitely headbangin' and somewhat toe-tappin, "Shake" is an angst-ridden, emo-fueled full-length full of guitar shrapnel and rhythmic domination.

With added touches of electronics and studio tricks, the band has crafted their finest-sounding release to date, arguably making up for certain similarities in composition from track to track. "We've Come for Your Daughters" is a good example of the creative approach they undertook in the studio, with the underlying bass sound creating a sort of synthy-sounding micro-tension between verses. If you like your rock big and loud without a lot of long hair or studded belts, i highly recommend you seek out the Harkonen.

--SK

Forcefield
Roggaboggas
(Load)

Some recordings are beyond description, and this new full-length by Providence-based art and music collective Forcefield is not only a challenge to review but the music itself is a direct challenge to normative standards of what is defined as music. Simply speaking, "Roggaboggas" is a mysterious display of lo-fi, abstract electronic music that combines elements of improvisation, humor, and a surreal sense of ethnomusicology that is alternately ancient and futuristic sounding.

The strange sounds emanating from Forcefield are so organic you can almost smell them. If the group (Meerk Puffy, Patootie Lobe, Gorgon Radeo, Le Geef) set out to simulate a paleozoic field recording, the belching and croaking of the various, numbered "Annual Roggabogga" tracks unquestionably succeed. Their tweaked out, unrecognizable electronic gadgets convey a sort of primitive oozing amid a hostile, unpredictable environment.

The disc's less predictable moments, such as "Assassins RMX - Assassabogga," and the "Radio Puebla" tracks, are primarily rhythmic and loop-based and have the effect of an afterthought or an intermission. The Forcefield mystery is further exacerbated by the ornate, tribal dress and sculpture featured on the cover and inside the booklet that comes with the disc. "Roggaboggas" comes across as a documentation of cultural movements of a strange, evolving lifeforce, and while it may seem too alien to understand or groove to, it effectively draws the listener in, forcing the imaginary mind to try and wrap the brain around it all.

--SK

One Bedroom
The Sea & Cake
[Thrill Jockey; 2003]

Sea and CakeRemember all of those wonderfully poignant scenes from John Hughes’ films of the 1980’s? You know, like when tomboy Mary Stuart Masterson pinned for her best friend, Eric Stoltz, as he chased after Lea Thompson in Some Kind of Wonderful? Or what about the time everyone forgot about poor Molly Ringwald’s birthday as she fought off advances from Anthony Michael Hall and endured Grammy’s barrage of comments regarding the size of her “boobies” in Sixteen Candles? And of course, who could forget Emilio Estevez melt upon seeing made-over misfit Alley Sheedy after the entire gang tokes up and starts dancing all crazy-like to unknown yet crazy, hip music in The Breakfast Club? Well after sitting through forty minutes of The Sea and Cake’s new album, One Bedroom, you may be surprised to find yourself digging through your collection of old VHS tapes to relive a patented John Hughes sappy-moment. One Bedroom sets the mood and provides the perfect vocal accompaniment to any amount of teen-angst that still lives inside each of us, thanks to Sam Prekop’s vocals.

At first Prekop’s lilting soft sighs are cute; okay…they even wooed me maybe just a little. You know, that masculine, yet sensitive, Xtra-lite sound complete with a breathlessness that is reserved, usually, for lovers running along the beach during sunset; tackling each other and embracing prior to rolling around in the sand. Forty minutes later, toward the end of the album, however, Prekop’s sad voice lost it’s appeal. Somewhere between “Interiors” and “Mr. F” I stopped thinking of John Hughes moments, beaches and lovers. I started imagining confined spaces, like elevators, and lite-rock muzak moments of yesteryear.

To be fair though, Prekop’s vocals don’t bring the entire album down. One Bedroom actually drips with talent from bassist, Eric Claridge; percussionist, John McEntire; and Archer Prewitt on guitar. The whole shebang kicks off on a groovy high note as Claridge, McEntire & Prewitt jam together, sans the vocals from Prekop, on “Four Corners” sounding eerily like indie rock poster boys of the mid-‘90’s, Belle & Sebastian. Six albums and ten or so years have not tarnished their cohesive instrumental sound. The trio’s work actually compliments Prekop’s wavering vocals on a few tracks, probably best illustrated by their cover of David Bowie’s “Sound and Vision,” the final track on the album and arguably one of the best.

The Sea and Cake puts forth a good effort with their latest release, though it falls short of pushing them forward as a band in the same way 2001’s Oui did. Maybe we need to cheer Sam up a little.

- Derek Elmer

The Sadies
Stories Often Told
Yep Roc Records

The Sadies' lush, transcendently sad music is more than the sum of its influences (country, surf, and Morricone spaghetti western soundtracks, with vocals from the quaintly named Dallas and Travis Good recalling Leonard Cohen and The Band). They're Canadian but sound like they've beamed down from some more sophisticated version of Nashville, TN. A lonely, lost out on the prairie feeling is sketched using guitar with whammy bar, pedal steel, vibraphone, keys and even horns ("Mile Over Mecca"). The mood is lugubrious yet homey and familiar. "Tiger Tiger" is a rollicking departure until you hear the words: "Tiger tiger on a circus train/oh tiger you can't run no more". The lyrics might benefit from some sharper imagery (such as the "overgrown willow") as they circle around themes of loss, regrets and on "The Story's Often Told," the soulless quest for money ("he's so high in the palace of gold"). But what really seduces me is the Sadies' arrangements and superb playing. They understand pacing and dynamics (check the intense drumming on "Lay Down Your Arms") and the four instrumental songs are memorable -- always a challenge. They even wade into the psychedelic slipstream on "Of Our Land" with its spacey vocals and trippy sound effects.

--Laura Markley

Radio 4
Gotham!
Gern Blandsten Records

This is one of the best bands who played at the recent CMJ festival 2002. Most songs are bass driven. They are like Gang of Four without all the politics. Songs like "Save Your City" and "New Disco" really get the feet moving. They are an exciting live act and they bring this to record. It sounds like a party happening in a loft in Brooklyn. Some songs like "Certain Tragedy" and "The Movies" sort of remind me of soundtracks and early new wave bands. Anthony Roman is a great front man. I hope to see move from this NYC band. They introduced themselves with "We are Radio 4. We are from New York City." It sounded like they were proud. With the DFA production team backing them up, they are not to be missed.

--Alexander Laurence

The Libertines
Up The Bracket
Rough Trade Records

Up the Bracket was produced by Mick Jones which is always a good thing. Whereas many American bands are influenced by British music, The Libertines do something that is distinctly British. This is very refreshing because most English bands have been copying the Americans recently. Their songs recall Blur and The Kinks. Yeah, all that is East London, which is quite fashionable these days. They can do ballads too. "Time For Heroes" sounds like early garage rock. "Boys in The Band" is musically inventive. "Up The Bracket" almost sounds like Crass meets John Otway. "The Boy Looked at Johnny" is the best Cockney thing since "Parklife." Some of the best songs are at the end: "Begging" and "I Get Along" are neat anthems. The American version includes "What A Waster" which was produced by Bernard Butler (ex-Suede) and is the song of the year so far. It doesn't get played on the radio much because the bit about "you two-bob cunt." It is a reflection of today's wasted youth, with real feelings of melancholy. It's as honest as that other British record put out by The Streets.

--Alexander Laurence

Scene Creamers
I Suck On That Emotion

Drag City

DC's The Make-Up was always one of my favorite bands five years ago when there was nothing else going on in music. If they would have come out now, they would have taken over the planet. They were definitely a band before their time. Scene Creamers feature two members from The Make-Up: Ian Svenonius and Michelle Mae. They recently played in American without much advance warning. Ian Svenonius is the most talented white soul man on the planet -- he could share a stage with James Brown. There have been other fakers like James Chance, but Ian is the real deal. On this album, they mix funk and soul, with psychedelia and folk music. "Hey Lonnie" reminds me of The Stooges. Their love of P-Funk colors much of this record, like on songs like "One Stone." Scene Creamers are a very original and special band. Be on the lookout for them.

--Alexander Laurence

 



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[email protected] | February 2003 | Issue 35
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