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March Music Reviews

Papa M
Hole of Burning Alms

(Drag City)

Dave Pajo has possibly the best indie music resume of anyone recording. He has played with Slint, King Kong, Palace, Tortoise, Stereolab, and Royal Trux. As a solo artist he has been recording since 1995 as Aerial M, M, and later as Papa M. Hole of Burning Alms is a compilation of some of his strongest singles from 1995-2000. Most of the disc consists of deceptively simple guitar/bass/drum tracks but as the disc progresses drum machine and subtle electronica are mixed into the blend. Pajo's take on "Turn, Turn, Turn" (a song I thought I never needed to hear again) is lovely. A great record for anyone who missed out on these singles the first time around.

- Steve Raskin

Camera Obscura
Under Achievers Please Try Harder

(Merge Records)

Another band that sounds like Belle and Sebastian, but one of the better bands that sound like Belle and Sebastian. The cover image (which combined with the title seems dated in a nineties, geek chic kind of way) was in fact taken by B&S frontman Stuart Murdoch. Plus, like Belle and Sebastian, Camera Obscura are from Glasgow. Derivative sound aside, Under Achievers Please Try Harder is one of the best records so far this year. Unless you're one of those people who think retro-folk-pop music with ironic lyric is for fags (and there are plenty of you out there), this record is sure to please.

- Steve Raskin

Bonnie "Prince" Billy
Greatest Palace Music

(Drag City)

Some people hate the lonesome and raw vocal style of early Will Oldham from his Palace days. I'm not one of those people. I love his newer records recorded under the Bonnie "Prince" alias, but will always have a softer place in my heart for his earlier, rawer work. Nevertheless, I was happy to hear that the man of many aliases was re-recording Palace's greatest tracks instead of simply repackaging them on a greatest hits disc. If you prefer Bonnie "Prince" Billy to Palace, you will love this record. If it's the other way around for you, you'll still really like hearing reinterpretations of some of your Palace favorites. Either way, this is an enjoyable record through an through.

- Steve Raskin

The Walkmen
Bows and Arrows

( Record Collection)

This is a highly anticipated record for me. I have seen the Walkmen play a few times in the past year and they have featured many of these songs like “Little House of Savages” in their set. I find a lot of it familiar, and at the same time it’s a whole new chapter. Their idea of a song has expanded and there are more vocally challenging bits on this one. I think two years of playing live together has benefited the band. Songs like “The Rat” bring in a more new wave feel. But others like “No Christmas While I’m talking” show more of the exciting heroic range of the band. I took a friend to see them recently. He is one of those people who believe that little has been done in music since Jimi Hendrix. I couldn’t believe that he was able to keep quiet and watch the band play for a full hour. They were that good, that they even interested the most jaded. They are a band to check out.

--Alexander Laurence

Margerine Eclipse


Since this is the first Stereolab disc recorded following the tragic, horrible, heartbreaking death of Mary Hansen, the biggest question in most fan's minds is how the band will handle her loss. Though no mention of Mary can be discerned in the lyrics, the band seems to be paying her homage by sounding more inspired than they have since " Dots and Loops." The record sounds exactly like the last several -- no surprises, no innovations, and a little too familiar -- but it will please fans nonetheless. Margerine Eclipse is simply too melodic and breezy to not enjoy. And this time around, the songwriting is refreshingly stronger than it has been on the last several outings.

- Steve Raskin


Vincebus Eruptum

(Load Records)

Vincebus Eruptum, a five-armed metal monster native to Providence, R.I., leaves behind eight tracks of ugly mono-metal on its debut full-length for Load Records. The band's precise execution and uncanny ability to force so much passion out of their one-note symphonies makes up for their somewhat retarded, cathartic lyrical transgressions and brown reason to live.

Monotonous pounding, crashing cymbals, distorted gravel-vocals, sawtooth guitar chords, undignified rumblings -- this is the soundtrack to Vincebus Eruptum's "Blood Orgy" -- "smoke dope / snort coke / drunk broke / no hope / no hope / no hope / no hope" etc...

This isn't your older brother's heavy metal, unless your older brother listened to Eyehategod and The Melvins. With Vincebus Eruptum, maintaining a demented plateau of intensity trumps any sort of progressive composition or skillful soloing.

Besides, who's got time to string different time signatures together when there's the existential necessity of contemplating the mystery of "Black Socks" -- "the longer you wear'em / the stronger they get / i wanna wash'em / but something inside says not yet / not yet, not yet / not yet, not yet" etc...

Vincebus Eruptum's eruptions straddle a fine line between serious metal mosh-ups and deranged excursions into toilet training and repetitive stress syndrome. Listeners are excused for proceeding with caution, but don't blame me if you actually get into it.

- John Rickman

Lambchop - Aw C'mon
Lambchop - No You C'mon

(Merge, 2004)

Two simultaneously released records that are fairly indistinguishable from one another. If you liked Lambchop's last record "Is a Woman," you'll dig both of these. They are very similar to the band's last release, though a tad more sophisticated. Both records are filled with sleepy, piano-filled ballads and there are some undeniably inspired moments on each. Most, we suspect, will be left wondering if the band is on Oxycontin since both records are so relaxing that they ultimately put you to sleep.

- Steve Raskin

"Old Cuts and Blunt Knives"

(Robotic Empire)

Sweden's Crowpath, the first European signing on the prolific and tinnitus-inducing Robotic Empire label, lays down eleven tracks of righteous technical metal on their new full-length "Old Cuts and Blunt Knives."

"Knives" contains every one of their previously released tracks in remastered form for an American audience, and also includes two brand new tracks as yet unheard on any shore.

From the first note of their first song, "Like Flies to Flames," I couldn't help but hear a very American sound. The Swedish quartet's turn-on-a-dime chord progressiveness, galloping drum roll and blast-beat style, and vocal gruffness is astonishingly similar to that of Atlantan metal-masters Mastodon -- but perhaps in a way that is more immediate.

And while they may also be significantly less pretentious and arty than their American counterpart, they just don't seem to have a sound that's new or original. Sure their execution is spot-on, and their drummer's ride cymbal rolls are mind-blowing, but I've already marched with the fire ants and strode with the behemoth, baby.

--John Rickman

TV on the Radio
Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes
(Touch and Go)

Brooklyn's own TV on the Radio surprised the indie music scene last year with the amazing EP, "Young Liars." Across the board, the critics raved and "Young Liars" made the number two spot for the best of the year on this site (see the rest here). Their much anticipated full length Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes (due to hit the shelves in March) is very enjoyable, but a sidestep in the wrong direction. With a much, much looser production, the band's syrup thick sound has been transformed into something that sounds, well, a little thin. Desperate Youth starts well with the pulsating pop of "The Wrong Way," followed by an abbreviated version of "Staring at the Sun" and the beautiful new track "Dreams." Unfortunately most of the tracks to follow, suffer from their own roughness and feel in need of a manicure. Nevertheless, it's hard not to respect a band who have the balls to try something different the moment they get noticed by critics. Given the genius and brevity of "Young Liars," I simply wanted more of the same.

-- Robert Lanham

B. Fleischmann
Welcome Tourist
(Morr Music)

We wanted to like this disc. We like Morr Records, and after hearing so many average double disks lately we thought maybe someone was up to the task of recording a successful double album. Truth be told, Welcome Tourist is a perfectly listenable collection of glitch and electronica with an ambitious piano-driven 45 minute song included on side two. Unfortunately, it's one of those records that you forget is on until it is replaced by silence at its completion. Perfectly nice, perfectly dull.

- Steve Raskin

They Were Wrong, So We Drowned

Alexander Laurence calls it the curse of FREEwilliamsburg. Last year we gave the album of the year award to Liars and they broke up. This year, the award went to My Morning Jacket and the same thing happened. We were excited when we discovered that Liars had quickly reunited, albeit with a new drummer. Hopefully My Morning Jacket will follow suit. Unfortunately, listening to They Were Wrong, So We Drowned is a grueling experience. The drunk, chaotic, post-punk sounds of earlier Liars recordings have been replaced by a droning, pulsing, electronica-filled mess of a record. People who like to listen to music because it's "challenging" may like this record. Everyone else should avoid it.

- Steve Raskin

Ultimate Yes: 35th Anniversary Collection
Rhino Records

When my Mom bought her powder blue 1973 Cougar (deluxe luxury edition) it came with an 8-track player. Being that my Mother was of a fair and generous nature each child in the family got to pick out one 8-track each to inaugurate our collection. The cartridge family. My choice was "Fragile" by Yes. What I would give to have that 8 track again, but I'm afraid it has been lost in the vast junk pile of obsolescence so endemic to our culture. Similarly all of the prog rock stars of the 1970's have been ejected long ago like so many well-worn carts (that was lingo for cartridge back then).

In the years that followed I saw them three times. The first concert they played second bill warming up for Black Sabbath (also my favorite band at age 15) at Winterland in San Francisco. It was like billing Einstein with a Neanderthal, a great combination. My experience of listening to Rick Wakemen do an extended solo while I was summarily whacked on White Doubledome (a brand of LSD), Cross Tops (amphetamine in pill form), Wahakan (named after a place in Mexico where they grow bunk weed) and Jack Daniels (you know what that is) is forever etched into my brain, or whatever is left of it. The second time I saw them headline at Winterland with resplendent stage sets, massive lighting and fog, as well as Quadraphonic sound. The third time I saw them at the Oakland Coliseum. They played perfectly, but it wasn't quite the same as their (and my) burgeoning years. Soon all things progressive were to fall into the grand abyss created by the Sex Pistols never really to respectably come back. Until now?

Oddly just a couple of weeks before I had heard of the release of The Ultimate Yes 35th anniversary collection (now you know how old I am) I made a special trip to Amoeba Records with a sudden pent up demand to hear Close To The Edge, the first (and I think best) side long cut that Yes had produced. Truly this track is something very ultimate. I couldn't decide if it was ludicrous for all of its ornate detail and turgid grandiosity, or a fine accomplishment for popular music. No one would argue that these were daring and masterful experimenters. Their message was a surreal and open-ended tribute to the new age values of love and cosmic awareness. I guess I really think although corny, (there was no Dada in their surreal), their goals as spokespersons for the time were fulfilled with a bang. Make no mistake, for this kind of music they were the very best by a long shot.

I love listening to the three CDs in the set. It is camp nostalgia and great music at the same time. Is that not the perfect formula? They are touring the U.S. later this year. Maybe its time for me to see them for the forth time. Attention promoters, send me those tickets!

-- Rex Bruce

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[email protected] | March 2004 | Issue 48
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