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September Music Reviews

Lullatone
Computer Recital
(Audio Dregs)

Ever since the release of Brian Eno's "Discreet Music" in 1975, ambient music has become a widely accepted genre of music and mode of expression, and has since morphed into all kinds of subcategories. Thus, some 30 years later, ambient music has come to mean different things to different people, but typically the term refers to quiet, slowly shifting sounds that are best enjoyed as a kind of environmental backdrop.

The genre has become widely popular with electronic musicians, especially those with a penchant for minimalism, sound-art, and processed field recordings. However, many a powerbook is being flipped open to further expand upon the genre as a kind of pop music. This seems to be the direction that Shawn Seymour, a.k.a. Lullatone, is taking on his debut Audio Dregs full-length "Computer Recital."

Composed largely of warm, ringing tones and tinkly synth sounds, Lullatone's music has a child-like innocence about it that evokes blurred memories of baby toys and charm bracelets. "My Favorite Song In The World" begins with what sounds like the refrain from the alphabet song, and the simplistic, playful sequences of "Coloring" and "Tracing" sound like they were conjured up from an old wind-up music box or snowglobe.

While i might describe his music as ambience for infants, his understated repetitions and subtle, shifting melodies would lull most adult listeners into a state of tranquillity. Occasionally a soft high-hat will make itself barely known, but for the most part, "Computer Recital" is a soft, cuddly cloud of a recording readymade for mood enhancement.

--SK

Mates of State
Team Boo
Polyvinyl Records

Ahhh, this oppressively hot and sticky summer can make one want to run for the ever so distant hills. Lucky for me, I was handed an advanced copy of the Mates of State¹s cool and breezy third full length release- affectionately called Team Boo- and was promptly whisked away from any woes.

Recorded in the Texas hill countryside of Pedernales (at Willie Nelson¹s studio) just outside of Austin, Team Boo comes at you like a Xanax/Ecstasy cocktail-- part soother, part upper, and full-on happy (without any of those icky side effects). Harmonies and breakdowns abound, with songs ranging from the grooved out, danceable keyboard tunes of "Ha Ha," "Fluke" and "Sound it Off" to the more mid-tempo and balladish "The Kissaway," "An Experiment" and "Separate the People." All songs are sprinkled with the Mates¹ trademark whimsical yet witty lyrics.

The lush vocals and wall of sound are courtesy of the minimalist yet dynamic duo of Kori Gardner and Jason Hammel, who are assisted on this album by Jim Eno (Spoon) and producer John Croslin (who also produced the Mates¹ first album, My Solo Project). This couple has amassed quite an impressive and loyal following in recent years, thanks largely to their never-ending tour schedule. Having the privilege of seeing them twice this past year, I urge all who are into fun, rich and upbeat melodic indie-pop to catch them live next time they¹re in your area- if you haven¹t already. If doctors dispensed Mates of State CDs instead of Prozac, the world would be a better place.

--Andi Azarias

STARS
Heart
(Arts & Crafts)

This is the type of album you listen to while lying on your kitchen floor, staring up at the ceiling and playing with the on/off switch of your floor lamp, while thinking of how dramatically your life has changed since those high school years... That being said, these songs recall the more innocent and ethereal times while still holding firm ground in the present. Be warned, with titles such as "What the Snowman Learned about Love," the music goes down far easier if you're in love rather than going through any challenging times romantically. The track arrangement flows freely from beginning to end, and hi-lights include the sugary "Elevator Love Letter," hot-90s-track-for-the-2000s "Death to Death," and pretty melodies in "Time Can Never Kill a True Heart." Though Heart was out in the UK shortly before the new year, it was recently released stateside this summer. I highly recommend listening to this album while walking through the streets of Chelsea (trust me) or whichever other nice section of town you're motivated towards. The inspiration for this album is clear considering that Stars record up in Montreal, a beautiful and romantic city in its own right.

--Andi Azarias

Rough Trade Shops
Post Punk 01
(Rough Trade Records)

Post Punk, Disco Punk, Mutant Disco, Punk Funk, No Wave, Now Wave, call it what you will, but the last year has seen a global surge of interest in music that falls into any of the above categories. Hailed by style bibles and frequently obscure enough to make the hipster kids in undersized jackets drool, the sudden profusion of this musical style(s) can be enough to be make the average cynical music listener dismiss it as nothing more than another rock and roll fad of the moment. Much like the so-called new garage renaissance that caused many a major publication to declare that rock is back or announce the arrival of the "new rock revolution." Yet the new school post-punk, for lack of a better term, offers an underlying aesthetic, which at its core is focused on experimentation and progression, instead of mere simple-minded guitar posturing. The frequent melange of dance, rock, disco, early hip-hop and jazz is enough to reveal a strain of rock music that is as eclectic as it is electric enough for the listener to, not only dance their tight jeans off into a sweaty mess but also absorb a more intelligent and off kilter strain of danceable music that avoids the repetitiveness of much of the electronic dance music that rose to prominence in the 90's. Many of the bands associated with this 21st century movement, like The Rapture, !!!, Erase Errata, Radio 4 and just about everything that DFA have produced owe their allegiance to the work of bands who arose in the late 70's and early 80's.

Which is where Rough Trade's superb Post Punk 01 steps in. It reveals the link between the old and the new (unlike a number of recent compilations whose focus is primarily on the initial era of post punk) by placing many of the current crop of bands at the forefront of the new scene, like The Rapture, Chicks on Speed, and Erase Errata for example, alongside past masters like Gang of Four, ESG, Liquid Liquid, Public Image Limited, 23 Skidoo, The Fall and more. The juxtaposition of the old and the new frequently reveals within the newer artists a desire to progressively emulate instead of merely imitate and wallow within a mass of clichés and faux imagery. At the same time Post Punk 01 showcases a few of the lesser name checked first wave bands like The Prats, as well as serving as a much needed outlet for a few bands, like Gramme and Life Without Buildings, who were a bit too ahead of their time to participate in the current revival. Post Punk 01 is an incomplete document of the current and past post-punk scenes, as the compilers of the album readily admit in the liner notes, many bands such as !!! or Liars could easily have been included, yet it serves as an excellent starting point for anyone trying to get a grasp on just what post-punk was, currently is and what it has the potential to be.

--Charles Ubaghs


HIM
Many In High Places Are Not Well
(Bubblecore)

Ten minutes with a newspaper and it becomes immediately apparent that many in high places are not well. Ten minutes with this record and what becomes even more obvious is that some of us (at least the 17 musicians contributing on the new HIM record and your solitary author) still depend on a slowly depleting reserve of cautious optimism to get by. Applying all of the most attractive elements of World music to an ever-changing yet faithfully experimental dubwise sound, drummer/percussionist Doug Scharin and company drop polyrhythmic loops as deep as their influences are wide. Vocals, as provided by Christian Dautresme, Mum's Kristin Anna Valtysdottir and others, add yet another changeable element to the flux that has seen HIM start as a percussive dub experiment and morph successfully into a veritable Afro-dub orchestra that sounds as if it were conducted by Bill Laswell and produced by Teo Macero.

--Steve Marchese


The Appleseed Cast
Two Conversations
(Tiger Style)

The old cliché warns that we only have one shot at greatness. Yet countless musicians have navigated certain career dénouement through reinvention. Two Conversations may not represent a complete about-face for The Appleseed Cast, but after a solid month of heavy play, I can't help thinking they've altered the course that had finally thrust them into the cult of critical favor. Their admirable Low Level Owl double album project came from seemingly nowhere, marrying the emotive dynamism of Sunny Day Real Estate with the ambient rock textures of My Bloody Valentine. Although still a pleasant listen with genuinely moving moments, Two Conversations' recidivist emo tendencies and sophomoric lyrics sabotage tracks otherwise replete with instantly gratifying hooks. One would've thought that a move to solid indie Tiger Style (from emo label Deep Elm), would find the boys more firmly entrenched in experimentation. Instead, to rewrite an old cliché, it appears it's two Owls forward, Two Conversations back.

--Steve Marchese


The Matthew Herbert Big Band
Goodbye Swingtime
(Accidental)

Matthew Herbert has always found novel ways to assimilate his intellectual and non-musical conceit into his tracks. As the output of his growing number of pseudonyms can certainly prove, he is both prolific and inventive, an artist first and foremost who explores concept as much as creation (all his productions follow a rigid Dogme 95-like code call PCCOM.) And sometimes, just maybe, too smart even for his own good. Using Big Band swing as a vessel to disseminate nearly invisible political messages? Sampling the dropping of phonebooks so that he could, in his words "attempt to get the sound of 10 million people in to one track and at the same time to try and measure the weight and gravity of human numbers..." The press release even included a suggested reading list of titles by Chomsky, Moore, Zunes and Scott Ritter. The bottom line here however, after wading through Herbert's "complete vision of how modern music should sit" is basically this: Big Band music is totally gay.

--Steve Marchese



Friends Forever
Killball
(Load)

"Killball" by Denver, Colorado's Friends Forever is a head-scratcher of a release that will either make you wince at its boyish, high-five'n fight songs or revel in its unabashed love of sports, rock and roll, and all things manly.

A lo-fi musical endeavor, and dedicated to the Denver Broncos, "Killball" is a tongue-in-cheek display of distorted electro-rock awash in stadium sounds, referee whistles, and tribal chants, including the ever-popular "Charge!!!"

Using mostly drums, bass, and synths -- often from inside their van on club dates -- Friends Forever kick out the jams in a style that combines the sound and passion of Devo with the macho swagger of any number of 80s' hair metal bands.

The first track "Carnisaur vs Unicorn" is a too-short but triumphant pop song that prepares the listener for the battle cries to follow -- songs like "Win" -- an engaging instrumental synth-rock number, but one that also leaves you wanting a little something more.

Friends Forever are quite good at the musical frenzy they whip up. All of the songs, save for the two odd halftime numbers, are memorable and unique, and within the conceptual context of gladiator sports, "Killball" makes for some killer combat rock.

If only it wasn't so silly i'd feel more confident in my recommendation of it! Friends Forever are imaginative and have the potential to be the next big band to bubble up from the lo-fi, noise-rock underground, but it's also likely that "Killball" may have sealed their fate as an easily forgotten oddity.

--SK

African Head Charge
"Shrunken Head"
(On-U Sound)

The U.K. label On-U Sound has always been one of my favorite labels to follow. The label's original, electronic reggae-dub sound, as crafted by label-boss and engineer Adrian Sherwood, gave my ears their first exposure to the likes of Lee 'Scratch' Perry, Mark Stewart, Prince Far I, Bim Sherman, as well as exposed me to the continuing connections being made between punk and reggae artists.

My favorite On-U recordings have always been the ones crafted by the label's collaborative super-groups such as Missing Brazilians and the Barmy Army. However, the label's most intriguing and original house band, in my mind, has always been African Head Charge.

I'll never forget that special moment when i first heard them and how excited i was to discover their dubbed-out, psychedelic fusion of African instrumentation and Jamaican rhythms. Fronted by visionary percussionist Bonjo I, the African Head Charge sound gradually evolved from a kind of improvisational, free-reggae sound to a more structured, sample-based African chant band.

The new On-U retrospective disc "Shrunken Head" collects some of the best tracks African Head Charge ever recorded, as well as two new tracks, and sufficiently represents the diverse sounds the group created during their career, which spanned from 1981 to 2003. All of the tracks have been remastered as well. For the uninitiated, "Shrunken Head" is the perfect introduction to the most otherworldly world music you're ever likely to hear.

--SK

The Clean
Anthology
(Merge)

It must be the clean air they breathe. It's 1981, and New York bands are dressing all in black and making lots of angsty noise. Meanwhile in New Zealand, the brothers Kilgour and friends are making upbeat, quirky little pop songs in bedroom studios, on 4-tracks. Yet the NZ bands represented by Flying Nun would come to influence bands everywhere. It was a model of a self contained scene exploiting maximum talent through limited means. CD one of this anthology covers the early years, 1981-82, with the singles and the Boodle, Boodle, Boodle and Great Sounds Great EPs. Songs and albums were often christened by friends and titles like "Platypus," "Slug Song" and "Point That Thing Somewhere Else" testify to the Clean's whimsical, absurdist sense of humor; add to that the lyrics usually had nothing to do with the song titles. The music's all sparkling melodies, quickly scrubbed guitars and simple bass and drums.

As the Clean gets better over time the guitars gain layers of nuance and texture, the songs get more repetitive and lose their bridges, all of this probalby lapped up by Thurston, among others. Cheerful melodies are sometimes contrasted with a darker message as in the lyric: "sometimes I feel too much and I don't wanna feel at all." CD two starts with the Vehicle LP, recorded in England in 1992 after an apparent 7 year hiatus. This is much more polished stuff with the Clean sounding more assured, but with their unique charm intact. Maybe this was their bid at larger scale success. "Drawing to a Whole" should've been a radio hit, if it wasn't. 1994-96 sees them back in NZ recording the Modern Rock and Unknown Country LPs and getting back some of the experimentation and silliness of the early years, on songs like "Ludwig", sung in a comical German accent. If you suffer, as I do now and then from a certain spiritual fatigue, may I suggest a little spring Clean-ing.

- Laura Markley

LoDeck
Dream Dentistry
(Johnny23)

A hip-hop fan is known by the company he/she keeps, and by company I mean the artists they force on people. Even under the influence.

A night ago found me way the hell past 14th street (my unofficial boundary until 96th) in the theater/people from Queens walk too goddamn slow district... you know, in the west forties. A friend was part of a show, and I decided to come out and see what was up. That was a good time, and then we all proceeded to go across the street and get drunk. Getting drunk starts me to talking, and there are three topics that I cover while I'm in a real medicated state: 1) Why are we paying the Rangers this much to not make the playoffs, 2) Why the behind is the most important device on the body and 3) Music.

On the last, me and this actor guy got into a headed discussion about what emcees were quality and which ones are no longer. I say heated, but with the caveat that any conversation after three pints is heated. An earlier conversation with a guy about the Canadiens was an honest to god argument, bless his incorrect heart. Going on, I started naming albums after he gave me his usual suspects, making sure to hover around hip-hop's early nineties golden age. I yakked on and on, but in the haze of the night he went his way and I went mine. Shame that he got sidelined before I got into the "I'm feeling the underground cats" section, because any indie hip-hop discussion nowadays must include Brooklyn native LoDeck, in my book.
Yeah, LoDeck would make the drunken discussion.

Dream Dentistry seems to pick up where his EP Bash It left off, and that's damn good news. A full-length has been anticipated since that release dropped, and he's been biding his time with various guest spots including the posse-cut "Meaning of the Sphere", in rotation whenever I'm at the tables. LoDeck rhymes in a very, eh, LoDeck way: that is, his words are complex, witty, and unashamedly grating at just the right time. There's always something at the center of a LoDeck lyric, but damned if he'll just come out and tell you. You have to respect that, and if it comes off well, then you have to respect it even more. Where Bash It seemed to more be released so that he would have a lone release out, Dream Dentistry is truly an album; it allows his domineering, gravelly rhyme style to construct a whole show, not just a preview.
Though, there are problems with Dream Dentistry… more than just its horrendous cover art. Here and there the production can't keep up with his rhyming, here and there the guest emcees seem like they're struggling to try and match LoDeck, but most are up to it. I dare you to not be able to find a track on this release that you'll have rolling around your mind, in the end. That's an album. All that's left is for LoDeck to cut the nonsense and cut a track with Copywrite and Aesop Rock... you know, just for my sake.

Now, could I get all this out that night, and make a convert? No, before my point got out, someone had to question the influence of Sandy McCarthy on the Rangers backline. The damn fool things a man says when he's drunk, or doesn't get to.

-- Maurice Downes

Spiraling
Transmitter

"looking for your imperfections / and hoping that you never find mine / i'll race you to the big rejection"

You feel that you're not supposed to like this sort of music today; at least not this pop-driven sound. It's a happy, jubilant, bubble-gum sound that refutes everything Gen X and it's new love of heavy, grinding punk stands for. But part of you still does.

Transmitter is eerily reminiscent of Ben Folds Five: "The Connection" and "The Girl on Top (of the Piano)", the first two songs, feature the piano-driven music, the happiness expressed through chords, the higher-than-normal-pitched singer's voice, the frequent tempo changes and fluctuations, and the spirit of loungey-pop music that is almost a parody of itself.

Of course, then it switches on you. "(I Don't Want To) Grow Up" (and "Lightning Twice" for that matter) is more of a straight indie pop tune with definite Beatle influences from their more poppy era. (Spiraling also are fans of the Pete Yorn-style parentheses in the middle of titles.) "This is the Road" is alternative rock with a healthy dose of teen punk beats. "Transmitter" is late 70's glam-rock arena rock - Yes or Boston. Computer bleeps and blips punctuate the landscape of the song, and then a quasi-Ben Folds shows up for a few brief moments.

Spiraling loves its synth music, and they make good use of it. And Tom Brislin (vocalist-keyboards) has some understanding of it - he toured with both Meatloaf and Yes over the past few years. The songs are tight, pop-hook filled, radio-friendly gems. Unfortunately, while this genre is a bit refreshing in today's retro-crazy world, it has the tendency to get old fast. The songs don't necessarily deteriorate in quality as the CD moves forward, but there's only so much one person can handle when it comes to Ben-Folds-pop-synth-alternative-modern-hybrid-music.

At least for me. At CBGB's on August 1, the crowd seemed to eat Spiraling up. While they sounded a bit off (it could be the trashed sound system after decades of rock), their spirit and their song's moods came off fine. I like Ben Folds - for a song or two - and then I need to try something else out on my ears. The CD is a pop treasure-trove, it just comes down to how much shiny, pretty, gold doubloons you want to carry around.

--Grant Moser

 




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