Sunday, January 03, 2010



The Aislers Set-How I Learned to Write Backwards
If Last Match was their Mountain High foray into Spectorpop, this is their River Deep departure album that hides in the ambiguous urban shadows of the Shangri-Las while the production looks for the infamous 304 Holloway address of Joe Meek. “Catherine Says” christens the album like a Chris Bell confessional with its “Look Up” sentiments (albeit in the third person). From there, “Emotional Levy” delivers slanted tiers of shifting rhythms and assured handclaps—all leveled off by idiosyncratic lyrics fluctuating between disenchantment and enchantment. This magnetic mix of withdrawn vocals enshrouded in reverb pulls the listener away from everything familiar to where doubt clouds the sunshine like salt in water. “Languor in the Balcony” returns to the guitar-driven pop sound that prefigured this album to deny any land of no return feelings. With its "Paint It Black" inspired intro and the Southwestern-tinged horns evocative of those heard in the Hollies’ “You Need Love,” “Mission Bells” rings in as an ornate sonic treasure with dichotomous lyrics unraveling between tangling guitars and buoyant keys that climbs to a plateauing modulation that never fails to bring a smile. All my epilates are futile in further describing what may be the most stirring single I may hear this year. Rather than presenting just the finest times, “Sara’s Song” scrap paper captures those, “As the bass pours through the baseboards” mundane and repetitive moments surrounding the weary kiln of workaday life. Musically, this seems to come from the ominous “Valley of the Saroos” by Joe Meek's “Blue Men” with only sleigh bells lifting the song up long enough to see hope fade like a contrail from a jet plane in a light polluted night sky. The albums continues with its vacillations of tentative and confident lyrics embedded in the sonically analogous music and sequencing. “Through the Swells” opens things up to third person observations of the sometimes fascinating merging and converging of people as much as it questions what impels people to do it all (i.e., the everyday patterns) again and again. A joyous guitar solo worthy of the Yellow Balloon figures as the brief musical centerpiece of the song. Ultimately, this half-hour album encompasses all the asymmetrical fragmentary moments between aspirations dissipating to what actually happens and transforms it all into something and grander, stronger and more eloquent. Isn’t that what music is supposed to do sometimes?

The Autumn Reign-Demo
Maximum jangle and roll from this UK band enamored of U.S. mid-sixties folk-garage sounds. More inclined to explore (and interpret) the side-street mid-sixties sounds of the states than the typical tourist sonic stops, this is one interesting trip. Their route takes them across the moodiest and minor key sounds weathered by the Rising Storm, over the Midwestern pop hops and folk rocks of the Choir and Blue Things in-route to their final coastal destination—landing on Sunset Strip of the Leaves, the Turtles, Love and those countless bands along the Western edge that never made “it.” On a contemporary plane, this 10 songs/33 minutes demo places them on congruent paths of the Optic Nerve, the folk-rock shades of the Barracudas, “Separations”-era Embrooks, the Loons and the Lears. “Fallen for Her” shines brightest on this silver platter with its glad-all-over Palace Guard-esque “Like Falling Sugar” chorus declaring that a giddy crush is not to be left behind with the five minute bells between school classes. However, the upbeat mood quickly vanishes and a pall is immediately cast with “Can’t Live Without You.” This one has all the hallmarks of one of the slow burning powerful dirges of Lyres. Folk rock clarity moves to a spacey haze with “In the Universe” before swinging back to the earthly concerns of “Smile.” While it may be a cliché couplet to write: “I Need it bad/I Need that smile I never had” they convincingly pull if off to make one nod in universal agreement regarding the pure uplift a mere smile can bring on just “Another Day Going By.” All in all, if you are into minor-key masterpieces like “Never Go Right” by the Gants, you can’t go wrong with the Autumn Reign.


V/A Carnivals, Cotton Candy and You: An Orange Sky Records CompilationAfter his vanguard Vendetta publication was put to rest in the ever-expanding print zine graveyard last year, Ben has quietly shifted his energy to the captain's chair of the pop commonwealth of the Dionysus Records Empire. Orange Sky Records is now the non-stop connection between the West Coast mystique and the swirled sounds of the UK. This essential direct flight, over the Great Lakes and Eastern routes of Rainbow Quartz, has been missing since Poptones grounded some of the jet-setters in their fleet. First, this comp. does what a good comp. should--it directly exposes listeners to new groups and sounds that spurs them to search out their other material. It begins with a leadoff bang and wastes no time in introducing new favorites with "If That's What You Want" by the Sights. This catchy-as-cleats song fast-forwards them 10 years or so (or a half-decade back to their roots) from their recent Grand Funk pounding grounds and pops like a catcher's mitt. The Electromagnetic's "Stargazer" hovers over the Stone Roses going on a "Like A Daydream" Ride that landed me in front of the computer wanting to hear more. Honeyrider appears with their best and brightest moment I have heard from them. Orange-picked from their debut album, "Summer's Almost Gone" captures all the good they are capable of with its high tide of cresting harmonies and good vibrations all over the place. The Witch Hazel Sound then arrive with their highly layered, sweeping, shimmering pop sounds clear coated with High Llamas/Sean O' Hagan-ish impressionist music-referential lyrics. The album concludes on a high with the Terrapin Gun giving the low down on their "Postcards from L.A." While McGuinn and McGuire may no longer be roaming the West Coast, they chronicle today's shaggy haired, between the pearl buttons, desert booted ramblers following their footsteps and also blazing their own trails under orange pacific skies.


Gore Gore Girls-Up All Night
While there have been more bands than troopers on the interstate highways of Ohio trying this approach, the Gore Gore Girls ultimately surpass the also-rans and wanna-bes because they combine and successful play both factions--rock and roll. "Up All Night" has them going beyond the usual B-movie inspired rock trappings with some primo Grade A rock 'n' roll. Amy's tough and tender voice reveals hints of Chrissie Hynde and Ronnie Spector while Melody provides rigorous "stroker ace" stability on bass as they motor across Supersnazz's "Diode City" while giving only a quick glance back to the Smears in the Garage. As heard on "Standing on Corner," spacious production is the order of the night here and it captures all the outstanding vocals coming from far and wide. Before the night is over, the lost art of fun can be heard on the galloping and hand-clapping doo-wop of "Your Last Chance." John Hentch's organ solo, Amy's Spector-ish lead vocals backed by the street corner harmonies, the past and the present all converge to enthralling results. While you're wide-awake be sure to stick around for the bonus track. You can catch up on sleep some other night. Your only excuse is having to take off early for one of their shows--as they span the wide world of rock 'n' roll!


Ted Leo-Hearts of Oak
While ships are coming in from every direction to embrace his classic, yet fresh sound, Leo’s latest comes off as more angular and a bit more attacking to long time listeners going back to his Chisel years. Newcomers may ask where this all came from and Leo may cite the plate tectonics of life, the nobler aspect of punk, literature, Billy Bragg, Curtis Mayfield, Dexy’s Midnight Runners, Joe Strummer, Emitt Rhodes, Thin Lizzy and even Adam and the Ants, but with his eclectic and extensive zest for sounds, I wouldn’t put it pass him to even be moved by Bread. Cue Bread’s “Down on my Knees” and tell me you don’t hear the resemblance between what Ted Leo is doing now. Set atop these salient and subterranean influences, “Building Skyscrapers in the Basement” dramatically opens the curtain to this album like a battle hymn with a melody sounding like it descended from on high from ol’ Erie. The first single “Where Have all the Rude Boys Gone?” attests to his talents of enlarging personal memories while evoking listeners to some of their own with the lacerating chunky guitar, shuffling percussion and a peculating electric piano bringing the onrush. The albums then hit some choppy waters with a few songs that neglect to check out at noon when they are better suited to a succinct 2 and 3 minutes. (The Pharmacists are some accomplished, intricate and innovative musicians, but I prefer they save most of the stretch-outs for their live shows.) The lyrical aspects here, rather than penetrating on several levels, seem to weigh down songs like “I Am a Ghost” and “The High Party” with unwieldiness. Initially, I questioned the entire “Hearts of Oak” concept. Is he referring to the some nautical nomenclature deftly interwoven as a salute to those who refuse to give-in to the lowest common denominator and the power structures and strictures that sadly keep repeating themselves everyday? I could be weed-whipping in the dark, but I’m going surmise that Leo’s giving a much needed and countervailing voice and song to all squelched out by the tiresome system. Ultimately, it is his sheer conviction that irons things out. Without resorting to sloganeering, Leo offers an open challenge to listeners to keep fighting to make things better on personal, public and political levels. “The Ballad of the Sin Eater” with its blunt and deadpan chorus at first sounded annoying as the ubiquitous rage-rock song blaring from the next car over or the knocking and spewing diesel pickup in the rearview mirror, however I have come around to like this herky-jerky travelogue of the ugly American. It ultimately delivers and resolves at the fastening phrase of “Manifestation of Doubt”-- bringing empowering resolution to the escalating cacophony. The album then really hits its stride with a trinity of songs near the three/fourth point. The poignant “The Anointed One,” the vibrant pop-poetry of "Bridges, Squares" and “Born to Run” jams into “The Eton Rifles/Guns of Brixton/Spanish Bombs” historical socio-political urgency of “Tell Balgeary, Balgury is Dead” all reveal themselves to be the finest in Leo’s canon. Next, the tunneling and clanging guitar of “2nd Ave, 11AM” and the Chisel-like and soulful “First to Finish, Last to Start” finish things on a strong note. While it may have been impossible to surpass the breakthrough of “Tyranny of Distance,” “Hearts of Oak” is a commendable follow-up. This recording borders on brilliance more often than not while it deftly and resoundingly succeeds in the precarious act of mixing an undercurrent of politics with vanguard independent pop.


The Kent 3-Spells



Never fitting in with any sub-strata (with built-in devotees) the Kent 3 have been taking the dark ol' state routes off the Western musical map for the last decade. Their should-be-legendary albums are too musically adventitious to fit in the usual RnR/garage/punk/ slots while too spry, agile and lyrically keen to fit in with their lumbered region predominated by gang grunge. (They could even be considered the eccentric, but lovable older uncle of the impressive Northwest pogo/bubble/new wave punk scene.) While they offer no manifestations of cheap hope, happy endings or pretensions, they do offer some vivid vignettes with coursing lyrics--informed as much by Frederick Exley as they are by that Pickwick poet Lou Reed. This is street poetry for undercover punks not on the streets. These are vigorous yet free-flowing songs for uniting those who will never be united. “Spells” can rouse listeners to the short-cut depths of the contradictory and skewed turn-of-the-century West--that takes place off the I-10 between open dumpsters and closed unidentified warehouses. Its surf-rock drumming, trebly, but tough guitars, and literate Beat-inspired lyrics are splattered on the blacktop and reign-in everything from a low desert midnight mass to a brackish Pacific Northwest mountain pass. While this band only published praises might be found between the smudged ink lines and faded pages of a Fiz zine, attuned ears and a miner's light on the lyrics etched into this compelling and convincing album might finally give this band some long awaited due. Oh yeah...how many bands in 1998 remembered that Bob Seger did not always suck like a Chevy Truck commercial and once put out some "Heavy Music”?


The Out Crowd-Go on, Give a Damn
The chiming opener “Good Morning” from these jolly rogers caught me by surprise with its Subsonics playing Searchers covers—up in the ionosphere aura. This song floats on a jingle-jangle carpet ride out to an apogee of a Holly-esque "Everyday" inspired guitar solo before the drums roll around to bring it all back home again. “Good Morning, deserves to be in the same sky high echelons as “Here Comes Your Man” by the Pixies. They come back to quarterdeck and precede to swashbuckle the shackles with their shaking shards cutting through on guitars submerged in appealing and lavish reverb. Surefire drumming and guitars imbued with echoes of R.E.M., Suede, Cast/the La’s and the Dentists (or the Chills and the Clean to place the comparisons in antipodean terms) are the “X” marks the spots of “Time Enough.” With his voice quivering like Clay Reed of the Subsonics, “The Gospel” according to Matt Hollywood is a palimpsest cranked with fractured detached visions of waiting for the man somewhere between attachment, the gang plank and salvation. So whether you’re on crumbling lands, high seas or in deep space, this is a treasure worth searching for between the current major label wreckage.


Honeyrider-All Systems Go!
Gary Strickland sure knows how to make something out of everything—everything that’s important if we were all under the workaday burdens of jobs, bills, slogging clocks and black diamond mountain slopes of doubt. He has all his priorities straight with girls, summer and the beach on the top. Brimming with energy and ex-cit-a-tions, the melodic sensibilities offer an instantly familiarity, yet remain distinctively Honeyrider. Originally released on England’s Damage Goods Records, this debut album (which rounded up many of early singles) is now licensed domestically by Orange Sky Records and augmented by some recently recorded live tracks. “Endless Summer” kicks off the album and immediately declares “California’s Where the Action” as its manifesto with citrus colored covers. From there, this “endless weekend” album goes off and running into a tide while Jesus & Mary Chain, Soup Dragons, Daytonas, Helen Love, and Barracudas songs play on the mix tape. “Radio Heatwave” recalls those “Shake Some Action” comps of rare power-pop—namely the Marshals’ song “AM” with the DJ break-in. The swirling Madchester menagerie “Space Girl” and the ultra-poppy “Galaxy Girl” are warmly welcomed reminders of the possible fun to be had when the sun goes down and the stars go up. Suspending his listeners over all that’s is good like those colorful cable cars stretching over King’s Island, he cast the illusion (or maybe the reality) that writing songs like this is an effortless walk along the beach. Hit play and you have a soundtrack that could blast through this winter and spring you right into the sunlit love of next summer.



Visqueen-King Me
Everything runs it course--people and bands break up and web pages disappear out of the blue. After over 20 years, the Fastbacks sadly disbanded while they were making some of the finest music of their storied career. Thankfully life and music go on and Kim’s trademark bass and voice can now be heard in Visqueen. While, Kim’s talents flourish like a rhododendron under the towering evergreen talent of Rachel, this is clearly Rachel Flotard’s day in the rare Seattle sun. Acidic and ambivalent lyrics top off crunching guitars and crushing drumming. At times, the sound recalls Flop struck by the lightening bolt of Red Five and the jolt of Jane Wiedlin’s Frosted. The uber-melodic “My House” puts down the welcome mat to their most Fastback sounding construction. Once inside their sonic hallway, they will turn on “Omaha” which features the cool chorus of: "We're Mutual Like Omaha" that will hit home for anyone who spent some time in the ‘70s. If this were still 1996, the band would be to right next to Weezer on David Geffen’s payroll. Actually, any of these songs could possibly dash up the charts this summer at alt-rock radio stations—still open to colossal hooks and harmonies. However, if Clear Channel’s smudged transom remains tightly shut, the band knows that just detailing the little joys and pains of life and delivering them in catchy king-sized melodies is what really reigns supreme in the end.


The Lost Patrol-Off Like A Prom Dress
While driving through the desert at night on the way to a free Nancy Sinatra show at the casino down on the Ak-Chin Reservation, “Off Like a Prom Dress” went on the car stereo. While the tape rolled and the Firestones spun, the dichotomy of a harsh landscape with the spare beauty became immensely apparent. After a rush through the parking lot and some expected out-of-place metal guitar wankery, the band finally kicked in with a serviceable version of “You Only Live Twice.” However, they failed to capture the glimmer and shimmer of the original opulent Bond theme and I thought of the more evocative version found as an exclusive on the Lost Patrol web site. Despite the noble efforts of Clem Burke (Blondie) on drums, Sinatra’s band sunk into an underwhelming “Blues Hammer-ish” song written by the bass player and my mind drifted back to the dreamy and elegant silver disc from the Lost Patrol. On their latest escapade, the emphasis is really on the vocal numbers. For me, “Off Like a Prom Dress” really embarks near the end--starting with the gliding “Firefly” which recalls Denise James’ Poptones record that unfortunately few heard. “…And Then Goodbye” etches the Shadows at their most florid and is just asking for some lucky film to scoop it up as its theme or soundtrack. “Bon Voyage” floats along on a rockabilly undercurrent while the mandolin-driven folksy “I Am Here” brings things back to land. With the casino glowing in the rearview marrow, I clicked in the Lost Patrol tape as the car pushed forward into the Indian ink dark of the timeless desert and the pinpoint guitars led me home.

The Lottie Collins-Runaway to the Mexico/Pouvatel 45
After seeing this fun bunch come clear across the Pacific to blast things right open for Nardwuar and the Evaporators a couple of years ago, it was exciting to see this domestic 45 in the local record racks with the intriguing title of “Runaway to the Mexico.” (Behind this release is the new Tempe-based I Don’t Feel A Thing label who have also released a snazzy single from Tiger Shovel Nose-one of Momoko Yoshino’s (ex-Sunnychar!) numerous bands.) However, my excitement dove to disappointment (like finding bills and a jury duty notice under a CD package in the mail) when I didn’t hear that Dickies and the Barracudas waterslide sound of their “Electric Surfer Girl” single from 1998. While I have not heard their split 7’’ with the Ewoks on Magic Teeth, that particular single left me convinced they could develop into one of Japan’s finest--which is no easy feat in a land brimming with more great bands per capita than anywhere in the world. Anyway, this pulls the lo-fi, played-out, rote, pedestrian rip-chords with the usual mega-phone-ish vocals that Supercharger bashed out a decade ago. Things improve when they out-smuggle the Smugglers on “Pouvatel.” If they ever get around to making a full-length, I hope they hang 40 near the splash of the Soup Dragons EP rather than towing the piss-take shallow end of the rock ‘n’ roll pool.

No comments: