Thursday, December 3, 2009

#27: Cougar>Patriot>Baring Teeth

Artist : Cougar
Album : Patriot (2nd Domestic LP)
Release :
Year Founded : 2003
Label Name : Counter Records
Catalog # : 024
Packaging Type : Single-Disc Jewel Case
Members : David Henzie-Skogen, Todd Hill, Trent Johnson, Aaron Sleator, Dan Venne
Runtime : 45:48
Area Tour Dates : None at time of publication
Sound Season : Summer, Winter
iTunes Worthy Tracks : Stay Famous, Florida Logic, Thundersnow, Daunte v. Armada
Sounds Like : Couch Figur 5
Rating : A-

According to a previous post I wrote, "[Cougar] lay some beautiful foundations for what could be compelling instrumentalism, but end up being more like pleasant background music. This is not the 'epic emergency rock' that they claim to be." Well, "epic emergency rock" still seems a bit inflated to me, but the band has done well to hone in on a sound that thrives on inconsistency. That isn't to say that they leap from genre to genre, but that they are able to create with a typical rock ensemble a varied soundscape that sometimes lulls, at others jars, and still at others makes one want to leap from one's seat and storm the nearest castle.

It seems that the group has found a penchant for the anthemic on Patriot. "Florida Logic," for instance, sounds like it would be completely at home in the giant robot battle scene in Casshern. What the group tends to do particularly well is begin the song with one phrase (a phrase that will often have one rhythmic quirk to it, but remains deceptively simple), digress into a serene tangent and then return to the first phrase with added emphasis and energy to conclude the song. And while that description may sound like a recipe for sonic ennui, the enthusiasm of the reprise almost always provokes a sort of Newtonian reaction, compelling various jerky movements of the extremities.

Filled with electronic tricks that dirty up the sound and keep things from sounding like they're all one way all the time, Cougar, like all bands do, borrow from their contemporaries, employing Ratatat-like doubled guitar solos on "Rhinelander" and ultra layered rhythms reminiscent of percussion-heavy passages from various Mice Parade songs on "Pelourinho" and others.

Patriot also has a surprising range of emotion considering that this is an instrumental band we're talking about. Compared to a band like The Mercury Program, whose sound is very pleasant, but decidedly static, Cougar are able to appear dark and unapproachable, then hopeful, then introspective, then exuberantly triumphant ("Endings"). Every song has something the listener can take away from it, something that endears itself to the ear.

On Law Cougar spent too much time on one idea, leaving little room for the moments of catharsis that instrumental music so often needs to save itself from the trap of becoming so much sonic wallpaper. We see in Patriot then a band more in tune to its own strengths, and one more willing to capitalize on those strengths, resulting in songs that encapsulate entire histories instead of just so many moments. Once a cub amused and amazed at its own abilities, Cougar has grown into its skin.

Friday, May 2, 2008

#26: Make Believe>Going to the Bone Church & Joan of Arc>Boo Human>Two Many Faces

Artist : Make Believe
Album : Going to the Bone Church (3rd Domestic LP)
Release : 04.29.08
Year Founded : 2004
Label Name : Flameshovel Records
Catalog # : DIG045
Packaging Type : Vinyl
Players : Bobby Burg, Nate Kinsella, Tim Kinsella, Sam Zurick
Runtime : 35:05
Area Tour Dates : None at time of publication
Sound Season : Winter
iTunes Worthy Tracks : Ooo-Yum; Just Green Enough; For Lauri Bird; Taste, Touch, Smell, Deceit, and Touch
Rating : B

I wish that I had an outsider's perspective on the Make Believe. As it stands, I've come to know them and their tricks. But as much as I know what to expect from them, they still keep me guessing. New albums always still have a slight learning curve. But still, sometimes I wish I could once again be as naïve as I was before I unwittingly gave myself to the Make Believe.

On the other hand, I've been more of a prude around Joan of Arc. I've shied away from their advances, allowing myself to listen to little more than specks since How Memory Works and even then feeling that I had done wrong and that someone had seen. And I knew full well what they were after. I have perhaps teased them with my appreciation and — sometimes — my full-fledged, doe-eyed adoration. But I believed it would never work between us. They understand me so much better than I could ever understand them. And so I pushed them away, even as I longed to embrace them.

Everything is different now though. I am ready. Whether it's because Boo Human is almost radio-ready in a similar way that Modest Mouse's Good News for People Who Love Bad News was (in the sense that the way that it sounds belies the twisted, wretched darkness that it contains) or because I am not scared of being confused by their avant garde-ism anymore doesn't matter.

The fact of the matter is that Boo Human is a great album whereas Going to the Bone Church has only great moments and somehow stands alone. It is also shrouded in darkness, not a darkness that one endeavors to explore and understand, but one in which they teeter closer to the edge of insanity than madness. There is almost a feeling of despondency in the long trails of vocal veils.

The Make Believe have always been confoundingly complex structurally. There is no more unorthodox and singular sounding guitarist than Sam Zurick, evidenced similarly by Ghosts and Vodka, among others. More than ever though, his playing sounds like someone drowning, gasping for breath and choking on an unfamiliar oxygen-delivery medium.

I think that the difference lies not in his playing, but in drummer Nate Kinsella's. Rather than playing unaffected, as herring flowing through the tangled net thrown starboard by Zurick, Kinsella now seems irreversibly caught (especially on "Wearin' Torn"), a grouper now able to go only where the net wishes to take him, which is presumably to the deck of the boat, where he will choke to death or perhaps be pitifully bashed about the head. Alright, so it isn't so bad as all of that sounds, but there is a palpable difference between what we hear rhythmically on say, Shock of Being, and what we hear here.

There are, as I said earlier, some moments of greatness though. "Just Green Enough" should perhaps only be listened to after a healthy dose of Dramamine®, but the pitch and roll of the vocals — contrary to my previous oceanic metaphor — are one of the album's most clarifying moments. And Zurick may possibly be sending a Morse code message signaling for help with his playing during the chorus (?) of "For Lauri Bird."

So if Going to the Bone Church occurs on the open ocean, then Boo Human happens in a humble home where its comfortable and warm and only as lonely as you want it to be. And if the former's breathing is rushed and fitful, then the latter's is even, measured, mantric.

What the band says in those breaths though is often accusatory and condescending. It's like we're listening to the quietly exasperated explanation of a man whose been willing to look past a lot of things for a lot of time and that same lot of time has eroded his patience. These are perhaps some of Tim Kinsella's most direct, decipherable and personal — or, at least, personalized — lyrics ever. Consider these from "Laughter Reflected Back:"

The best friend I ever had, was the worst fucking thing to ever happen to me
One can never guess what a willingness, to do anything for another may require
And now it seems she needs me, even to call it quits with me for her
She can't see inward, So she's the last to know she'll get to this point in herself again
But at least we can each count on all this shit to be reflected back at us
In the depths of our laughter

I'm sure it doesn't hurt that there are a bevy of talented Chicagoans that help bring the record together. The scathing "9/11 2" for instance drops the regular JoA lineup (except for Tim) in favor of an anxious string section that serves to highlight the vocal dramatics. Continuing on the theme of being pissed off, Kinsella here bites, "being the center of everything to me just wasn't enough for you." It's this catastrophic ditty that also contains my favorite lyric of the entire outing — "the future is gone and the past won't stop happening." Contrast that with "Insects Don't Eat Bananas," which sounds like the band's version of a song they would have liked to contribute to Disney's Jungle Book soundtrack.

So Boo Human succeeds where Going to the Bone Church fails: in variety, mood and relatability. Of course, no one can deliver on all fronts all the time and Bone Church is nowhere near a bad record. But perhaps for every letdown, there is a triumph, for every pleasant surprise, an indifferent prediction. And the entropy of the Kinsella universe thereby rights itself once again.

Rating : A
iTunes Worthy Tracks : Laughter Reflected Back, Just Pack or Unpack, 9/11 2, A Tell-Tale Penis, Vine on a Wire, The Surrender #2
Sound Season : Winter
Area Tour Dates : 07.19.08 @ Middle East Upstairs
Runtime : 38:41
Players : Josh Abrams, Leroy Bach, Bobby Burg, Evan Hydzik, Emmett Kelly, Mike Kinsella, Tim Kinsella, Paul Koob, Todd Mattei, Liz Payne, Elizabeth Remis, Mark Trecka, Ben Vida, Sam Zurick
Packaging Type : Single-Disc Jewel Case
Catalog # : PRC152
Label Name : Polyvinyl Record Company
Year Founded : 1995
Release : 05.20.08
Album : Boo Human (11th Domestic LP)
Artist : Joan of Arc

Monday, March 17, 2008

#25: Why?>Alopecia>Bald-faced truths

Artist : Why?
Album : Alopecia (3rd Domestic LP)
Release : 03.11.08
Label Name : Anticon
Catalog # : 0080
Packaging Type : Single-Disc Jewel Case
Players : Andrew Broder, Mark Erikson, Doug McDiarmid, Josiah Wolf, Yoni Wolf
Produced By : The Wolf Brothers
Runtime : 44:56
Area Tour Dates : 03.24.08 @ Iron Horse Music Hall, Northampton & 03.25.08 @ The Middle East, Cambridge
Sound Season :Spring, Summer
iTunes Worthy Tracks : The Vowels Pt. 2, These Few Presidents, The Hollows, Fatalist Palmistry
Sounds Like : Subtle For Hero: For Fool
Rating : B-

For the best, most engaging music makers, genre labeling is often a fruitless labor. A "file under rock" sticker on an album is almost always a sign of unique promise. The Anticon label, most often associated with indie-hop purveyors like Jel, Odd Nosdam and 13 & God here puts out something really not so far removed from all that, and yet, very different sounding.

The difference lies in the delivery. Why?'s lyrics sound like they were intended to be rapped (I'm talking rap as poetry — as art — rather than as gangster posturing), but are instead sung. At their best they are fluid, unconfrontational, memorable and they tell a story or at least provide a vivid vignette. At their worst they are loose and spastic, seemingly disconnected. Yoni Wolf's voice is almost like Stephen Merrit doing an impression of John Linnel (he's fairly nasal, but not annoyingly so), especially on "These Few Presidents" when he sings:

I thought I had a pebble in my sock, I pulled it off and shook out a wasp
It stumbled out lost and without a pause, unstung as I was, still I stomped it

It's geeky, quirky and clever and — if you're like me — it gets your attention. It makes you want to listen closely to see what else you might be missing.

It's perfect then that it is followed by the particularly brilliant "The Hollows," which is the highlight of the whole outing, owing to the genius of this verse:

In Berlin I saw two men fuck in a dark corner of a basketball court, just the slight jingle of pocket change pulsing
In the tourist part I lost fifty Euros to the guy with the walnut shells and the marbles, it really pissed me off so I thought I'd go back to get my money, but all my homies warned me, "Oh no, those gypsies probably got knives"

The instrumentation on this song is excellent too. It's sneaky and dark — precisely appropriate for slinking through alleyways, trailing someone who's got information you need. The humming bass and tip-toe guitar always provide a satisfying punctuation to precede the chorus.

The rest of the album is entirely listenable with many moments of inspired clarity like the poppy, upbeat "Fatalist Palmistry." But the slower songs like "Good Frida" and "The Fall of Mr. Fifths" can tend to fall into a much more typical hip-hop rut. The lines take on a rhythmic, lulling swing. It is by no means a bad thing for a song to do this, but the hammock laziness of it fades perception. It's like laying back looking up at nothing but blue sky. Its a pleasant monotony, but monotony just the same.

This fusion that artists like Busdriver and Why? are creating is of particular interest to me because I love the lyrics-as-a-puzzle mentality of hip-hop and the emotive organics of rock. Bring it together with a poppy chorus that can't be unstuck from your brainfolds and I'll listen all day, and I think a lot of other people will too.

Friday, November 2, 2007

#24: Forgotten Classic>Firehose>If'n

Artist : Firehose
Album : If'n (2nd Domestic LP)
Release : 1987
Year Founded : 1986
Label Name : SST
Catalog # : 115
Packaging Type : Single-Disc Jewel Case
Members : Ed Crawford, George Hurley, Mike Watt
Runtime : 39:02
Sound Season : Summer, Autumn

I first encountered Firehose by being completely obssessed with an 1988 skate video called Streets on Fire, which was Santa Cruz's balls-out, badass sequel to Wheels of Fire. It starred Jason Jesse, whom I idolized at the time, and featured on its soundtrack almost all SST records bands such as Black Flag and Sonic Youth and had heavy doses of Descendents, Minutemen and Firehose throughout.

My brother and I watched this video incessantly and devoured every trick, every note, every goofy moment. We would pause and rewind and pause the credits over and over again to find out who did our favorite songs. Firehose was the clear winner for us across the board (Minutemen became huge for us only after Firehose). The greatest thing about it was that all the other bands were really pretty harsh, and then here was this band playing this rhythm-heavy folk-rock. It was epiphanous for us that music could mean so much without being so overtly rebellious.

It was around this same time in that our pépère (grandpa, for the non-french) had suffered a stroke. He had survived it, but was never able to make a full recovery. I remember visiting him in the hospital and seeing how confused and scared he was. He often couldn't remember his own sons and daughters. I had to be reintroduced to him. He had to relearn just about everything, which meant that he became a new and different person, often not resembling the pépère that I had come to know and love, although I knew that he was still in there somewhere. A short time after Thanksgiving, we got the news that he had died. Both versions of my pépère were gone.

The day of his wake, my brother and I came home from school and waited for our parents to come home early from work. I'm not sure how or where or who he got it from, but my brother J had come home with the If'n record. We had waited so long to hear it and here it finally was. We put it on the player in the living room and listened quietly while we stared out the window, waiting and watching for car lights coming up the driveway.

In the video, the songs were so exuberant and celebratory. They underscored the freedom and the kinship exemplified in the scenes of Ben Schroeder and Klaus Grabke traipsing across Western Europe or of Natas Kaupas tricking off of everything in San Francisco. They were like a rallying call, a musical "carpe diem!" "Windmilling" was particularly joyous.

Two of us windmilling, swirling in another time
Let my feet touch the ground, the doors revolve and choirs sing
Two of us windmilling, wheels in motion
What life you draw through me, the doors revolve and choirs sing
Two of us windmilling, wrap me in barbed wire
You bring out the sting in me, the doors revolve and choirs sing

But in the fading daylight of that gray day, they had become more like pleas and eulogies. The wistful "In Memory of Elizabeth Cotton" will always bring this moment back.

Every song on the record is brilliant in its own way from the morose "Backroads" to the jabbing "For the Singer of REM" to the dark chant "Thunder Child." This was a band that existed and subsisted on heart and soul. They were blue-collar, modest and, above all, honest.

And If'n is forever a wonderful way to remember.

Friday, October 26, 2007

#23: The Forms>The Forms>Follow Function

Artist : The Forms
Album : The Forms (2nd Domestic LP)
Release : 10.23.07
Year Founded : 2003
Label Name : Threespheres
Catalog # : 0115
Packaging Type : Single-Disc Digipak
Members : Brendan Kenny, Jackson Kenny, Alex Tween, Matt Walsh
Runtime : 29:44
Area Tour Dates : None at time of publication
Sound Season : Autumn, Winter
iTunes Worthy Tracks : Knowledge in Hand, Red Gun, Bones, Blue Whale
Sounds Like : Bats & Mice Believe it Mammals
Rating : B+

Truthfully, the only reason The Forms' new album stood out to me from amongst all the crap promos that come our way is because of the 'recorded by Steve Albini' note on the inside cover. Now, Mr. Albini is not infallible, and, last I heard, he still will record anyone's album provided they wait their turn. But, 75 percent of what he touches is typically worth seriously listening to. I also immediately noticed that Matt Talbott of Hum gets a credit as an 'additional engineer.' That sealed the deal.

Well, what really sealed the deal was playing the record. I was unable to have any preconceived notions about this band. Their name does not immediately give away their sound and, as I said, Steve Albini has worked with everyone from The Frames to Mindless Self Indulgence, so that isn't giving anything away. Neither does the nondescript album art or the label to which they belong. With nothing to go on, the vocals hit me first.

Alex Tween has a vocal sound similar to Aqueduct's David Terry. He sound like he might be your wiseass best friend who just started a band to prove that he could. More striking than that though is the way the vocals stick right to the guitar melody, or vice versa, which is a feat in itself considering "Knowledge in Hand"'s disjointed rhythm. Tween's desperate yell is a perfect counterpoint to the decorum of his casual, matter-of-factness.

Brendan Kenny plays guitar as if his hand is glued to the fretboard. Everything is a slide or a bend ("Blue Whale") or a Möbius strip ("Focus") and there are little or no moments without notes. And there is something distinctly 90's about this band. There is a simplicity and a naïve innocence about them that calls to mind that time when major labels were scrambling to sign bands even the underground hadn't heard of in hopes of finding the next Nirvana. They're catchy, but not poppy. They're a little dark, a little sinister, but not out to scare anyone. They sound like they have ideals.

The one thing missing from the album is variety. All the songs sound pretty similar. That phenomenon fades a bit as you listen and become more familiar, but it remains at least in part after repeated listening. The tone of the instruments never change. If the album were longer, it may have turned into a fatiguing listen, no matter how satisfying each song might have been on its own.

Friday, October 5, 2007

#22: Junior Senior>Hey Hey My My Yo Yo>Somebody's been snorting pixie dust

Artist : Junior Senior
Album : Hey Hey My My Yo Yo (2nd Domestic LP)
Release : 08.31.07
Year Founded : 2003
Label Name : Ryko
Catalog # : 10927
Packaging Type : Dual-Disc Digi-Pak
Members : Jeppe Breum Laursen, Jesper Mortensen
Runtime : 34:19
Area Tour Dates : None at time of publication
Sound Season :
iTunes Worthy Tracks : Hip Hop a Lula, Can I Get Get Get
Sounds Like :
Rating : B

Junior Senior are pretty creepy. One of them looks like he's about to gather up the Lost Boys and fly off to fight Captain Hook and the other kind of looks like a kid toucher who lives in a van behind Savers — a frightening combination if you ask me. If you can make it past that though, they do kick out some jams that despite (or perhaps due to) their incredible flamingness are pretty catchy and really fun.

Hey Hey My My Yo Yo starts with "Hello," which is just that — a cordial 'hello!' from the band followed by an invitation to 'put on your pants ... because you might want to dance.' They sound eerily and hilariously just like the famous Mario Twins. Coming straight off that intro is "Hip Hop a Lula," which is very reminiscent of something off of the recently released Go! Team's album. It's got a very bass drum/snare drum dependent verse with a surging stop-start cut up synth that takes the place of a scratching DJ followed by a party chorus with guitar and horns and handclaps. Lots and lots of handclaps.

The album takes a marked nu-disco turn at "Can I Get Get Get" that persists through "We 'R the Handclaps." If the Scissor Sisters are a hybrid of the Bee Gees and Elton John, then Junior Senior and special guests Cindy Wilson and Kate Pierson (of the B-52's) are a cross between their Scandinavian ancestors Abba and Kool and the Gang on "Take My Time." (Le Tigre and the Velvelettes also hold guest spots on the record.)

The album takes yet another turn at "I Like Music (W.O.S.B.)." This time though, it's something closer to a very poppy Motown. The basslines get less funky and the guitar and vocal harmonies come closer to the front, eliminating most if not all of Senior's role in the affair. Something like "No No No's" comes close to sounding like Elliot Smith's only most positive and airy efforts. This block of songs isn't particularly bad, but doesn't really fit in and ends up feeling like filler. Hey Hey My My Yo Yo and Senior return in the end to the nu-disco/hip-hop combination with the final "Happy Rap."

Junior Senior are all about being positive about life and music and having fun. In pursuit of that end they end up being at least a little creepy and — this shouldn't be a surprise to anyone — very very faggy. But sometimes, if you want to have real no inhibitions who gives a fuck fun, you have to just accept that you're going to look like a homo.

Friday, September 28, 2007

#21: Iron & Wine>The Shepherd's Dog>I shall not want

Artist : Iron & Wine
Album : The Shepherd's Dog (3rd Domestic LP)
Release : 09.25.07
Year Founded : 2002
Label Name : Sub Pop
Catalog # : 710
Packaging Type : Single-Disc Digipak
Members : Sam Beam, Sarah Beam, Jim Becker, Rob Burger, Joey Burns, Brian
Deck, EJ Holowicki, John Katke, Matt Lux, Patrick McKinney, Paul Niehaus
Runtime : 49:45
Area Tour Dates : None at time of publication
Sound Season : Summer
iTunes Worthy Tracks : White Tooth Man, Lovesong of the Buzzard, Carousel, House by the Sea, Boy with a Coin
Sounds Like : Nick DrakePink Moon
Rating : A

Iron & Wine's The Shepherd's Dog maintains the same emotional, thematic and artistic arc as his previous album, Our Endless Numbered Days. While it maintains — like Endless — a melancholic moodiness, it will not likely induce fits of weeping as did Sam Beam's shockingly stark introduction to the music world The Creek Drank the Cradle. The new album also continues the trend toward fuller, more complex arrangements and clearer, more inclusive production.

Still firmly at the epicenter though is Beam's whispery and warbly yet confident voice and his uncanny ability to twist his lachrymose words around the song's edges like tendrils around a fencepost. In short, his phrasing is flawless and adds even more gravity to the already leaden tales he tells.

"Lovesong of the Buzzard" is the first song that is perhaps surprising in the weight of its sound, as it is suffused with a summery lightness. The propulsive percussion and the boomy and bouncy addition of upright bass conjures Sam Prekop's solo work, which is interesting because the very next song, "Carousel," immediately brought to mind similar sounds from Archer Prewitt's seminal In the Sun. It is simple and focused and lonely and the effects applied to the vocal only increase the song's distance. And "House by the Sea" creates an immensely enjoyable swampland chorus of toads, crickets and cicadas by treating nearly everything, even the stringed instruments, as percussion.

The album's single, "Boy with a Coin," is unavoidable. It is The Shepherd's Dog's most haunting and delicately displayed piece. It is not only the album's best song, but one of Beam's best ever and certainly one of this year's best. Handclaps are so simple a device and yet so effective here as they march through the verse and do double-time through the "ooh" and "ahh" chorus. The guitar, with its curlicue pulls and deft slides, sounds like a cat trying to tip-toe through a nighttime stempede. It has perhaps the fewest words of all the songs, but there isn't a wasted phrase among them.

A boy with a coin he found in the weeds, with bullets and pages of trade magazines
Close to a car that flipped on the turn when god left the ground to circle the world
A girl with a bird she found in the snow, then flew up her gown and that's how she knows
That god made her eyes for crying at birth and then left the ground to circle the earth
A boy with a coin he crammed in his jeans, then, making a wish, he tossed in the sea
And walked to a town that all of us burned, when god left the ground to circle the world

No Iron & Wine album will ever be so startlingly intimate as The Creek Drank the Cradle. You just can't recapture the circumstances surrounding that album and how it came to be. But often that's exactly what Beam's most heart-wrenching songs are about — the inability to recapture or relive life's most precious moments — in a word, impermanence. The diversity of Beam's sound has certainly grown since the early days when he thought music might just be a nice hobby, but the feelings that his work evokes are as real as ever.

Friday, September 14, 2007

#20: The Go! Team>Proof of Youth>White men can't jump, but white boys and girls can make you want to

Artist : The Go! Team
Album : Proof of Youth (2nd Domestic LP)
Release : 09.11.07
Year Founded : 2005
Label Name : Sub Pop
Catalog # : 750
Packaging Type : Double-Disc Jewel Case (Album Disc w/Bonus Disc)
Members : Jamie Bell, Sam Dook, Ian Parton, Chi Fukami Taylor, Kaori Tsuchida, Ninja
Runtime : 36:20
Area Tour Dates : 10.25.07 @ The Paradise, Boston
Sound Season : Summer
iTunes Worthy Tracks : Grip Like a Vice, Titanic Vandalism, Flashlight Fight
Rating : A-

The Go! Team are the perfect soundtrack to a Dr. J highlight reel. The kind where cartoon stars shoot out of the net.

The songs often have a synthesized old school hip-hop handclap beat, with live drums over the top to fill out the energy. And lots more — I mean, this stuff is seriously dense, like grandma's meatloaf.

There are empassioned blasts of funk-inspired horns, and things like recorder, glockenspiel and harmonica that add flourishes of psychedelic detail. The bouncy bass really gives the groove a spine and the guitar lends melody support and texture behind the vocals, which are clearly the focal point (with the exception of occassional instrumental tracks, which are fewer in number and less developed than on Thunder Lightning Strike).

The vocals are really what makes The Go! Team stand out as something different. They're part old school hip-hop (think J.J Fad), part cheerleading squad and part double-dutch team. They're recorded and presented in such a way that the listener can't really distinguish them from the samples that burst around them. And just in case you didn't make all the painfully obvious hip-hop connections all over Proof of Youth, Chuck D comes in to school your ass on "Flashlight Fight," easily the most kickass, nod your head, all-out slam dunk anthem ever.

The only thing that works against the team with this release is that is has lost some of its diversity of sound. There are only two instrumentals on this album as compared with the five on their debut album and rather than using the time away from the vocals to do something a little different, it is instead pretty much just another party song minus the "rah, rah, rah." Thunder Lightning Strike had a lot more garage band sound, which really was a great contrast to the hip-hop elements. And although Proof of Youth is still decidedly rock, I can't help feeling that some of the great songwriting has been squashed in favor of creating a battering ram of happy.

The Go! Team do what they do really well, and that is make you want to go out and take over the world by shooting everyone with your fun laser. Sad emo boys would become chimps wearing beanies riding mini-motorbikes, stuffy company execs would become pro laser tag players and we'd all be basejumping off of chocolate mountains into rivers of pudding. Who can't see the beauty in such a world?

Friday, August 31, 2007

#19: Minus the Bear>Planet of Ice>Hibernation has something to do with it

Artist : Minus the Bear
Album : Planet of Ice (3rd Domestic LP)
Release : 08.21.07
Year Founded : 2001
Label Name : Suicide Squeeze Records
Catalog # : 065
Packaging Type : Single-Disc Jewel Case
Members : David Knudson, Cory Murchy, Alex Rose, Jake Snider, Erin Tate
Runtime : 47:58
Area Tour Dates : 00.00.00 @ Venue, City
Sound Season : Fall, Winter
iTunes Worthy Tracks : Knights, Dr. L'Ling
Sounds Like : Cave In Antenna
Rating : C+

Minus the Bear's newest effort sounds a bit like complacency. Maybe its maturation (their song titles have gotten far less ridiculous: compare "Let's Play Guitar in a Five Guitar Band" to "Knights" and "Lotus") or maybe its a desire for more radio play or maybe its just stagnation, but Planet of Ice sounds like it has frozen the band's creative drive.

All the great elements from Menos El Oso are still there — the cross-hatched guitar that rips into the doorbell chimeyness of the other guitar, set off by slightly dreamy, slightly abrasive soaring vocal delivery — except the bass and the drums have been pushed back in the mix and get no extra attention in post production. They've been almost completely neglected. The drums simply sound like drums and the bass simply sounds like bass. Their character is gone. As a result, all of the moments that make your ears prick up are gone. There's really not much in the way of interesting song crafting, which — if anything — is the band's major draw. Instead, it's slightly psychedelic and jammy, sort of a bit like the Mars Volta before they got too crazy for their own straitjacket.

Songs like "The Fix" used to sound very tight, very compact, as if adding one more note or bend or flourish would burst the song's seams, like a little kid who cleans up his room by stuffing everything into the closet and then hopes it holds long enough for his mom to see. But Planet of Ice has so much extra room they could sub-let it to another band. "Part 2" for instance, is so open and airy it sounds like an entire fleet of paper airplanes could circle it skies.

Minus the Bear sound bored with themselves. The band is at its darkest and most galactic on this album. Menos El Oso was kind of like bringing a laptop to the beach whereas Planet of Ice is more like eating an ice cream cone in a cemetery.

Friday, August 24, 2007

#18: Savath & Savalas>Golden Pollen>Masseusical

Artist : Savath & Savalas
Album : Golden Pollen (2nd Domestic LP)
Release : 06.19.07
Year Founded : 1998
Label Name : Anti
Catalog # : 86839
Packaging Type : Single-Disc Jewel Case
Members : Guillermo Scott Herren
Runtime : 52:29
Area Tour Dates : 09.30.07 @ Paradise, Boston
Sound Season : Summer
iTunes Worthy Tracks : Estrella de Dos Caras, Olhas, Faltamos Palabras, Era Tu
Sounds Like : Air Premiers Symptomes
Rating : B

OK, there are some prerequisites to listening to and liking Savath & Savalas's Golden Pollen. Number one: You must like The Beach Boys, especially Smile. Number two: You must be traveling to an exotic destination — preferably a tropical island, but, really, any island would work. Number three: You must be on some sort of downers.

Knowing nothing about the band, you may picture a bronzed, dark-haired, bikini- and speedo-clad duo — not married, but certainly lovers — who don't look at eachother, but writhe with an insouciant sexual anticipation. But, alas, Savath & Savalas is actually just Guillermo Scott Herren, producer, multi-instrumentalist, and Georgian (yes, Georgian). And he uses this project to create lush, exotic, meditative flickerings of songs.

His breathy, layered vocals swirl around acoustic guitars, sensual bass, fluttery flutes, subdued drums and skittish electronics. There are several guest musicians (Jose Gonzales, Tyondai Braxton, Danny Bensi, Laurence Pike, Mia Doi Todd, plus producer John McEntire) scattered throughout the album, but you would never know it by just listening.

Herren's (mostly known for his work as Prefuse 73, but my favorite artistic incarnation of his is as Piano Overlord) previous album under this moniker, Apropa't, was like the Spanish answer to Air. This album has a similar bent, but it also incorporates some psychedelic leanings.

Most of the best moments come in the middle of the album, which is even more of a barrier to entry. It's like Golden Pollen is Herren's island, and, as much as he wants to share the beauty with others, he also doesn't want just any schmuck showing up and mucking the place up as tourists — particularly American ones — are wont to do.

The point is, you really have to be in the mood for something like this, and even then, it might become too firm in its insistence that you just relax. Eventually you get around to thinking, 'Jesus, I may just lie here and die in this hammock.'