Friday, July 27, 2007

#15: Slaraffenland>Private Cinema>The little engine that really wasn't sure what he wanted to do

Artist : Slaraffenland
Album : Private Cinema (2nd Domestic LP)
Release : 06.26.07
Year Founded : 2005
Label Name : Hometapes
Catalog # : 016
Packaging Type : Single-Disc Bi-Fold Hardcover Slipcase
Members : Niklas Antonson, Bjørn Heebøl, Jeppe Skjold, Christian Taagehøj, Mike Taagehøj
Runtime : 50:26
Area Tour Dates : None at time of publication
Sound Season :
iTunes Worthy Tracks : Show Me the Way, Watch Out
Sounds Like : Broken Social Scene Broken Social Scene
Rating :

Also the name of an amusement park in Denmark, Slaraffenland means "land of milk and honey," and the art of Private Cinema is laden with odd, but nonetheless adorable creatures happily carousing across a starkly grassy landscape, with all the charm of the classic Golden Books.

The band begins the album, however, with "Sleep Tight," which — ironically — is a dark and moody prelude. A giant dark cloud suddenly sweeps into view, engulfing the once brightly-colored and idyllic cartoon landscape, turning the cute and fuzzy creatures into deformed, flesh-hungry abominations. But as a flute flutters, one gets the sense that there is a survivor among them — that there is yet hope for the syrupy sweet and inherent goodness of the cute-sy woot-sy. And, indeed, the track does end on a light note. The horns herald the dawning of a new day. The world has been changed, but life continues.

There is no grand moment of overcoming though. No triumph. This world is doomed to live in the shadow of its former self. "Watch Out" makes that alarmingly clear with its instruction to "run for cover," its caution that "out there you'll get hurt" and its exclamations of "better watch out!"

Most often Slaraffenland's vocals, like in "Show Me the Way," are more like chanting. There's only maybe four to eight lines of lyrics often repeated twice. There is no singular voice, no frontman, and they contain no personal investment and no narrative. The vocals act more as texture and to keep the listener from floating off into the music's broad openness. Stylistically, the music could be compared to Broken Social Scene, especially on a track like "Polaroids." It is dense, often primal, exotic, and energetically anxious. But the mood is entirely different. Replace the spontaneous joyousness of BSS with the haunting sadness of Sigur Ros and add in a paranoic and anarchic unease and that would bring you to the outskirts of Slaraffenland. Nothing like an amusement park.

Much of the Slaraffenland is incongruous unfortunately. It becomes hard to reconcile one moment feeling alone, one moment feeling safety in numbers and the next moment believing that those numbers may just be a figment of your crippled imagination. The opportunity for the listener to settle in to this record never presents itself. As if backed into a corner, the band flails it arms and launches projectiles — does whatever it can, really — to keep its potential fans at a distance. And although there is that frustration from being unable to penetrate Private Cinema's true meaning, there is still the intriguing draw — as is the case with any coded communication — of the story behind its suffering.

Friday, July 20, 2007

#14: Spoon> Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga>Do what you do because you do do it well

Artist : Spoon
Album : Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga (6th Domestic LP)
Release : 07.10.07
Year Founded : 1994
Label Name : Merge Records
Catalog # : 295
Packaging Type : Single-Disc Digipak
Members : Britt Daniel, Jim Eno, Eric Harvey, Rob Pope
Runtime : 36:26
Area Tour Dates : None at time of publication
Sound Season : Spring
iTunes Worthy Tracks : Don't You Evah, Rhythm & Soul, The Underdog, Finer Feelings
Sounds Like : Alfie A Word in Your Ear
Rating : B

If Spoon are anything, they are consistent. From song to song and from album to album, they deliver catchy, hooky, memorable music with no big learning curve and no hipper-than-thou fakery. Their more than adequate formula for success includes punk rock swagger, pop levity and indie smarts.

That being said, there is a fine line between consistency and resting on your laurels. I don't think that they've crossed that line just yet though.

There is plenty of material on Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga to be excited about like the immediately cool shoulder-shaker "Don't You Evah" (after which the album really kicks into high gear) and "The Underdog," which has overtones of Stranger-era Billy Joel.

However, I'm inclined to think that Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga is comprised of songs that didn't make it to Gimme Fiction. I'm not sure that this is evidence of my theory, but the cloaked figure on the cover of their previous album also appears on the bottom right of Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga's back cover. The "leftovers" album theory would explain both the brevity of the album (or is this just a larger trend in the industry, because I've been seeing a lot of it lately) and its static trajectory. Nonetheless, Spoon don't seem capable of writing a truly bad song and, thus, they can get away with doing that sort of thing.

Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga has its shortcomings, but it is as worthwhile a listen as nearly anything in Spoon's celebrated catalog. Fans can be finicky creatures — always wanting something new and different while still wanting more of the same. So although Spoon have shown little inclination for making any drastic changes, we can at least be happy they're still making good music.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

#13: Blktop Project>Blktop Project>This is not smooth jazz, but my dad might like it anyway

Artist : Blktop Project
Album : Blktop Project (1st Domestic LP)
Release : 06.12.07
Year Founded : 2002
Label Name : Galaxia
Catalog # : 25
Packaging Type : Single-Disc Digipak
Members : Ray Barbee, Tommy Guerrero, Matt Rodriguez, Doug Scharin, Chuck Treece
Runtime : 24:48
Area Tour Dates : None at time of publication
Sound Season : Summer
iTunes Worthy Tracks : Blkwater Blues, From Here to Where, Last Call
Sounds Like : Six Parts Seven Casually Smashed to Pieces
Rating : B

The Premise: Three pro skateboarders meet a zany scientist who builds them a way old-school board (I mean, like, 9 inches wide with mad concave, no nose and a huge tail) that also is a time machine, which the guys use to travel back to the 70s to record soundtracks for blaxsploitation films ("Beans for Breakfast"), and maybe some porno ("Rained Out").

Seriously though, Barbee, Guerrero and Rodriguez are all skateboarders who moonlight heavily as musicians and who actually do have quite a bit of talent and are rather prolific to boot. If the eighties were their true heyday for skating, then now is their heyday for music.

As much as this is a collaborative effort, it sounds very much like Guerrero's solo albums minus the samples and generated beats. The songs are bass heavy and groove-based and frighteningly smooth — serious lounging by poolside kind of music. If the music was a layer cake, the bass would be the cake parts and the drums would be the frosting in between with whipped cream guitar dolloped on top.

Though some folks can make a solid album from 8 tracks, this is more like a long EP (which may actually be the case). My other gripe is that this album could have benefited greatly from some more adventurous production. All of the sounds almost sit in the same field, making for a relatively flat listening experience. There is so much opportunity for creating textural boundaries which goes unrealized except perhaps for when foreign elements such as electronics or trumpet are thrown into the mix, such as on "Blkwater Blues."

For an album that was created as a sort of aside to a magazine-sponsored skateboarding tour (see notes on the back cover), it still hits most of its marks, especially for mood. Its shortness almost precludes it from attaining its full potential, but it is an able outing nevertheless and a more focused and fully-formed version would be a welcome development.

Friday, July 6, 2007

#12: The Self-Righteous Brothers>In Loving Memory Of ... >Googly eyes!

Artist : The Self Righteous Brothers
Album : In Loving Memory Of... (1st Domestic LP)
Release : 06.26.07
Year Founded : 2003
Label Name : Black & Greene Records
Catalog # : 005
Packaging Type : Single-Disc Jewel Case
Members : Jake Hall, Max Koepke, Justin McLean
Runtime : 40:17
Area Tour Dates : 07.19.07 @ PA's Lounge, Boston
Sound Season :
iTunes Worthy Tracks : Floyd, Lee Torsee, Alan Watts, Graduated Cylinder, Concerto in Drop D
Sounds Like : Stephen Malkmus Face the Truth
Rating : A-

The Self Righteous Brothers come out of left field with nothing preceding them — no PR blast, no sticker on the album telling you they are the best thing since The Beatles, no endorsement from indie rock stars or outcasts. Nothing. Nothing except a chuckle-to-yourself band name and a picture of the band in head costumes reminiscent of any of the Sid & Marty Krofft shows.

My extensive research (and by 'extensive research' I mean I made this up) indicates that they are a bunch of twenty-something Jimmy Buffett liking high school dropouts from the Boston area, and not these forty-something Jimmy Buffett worshipping cover creeps.

These musically-inclined bastard children of R. Crumb's "Mr. Natural" and Gilbert Shelton's "The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers" are best on jams like "Lee Torsee," which features strained and shouting vocals that exude a faint whiff of J Mascis. But the song has a damn lot of character, what with the funky bassline and the spasmodic guitar solo and all-out freak out with horn section during the song's latter half.

The rest of the songs are both internally and externally diverse as well. The trio seem to write a full song amongst themselves, then write another song with their backing band and then marry the songs together in a kind of Frankensteinian I'm-enraged-because-I'm-not-a-whole-man-and-not-because-I'm-really-a-monster kind of thing. Take for instance the transformation of "Diana" from a soulful slow jam into a harmonic pop song which melts into "Concerto in Drop D" as a hyper indie-pop thrasher and finally into a mobius strip of bass and lilting guitars bringing to mind one of the more meditative Modest Mouse songs.

With so many bands nowadays sounding so much like everyone else, In Loving Memory Of... has a sort of "anything goes" attitude that doesn't think twice about mixing funk with ska with garage with country-twinged rock. You get the sense that these fellas have the ADD, but they're taking their medication semi-regularly enough that you don't need to grab them by the shoulders and give them a good shake to get them to focus.

The Self Righteous Brothers are capable musicians (they make that immediately clear on the instrumental opener "Floyd") having fun and not taking themselves too seriously, as is so often the case these days (emo-goth-hipsters, I'm looking at you). They even have a video for "Alan Watts" that is a claymation of miniature people stabbing eachother with stuff. They may be a little funny and a little weird, but they are not a joke band. They're just different — in a good way.