|Lambchop: Nixon. I saw them on TV, that PBS live music show with David Byrne doing his excrutiatingly awkward interviews between songs. I miss him. Anyway, I didn't think they were so great on the TV, but this album has a lot going for it. Very mellow, good tunes, a nice lush & raggety feel to it.||Looking at the CDs I've reviewed here, I realize that up until now,
I completely forgot to include Mogwai.
Beat me for my incompetence.
|Lamb: Fear of Fours. One of the few bands I have seen live this year. Definitely better with your eyes shut, and if they would just avoid saying anything between songs, they'd put on a good show. As it was, they seemed to be either very insecure or arrogant and were constantly demanding the audience to cheer. And to my amazement, the New York audience at the Mercury Lounge did what they asked: they all must have been visiting from Ohio. The music? It brought the new album alive for me: I find the production on the CD too dense, there's no breathing room. I like the mix of textures, the angelic voice full of demonic memories, and I can live with the happy lyrics. The electric stand-up bass is pretty darn good: but they should make him play in the back room.||Joan of Arc: How Memory Works and Live in Chicago . I saw them live playing with Cat Power and Girls Against Boys. Cat Power was good, even if the audience of GvsB fans talked all the way through her set. I didn't stay for GvsB: their fans were too annoying, and too young. Joan of Arc were very great: I hadn't heard much of their stuff previously, but I loved their graduate student angst. Intelligent fun with bad singing voice. Well, it's a minority taste, yes, but those in the know can rest assured they are onto a good thing. What did I just say?|
|Kristin Hersh: Sky Motel. I've heard this lots of times now, in the car. It sounds good. I love listening to the lyrics and wondering what the hell she is referring to. But, but, but... it just does not stay with me in the same way that early TM does. Maybe I'm too immature.||Arab Strap: Philophobia. Quite rude. There's the gravelly voice, singing about big willies. There's the drum machine synth music, keeping a sombre alienation with energy. It's young Scotland, ready to kil itself. Essential listening.|
|Mouse on Mars: Cache Coeur Naif. It's just a 4 track EP from 1997, but it's good. Basically it's the two women from Stereolab, contributing vocal sounds to the electronic group, ending up soundling pretty much like recent labwork. There's a good write-up of this one on the All Music Guide.||I'm shocked and amazed to discover that I haven't yet reviewed Long Fin Killie's Amelia. The fact they they split up after making this one is pretty understandable -- after all, they didn't exactly set the world on fire with their sound, and they even lost their American recording deal when Too Pure lost its US distribution deal. This is in fact an import in the US from the UK, although at a domestic price. So what's so good about it? Well, they have an amazing consistency of sound. It's an edgy, harsh pop sound with lots of attention to aural textures. The lyrics are funny and clever. And the singer has a great voice: passionate (in almost a Suede-y way, but not ridiculous). It's a good job I don't have to make a living trying to describe music, I'm so inarticulate! Listen to some samples. Singer Luke Sutherland also has a novel out: it's called Jelly Roll. Luke's latest project is Bows, which has an album out: it's called Blush, and I haven't heard it yet, except from the mp3s on CDnow, which sound good.|
|Again, I was embarassingly slow to pick up on a good band. This time it's Neutral Milk Hotel. They have two albums out: In the Aeroplane over the Sea and On Avery Island. Pretty much impassioned lo-fi, hi-angst, but very wonderful. It might take a few listens of course -- it did for me until I started to work out what is so good about them. I'm feeling too inarticulate today: i'll cut this one short for now.||Songs: Ohia Axxess & AceTruly wonderful. Clearly a strong Palace influence, but less religious. An early single was even on Palace records. They could be accused of being a little self-indulgent with the sulky-depression attitude, but you know you love it really. Listen to some of the songs here.|
|Moonshake: Remixes. I read somewhere that the 6 remixers never actually got paid for their work on this EP, which, if true, is bad, bad, bad. I also read that this EP isn't much good, but that just isn't true. It's great! The thing about Moonshake is that it was always very interesting and innovative instrumentally, but Dave Callahan's vocals were practically unbearable. Most of the remixes keep the vocals to a minimum, and those that remain, on "Cranes," have character in a Mark E. Smith sort of way. The remixers pretty do what you would expect: make Moonshake sound more like their own bands. Robin Guthrie gives a fuller, lusher sound; MAIN make it ambient and spaced-out, and John McEntire emphasizes the percussive complexity. Moonshake split up in 1997, so it is good to have this final momento of them.||My friend Leigh sent me a tape of these albums by Cat Power, and I am just bowled over by them (her really: Chan Marshall). Moon Pix is the more recent, What Would the Community Think? the earlier. For a great introduction check out the video "cross bones style" or try the tracks on the What's Up Matador compilation. Her voice is so waily and sad: my friend Bonnie said she saw a solo show by Cat Power at the Knitting Factory recently and felt like slitting her wrists afterwards. Lots of intensity! It's a minimalist sound, like early PJ Harvey or Mecca Normal. On Community she covers a Peter Jefferies song, which carries high credibility. Take a listen.|
|Built to Spill: Keep It Like A Secret. Occasionally I think I should listen to some happy music, so I search through my CD collection, only to rediscover that I don't have any. The truth is that I can't stand happy music. Built to Spill's latest album is about the closest I get to it. Their previous one, Perfect from Now On, was more moody, and its songs were practically epics. It made it a little formidable to put on: this new CD is easier to sit down with. The tunes are catchier, and the lyrics are more memorable. It's really growing on me. Even the guitar heroics of the last track, broken chairs. It takes a while to get used to Doug's whiny scratch of a voice, but I suppose that if we can grow to love Superchunk, we can get used to just about anything. Their web site.||Autechre: Peel Session. Once, around Christmas, I had the pleasure to play some Panasonic at WRFL. The inhuman repetition incensed a listener (and there were probably only about 10 of them) enough to phone and complain that it was the worst piece of music he had ever heard. I felt then that I had done a good day's work, annoying the natives. But it is true that you must be pretty strange to like this sort of music. I have to confess I own 5 Autechre CDs, and of course I can only play them when there's nobody else around who will be driven crazy by them. This Peel Session from 1995 is in fact just about their warmest recorded sound, akin to Future Sound of London's ISDN. By far the best track of the 3 is Drone, which lasts over 10 minutes: a slow start building to a complex but careful plateau, and coming down again. They are good with the sound textures, and they manage to avoid the obvious. Healthy for your synapses.|
|Sam Prekop: Sam Prekop. Sam Prekop is the voice and main force behind The Sea and Cake. So this sounds a great deal like them, except that there's a much greater emphasis on jazz stylings. It's mostly a relaxed, lounge act sort of sound, with hints of early Miles Davis. It's very pleasant, but I wish it was more memorable. Back in the early 1980s there was a Liverpool band called China Crisis who also made a very pleasant sound, soothing and pretty, with some nice tunes, but I could never really let myself like it that much because I kept on thinking "this is so insipid." Well, it's the same here: even though many of Chicago's finest "post-rock" musicians are here, and it makes good background music, it just needs more of an edge. The lyrics are bland too. I'm going back to Belle and Sebastian.||Rex: 3. This is not what I expected. At first, I thought there must be some mistkae. I suppose I was expecting a Codeine/Low soundalike, but no, it's a refreshing change. I realized that this is what country rock would be if country rock was not such a pile of shit. A mix of vocal and instrumental tracks, many of them well over the 5 minute mark. The guitars have a definite twang, the voice has a warble. It's the texture that really makes it, not the lyrics (I haven't a clue what they are) or even the tunes. The closest reference I could come up with are a less religious Palace/Oldham/Bonnie Prince Billie, or maybe even the Bodeans, would you believe it? See the Rex home page.|
|Kristin Hersh: Murder, Misery, and Then Goodnight Kristin and on a couple of tracks Ryder (her elder son) sing Appalachian nursery ballads of stabbings and deception. It's very soothing! Just over 30 minutes of music, 12 songs to hum and grin about.||Kristin Hersh: Strange Angels. Her second solo album. Kristin is remarkably consistent in her recodings. There was never really a bad Throwing Muses album, although my personal preference is for their earlier wilder songs. Her solo recordings have been better than the last TM CDs, because they are more personal, ... gentler and sadder. It's mostly just Kristin and her guitar, with some organ, bass and tambourine in the background.|
|Throwing Muses: In A Doghouse The first, terrifying, album from 1986 and first EP with an extra CD of demos and a video. Listen to the lyrics to "Delicate Cutters" and be glad that Kristin survived her teenage years. The demos are pretty rough, but it is good to have then available.||Kristin Hersh: Hips and Makers The first solo album: it is pretty great. From this is also the magnificent Strings EP which, as you would expect, features several of the songs put to strings. Always pay attention to her words: they are elusive but evocative.|
Full Force Galesburg
Beautiful misery! It takes a while to get used to John's whiny singing voice, but there's such intensity and humor there that after a few listens, if you are appropriately warped, you will love it.
Black Poppies (EP)
Not as great as their most recent work, but there are some nice songs here.
Rebecca's subdued voice is mesmerizing, and this new CD is great. Various Chicago musicians involved now that she has moved there, including Sam Prekop singing on one track--tres hip! More upbeat than Strand; definitely a winner.
This was my favorite release of 1996. Smoky atmosphere, melancholy but subtle. I saw them live in Cincinnati a few years ago, and they were pretty damn good.
Apples of the Moon
My favorite album of 1995. The first "post-rock" album, some have suggested. Electronic, throbbing, whispering, and just darn lovable. Margaret used to be in Moonshake, and she made their early recordings just incredible.
of the Satellites
Maybe not quite as surprisingly stunning as the debut, but it is a solid work. It's a sad month if I don't play it at least once.
This is a very pretty EP. I especially love the last track, Aramoana, which is an instrumental. The tracks are all collaborations with New Zealand greats, ... you know, David Kilgour, Robert Scott, Chris Knox, Graeme Downes, David Mitchell, Denise Roughan, John Conventino, and Joey Burnes. Barbara does all the singing, except on one track, where she gets a little help from Chris Knox.
|In our household, we are big fans of the latest Liz Phair, whitechocolatespaceegg Of course, there is that single which you have already heard, "polyester bride", and it's catchy, but the other tracks are better. Personally I like "shitloads of money" (the song and the concept). (Why doesn't Laura Branigan get listed in the credits for the stolen riff from "Gloria"? at the end of one of the other tracks?)|
Sea and Cake:
Can you say "delicate sensibilities"? I like it when you say that. This is pop which doesn't go pop: John McEntire's mark is made here with very distinctive precision. I wonder whether he listened to lots of A Certain Ratio in his cradle, although ACR were icy white funk, and this is much more dweeby lounge music: what does it say about me that I like it so much? Nice minimalist packaging: a short CD too, with 10 songs. 1997
|The Sea and Cake: The Biz 1995. Subtle differences from other Sea and Cake CDs. They all sounds soothing and clever.|
|Belle and Sebastian: If you're feeling sinister 1998. OK they have had lots of hype. But they deserve it. It is partly Stuart Murdoch's sweet sorry voice that win's your heart; then there's his quirky silly and cruel lyrics, and of course there's no getting past a catchy tune. Smashing!||Belle and Sebastian: The Boy With The Arab Strap Their most recent album, 1998. Some say it is not as good as Sinister, but I don't agree. Maybe it takes a few more listens to really get into it, but it's still got the power to make you want to keep on living.|
|R.E.M.: Up. In the late 1980s I tried hard to like R.E.M. After all, they had lots of the right attitudes, and they didn't seem to try to be too popular. They they started putting out singles like "The end of the world as we know it," and I felt more justified in my dislike of them. But over the last couple of albums, they have started to do something right for me. First they included Patti Smith on New Adventures in Hi-Fi. Now their 1998 Up is more adventurous, less ponderous, and it feels raw. It's a real album too, not just a bunch of songs thrown together. I think the drum machines help, and also the fact that the lyrics are interesting.||Lamb: Lamb. Very satisfying Portishead/Massive Attack/Hooverphonic soundalike, a little bit harder than the others. Moody trip-hop, hard beats, female vocals full of worry and sorrow, and a harsh remix added to the CD. Luvit.|
|Long Fin Killie: Houdini and Valentino. Oh, what great albums! Houdini was my second favorite album of 1995, Valentino my second fave of 1996. It's a lot to do with Luke Sutherland's vocals which manage to be simultaneously haunting, angry and lusty. Then there's his lyrics, which are both funny and nasty (... in a good way of course ...), and finally they've got some fine tunes, and wonderful textures. Those fine folks at Too Pure just sent me the Buttergut EP, which contains "The Lamberton Lamplighter" (maybe a different version from the one on Houdini) and three other very wonderful songs. I think I won their lucky dip, but I am not sure. They are welcome to send me more CDs to review!||Portishead: PNYC. This disc makes clear that they really are trying to sound like the music from a bad 1960's sci-fi movie, with a drum machine and a sweet sad voice haunting over the top. I think the fact that it is live with an orchestra really enhances that aspect of their sound. The songs are pretty much faithful reproductions of the album versions, but of course it is a little more raw, and somehow it's an improvement. Of course, I like Massive Attack and its progeny as much as anyone, but this really does set Portishead apart from the others. It would be fun to see them collaborate with the Tindersticks. I wish I could see the video of this show.|
|Apparently you can't get Bowery Electric's "BEAT" from CDnow, so I recommend going straight to Kranky (the recording label in the US) to get it. It is a really mechanical soothing piece of work: ambient with a beat. Very non-climactic. Krank 14 is the number.||Cabaret Voltaire: an inspiration, but you can't get "mix-up" any more. See the track listing at CDDB. Even New Order admits that the Cabs were more influential for electronic music.|
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