erasing clouds

4 Music Reviews

by dave heaton

The Fairways, This Is Farewell (Matinee)

"These tiny lights now glowing dim," Brent Kenji of The Fairways sings at the start of the last track on This Is Farewell. The title track, it's a bittersweet breakup song that will also stand as the band's final goodbye to fans. Coming four years after their first full-length album, This Is Farewell is a farewell pieced together from unreleased demos and rare tracks. Yet it sounds nothing like the mongrel that it is - if I didn't know better I'd assume it to be a collection of brand-new songs, confidently put forth as the next step forward. In other words, there's 13 beautiful pop songs here, and they hold together as one expression - a showcase of the skill of writing perfect songs, with melodies, harmonies and structures to die for, but also a running conversation about love and loneliness and heartbreak. The Fairways' sound has a laidback California-ness to it (as does Kenji's current band The Young Tradition), but also a very 60s-ish love for arrangements and melodies (think Zombies, Beach Boys, Left Banke) and the stark sort of beautiful rumination present in someone like Nick Drake. There's an overriding melancholy to the album ("Winter happens all the time around here," one song tells us), but also a wry humor about it, and sense that wisdom has been gained through hurt and experience. Highlights include the bouncy opener "Don't Call Me Dear" (which contains the memorable line, "don't call me queer cause you were one last year") and, perhaps my favorite, the relaxed yet emotional gambling scene "Casino Lights," yet every song is top-notch. There's something about the sad yet pretty style of pop music that the Fairways play which is inherently suited for tearful goodbyes, as it continually brings to mind the passing of time and the fleetingness of everything. This Is Farewell is a perfect enough goodbye to even make newcomers nostalgic for the times they didn't experience.

Paris, The Devil Made Me Remix (Guerrilla Funk)

The Beastie Boys' new album has political commentary about the current president, dead prez are still raging against the machine, and Sage Francis even did a track with Bad Religion on the war, but the anti-war song that has resonated with me the most during recent years was recorded over 10 years ago. A few songs into Paris' The Devil Made Me Remix collection of B-sides and remixes, there's "Time for Peace," a collaboration with Digital Underground (what, you didn't know Humpty Hump could be political?) and Sway from around the time of the first Gulf War. "Fighting for some oil but you think we'll ever get a share?", Shock G raps - his focus throughout the track is on minorities and poor people giving their lives for an undefined cause when the country doesn't care about them. Paris ("the Bush Killa, cop killa, black urban guerilla") puts his focus on police brutality and on fighting back against an oppressive government instead of working as their tools. Sway takes the same ideas and puts them into an especially explosive verse ("liberate Kuwait? Well here's the fact that they couldn't do the same when it was South Africa"), before Humpty Hump adds a few closing lines. "Time for Peace" is just one track out of 14, though the rest is just as forceful; the CD is filled with extended versions of songs from the first two Paris albums (The Devil Made Me Do It and Sleeping With the Enemy), plus some other B-sides from the same period. All of them capture the dynamic force that Paris is on the mic, filled with rage against tyranny, abuses of power and general inequity. His sonorous voice rides the deep funk grooves, and the overall effect is powerful as hell. The Devil Made Me Remix might be a gift-for-fans type of side release, but it's also a perfect embodiment of Paris's strengths, both as rhyme animal and freedom fighter, and a reminder of the truly classic music he has flying around under the radar.

The Places, Call It Sleep (Hush)

The Places' Call It Sleep is the sort of album likely to creep up on you more than dazzle. That isn't to say that it's missing the basic pleasures of pop music - lead singer Amy Annelle has a gorgeous voice and uses it on significant melodies with the ability to inspire awe, and her voice hangs closely to wonderfully textured music. But The Places' songs have a careful, Leonard Cohen-like pace and a psychedelic spaciness that push them away from the world of instant gratification. The more you listen, the more you realize you've entered a mansion of shadows, hard to completely grasp but nonetheless spectacular. The mood is dark and lonely, but not without tenderness; the lyrics at first seem obtuse and poetic yet in places are as direct and harsh as they come; the songs evade genre categorization, feeling overall like sparse folk married to soft dream-pop, yet at times there's allusions to country & western, after-hours jazz, and even Hawaiian folk music. Elliptical yet emotionally overpowering once you've given yourself over to it, Call It Sleep feels to me like an album I'll love more with each listen, on to infinity, and so far that's been true.

Rollerball, Behind the Barber (Silber)

When "sharp metal" is credited as an instrument along with sitar, melodica, accordion and a slide whistle, you know you're headed somewhere interesting. The Portland-based art-jazz, freak-out pop collective/commune Rollerball inhabits a spooky yet exciting world - especially on their latest release Behind the Barber, which is a particularly dynamic, eccentric and mind-sparking journey. Rollerball kick off the CD with a hazy slice of psychedelic meandering that rotates into something sharp and spiny (yet trippy as they come), before launching into a 16-minute free-jazz blowout featuring Jef Brown of Jackie-O Motherfucker. It starts out slow and slinky but soon rolls into a no-holds-barred throwdown, with the musicians coming off like they just woke up from a long nap with an extra feeling of vitality, ready to rock all barriers away (yet still dreaming). From there Behind the Barber traverses all sorts of unusual territories. In general the vibe is exploratory and filled with sexed-up jazz horns, yet (as is characteristic of Rollerball) there's plenty of exotic side-steps, with whiffs of Brazillian pop, Argentian tangos, dub reggae, experimental electronics and the ghosts of avant garde happenings past all appearing, often within the same song. Rollerball has been pushing along like this for a while, but I first made their acquaintance with 2003's Real Hair. That album had my interest piqued, but with Behind the Barber they've steamrolled their way past me and taken me wholly along for their bizarre ride.

Issue 25, July 2004

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