5 Music Reviews
by dave heaton
The Clientele, Ariadne EP (Acuarela)
The fact that the Clientele would create an EP of songs inspired by Giorgia de Chirico's Ariadne paintings shouldn't be a big surprise to anyone familiar with either the band or the artworks. de Chirico's stark surrealism and the Ariadne tale of an abandoned lover both seem to fit right in with the haunted loneliness of the Clientele's dream-like pop songs. To think of the paintings is to think of shadows, silence and the passing of time, none foreign subjects for the group. Yet much of the Ariadne EP finds the Clientele operating in an especially impressionistic mode. 4 of the 5 tracks are instrumentals, and only one of them ("Summer Crowds in Europe") could be mistaken for an instrumental version of a typical Clientele song (and even that impression is a bit misguided; the style's the same, but they are stretching that sound out and mutating it in the process). "The Sea Inside a Shell" - 8-and-a half-minutes of a gorgeous haze slowly turning - and the piano-by-the-sea piece "Ariadne Sleeping" are the most atypical songs here, and also the best at capturing a mood. However, lest you forget that the Clientele's simplest pop songs are filled with atmosphere, mystery, and ideas, or that conventional pop songwriting can be just as strangely beautiful as classical or experimental pieces, the EP closes with the stunning "Impossible." The one track with vocals (and a blazing flurry of psychedelic guitars), it's one last reminder of how intoxicating the Clientele's music can be.
For Against, Echelons (Words On Music)
About the Nebraska trio For Against's most recent, fantastic album Coalesced, I wrote, "For Against's songs draw a certain atmosphere from some of the so-called "shoegazer" bands (particularly Ride, whose Nowhere album Coalesced somehow resembles, despite being so much more earthbound)". A simple case of rock-critic ignorance: listen to For Against's newly reissued debut album Echelons even once, and you'll hear that the basic elements of their dream-rock sound were intact in 1987, three years before Ride's first release. For Against had perfected that dreamy yet haunting sense of atmosphere long before I knew who they were. Which is a crime, really; For Against's music is too forceful and dynamic to be as little-heard as it has been. So forgive me my ignorance, but please don't ignore For Against or Echelons. Though the keyboards quickly mark the album as of the 1980s, the songs and musicianship here are so vibrant and powerful that this music is as relevant and moving for listeners today as it no doubt was to people who discovered it when it was released. Hitting an intersection between dark, moody post-punk rock, starry-eyed pop-rock and the intimate revelations of a man and his guitar, Echelons manages to be moving, tuneful and edgy. There's a rebellious, punk attitude to lyrics like "I have this idea, I've had it for a while/blow this town to smithereens, yeah that would make me smile," and to the free-thinking individualism of the classic "Forget Who You Are" and the anti-corporate record label outcry "Loud and Clear." But there's also an almost goth darkness to the album which isn't present in their more recent work. However you define the album stylistically, though, what's clear above all else is that For Against's open-hearted, independent-minded approach to rock music was unique then and it's still unique now. The music on Echelons might sound dated in places, but the emotions within the music are as powerful now as ever.
Fuzzy Boombox v.2 (Fuzzy Box)
Fuzzy Boombox v.2 comes two years after the first volume, and its goal is much the same - to spotlight musicians doing creative things within the general realm of electronic music. There's 17 artists on the compilation, and they come from across the globe, from Philadelphia and San Francisco to Switzerland, Germany and Russia. Stylistically they also vary, though there's a general emphasis on music for listening versus dancing; the mood tends to be delicate and mysterious more than abrasive or pulse-pounding. Yet the approaches and sounds are diverse and across-the-board interesting. Some of the musicians tread closer toward integrating pop melodies into what they do, while others drift off into hazy ambient clouds. Every track is compelling to me, yet a few personal favorites are: Stars As Eyes' "When Things Go Wrong," which contains its own kind of light-as-air funkiness; the weird new-wave Indian raga that Aarktica and Aaron Spectre cook up ("Raga for the Pale Blue Lights"); the return of AMP, with a murky poem called "Standing in the Darkest Corner of the Room"; and the foreboding, slightly robotic soundscape "31337 6455," by T.F.O.M.S. Project. There's also contributions from Flowchart, Orange Cake Mix, Tieilaxu, Fingernail, Velma, Ma Cherie for Painting, Headphone Science, and 6 others...making Fuzzy Boombox v.2 a thoroughly enjoyable trip through fresh and fascinating sounds from all over the place.
David Kilgour, Frozen Orange (Merge)
I realize the Flying Nun scene of pop-rock music in late 80s/early 90s New Zealand was fairly eclectic, yet in my subconscious I always associate it with a certain unassuming, off-handed brillance with melodies. And David Kilgour exemplifies this quality for me, with The Clean and on his own. There's a low-key, humble quality about his songs which might make you mistake them for mundane if you're not paying enough attention. Yet they quietly win you over, with melodies that are never showy but damn near perfect, filled with emotion. Frozen Orange is as good as any of his albums, with that same habit of casually stealing your heart. Recorded mostly in Nashville, the album betrays some country and folk tendencies but mostly rolls along with the sort of catchy pop-rock tunes that Kilgour excels at. His tuneful guitar playing is especially exquisite, whether it's wandering hazily in the background or gently weaving itself into a backbone for the song to rest upon. Lyrics like "you lost that summer feeling long ago" or "driving all night with a head full of Rolling Stones" offer literal emotional touchpoints to balance beautifully with the musical ones. In the end, Kilgour again stakes out his territory as a quiet master of songwriting. His songs are sincerely emotional, sensual, and comfortable, and you hardly get the sense that he has to work at this. There's nothing about Frozen Orange that cries out to you or advertises its greatness, and there doesn't need to be.
Rattling Wall Collective, Slide Four and Slide of Pork (Small Brain Records)
The motto of Rattling Wall Collective, a experimental outfit from Michigan, is "play with as many people as you can, do as many shows as you can, release as many recordings as you can." I don't know how many recordings they've released, but the two I've heard, Slide Four and Slide of Pork are CDRs that fit with that free-wheeling do-it-yourself approach. To my ears the more interesting of the two is Slide Four, three tracks of minimalist haze recorded live at Stormy Records, the record shop in Dearborn that's run by the ambient duo Windy & Carl. I'm not sure what all the collective is using to create this slice of haunted weather, but I imagine guitars, percussion and lots of electronic devices that I don't know anything about. The opener "Location of That Warehouse of Abandoned Voting Booths, North Side" is my favorite, an almost static cloud that's a bit melodic, a bit ghostly, and a bit political, with the title nicely jibing with samples of what sounds like a civil rights rally. The rest of the CD travels through both sharper, more aggressive places and quietly sulking passages which find the right medium place between making you zone out and making you listen intently. On Slide of Pork the improvisations lead Rattling Wall Collective in more of an overt jazz direction in places, with a saxophonist joining the fray...in moments they sound like a fairly conventional free jazz group (no that's not an oxymoron). Yet on much of the CD there's still an overriding sense that they're playing around in the shadows, dabbling in mystery to see where it gets them, and often it leads them through interesting moods and sounds. Slide of Pork meanders more than Slide Four - there's some stretches where I'm about ready to give in to sleep - but there's still some truly riveting moments, and the overall adventure spirit remains intact.