erasing clouds

20 Reviews of Music

by Dave Heaton, Ryan McKee

Click on a musicians's name to go directly to the review, or scroll down and proceed through them all.

The Guild League, John Guilak and the Lougan Brothers, Harper Lee, Jack Hayter, Hellfire Sermons, Irving, Landing, Landspeedrecord!, Light the Fuse and Run, The Linger Effect, Little Darla Has a Treat For You Vol. 19, Magwheels, Carolyn Mark and the Room-mates, The Matinee Summer Splash, Dale Morningstar, Greg Murray, Narrowcasting, Operation Makeout, Peaches, Percee P the Rhyme Inspector

The Guild League, Jet Set…Go! EP (Matinee)

Pop singer extraordinaire Tali White of the Lucksmiths takes a somewhat solo spin on the Guild League's debut EP. For the title track he's joined by an assortment of Australian indie talents (Richard Easton and members of Sodastream and Art of Fighting), who presumably will also be present for the group's debut CD, due out later this year. "Jet-Set…Go!" is a catchy, funky pop-rock ode to globe-trotting as a form of learning: "Disembark leaving behind what you think you know/bring home times that leave a mark/jet-set…go!" The other two tracks are demo tracks for the album, with Tali performing alone. "A Faraway Place (demo)" is the show-stopper, a gorgeous love song where he sings three separate parts at the same time, acappella. It'll make your heart soar. The EP closes with another fine pop love song, "Cornflakes." All in all, a wonderful EP.--dave heaton

John Guliak and the Lougan Brothers, The Black Monk (Mint Records)

The fact that American roots music--traditional country, bluegrass, folk and blues--has become a craze in the wake of the O Brother Where Art Thou? soundtrack doesn't diminish in any way the worth of the music itself. Each Stanley Brothers cover, as long as it's done with an understanding of the original spirit, does nothing but prove again how great the music was in the first place. Half of The Black Monk, the latest CD from Vancouver singer-songwriter John Guliak and a ragtag band of friends called the Lougan Brothers, is devoted to fine, straightforward covers of traditional country and folk tunes. Not all of the songs are old, however; Guliak and pals take the tack of illuminating the bridge between the past and present by covering songs by not only the Stanley Brothers, Townes Van Zandt, the Louvin Brothers and Johnny Cash but also newer acts like Uncle Tupelo and Giant Sand. These songs flow seamlessly together, and sit just as comfortably with six songs written by Guliak himself. Most of his songs have a folk feel to them, excepting the album's closing track, a bluesy rock story-song called "The Jig." Like the covers, Guliak's songs tell heartfelt stories about people and their lives, with an eye toward the way people's stories mesh with those of society. "Oh! Canada," for example, is a lament about the way his country is veering towards greed and selfishness instead of peace and justice. Lamentation is in fact a common thread here, as is a general feeling of dismay, expressed concisely in "Mona," a down-on-my-luck love ballad that is adeptly paired with Townes Van Zandt's classic "Loretta." "Living On Grace," the Guliak ballad that follows that pair, is a gorgeous telling of the journey of life that ends on a poetic note, with a sky spinning with stars. It's a fitting mid-point for an album filled with traveller's songs which capture despair and hopefulness in eager measure, songs that with timeless sentiments, whether they were written five years ago or 50. --dave heaton

Harper Lee, Everything's Going to Be OK, Train Not Stopping EP (Matinee)

The title Everything's Going to Be OK might sound optimistic, but here it's more a disguise tinged with a little bit of hope, like how you tell yourself things will get better when you're pretty sure that they won't. Or as Harper Lee vocalist Keris Howard sings during the album's first track, "Settle down in a miserable town/tell myself I'm on top of the world." The pain of heartache, unrequited love and loneliness lie at the center of Harper Lee's beautifully sad pop songs. Howard sings these songs in a straightforward way, while he and bandmate Laura Bridge build a melodic backdrop of guitar, piano, keyboards and drums. Any album with song titles like "I Can Bear This No Longer" and "Miserable Town" is no doubt going to be drenched in sadness, but something about the candid way in which the songs are presented, mixed with the exquisite mood, makes the album less depressing than melancholy, exuding the placidity that comes with turning inward. In other words, there's a tranquility to it all which is truly alluring. And there's always a note of potential, a fleeting thought that things could get better which helps life seem less bleak.

Earlier in the year, Harper Lee released an equally worthwhile pre-album EP, Train Not Stopping. The title song, also on Everything's Going to Be Ok, has one of the crispest melodies on the album and a chorus that's the heartbreaking epitome of regret: "It seems so simple right now/what I could've done is what I should've done." The other two songs on the EP, both non-album tracks, are excellent expressions of longing and sadness.--dave heaton

Jack Hayter, Practical Wireless (Absolutely Kosher)

Who knows how many people in the history of time have picked up a guitar and written some songs…or how many people are doing it right now, even. When you're a solitary singer-songwriter, one person playing guitar and singing his songs, there's certain elements that can help you stand out from the others. Some impress with an idiosyncratic style, some by capturing raw emotions, some with literary wit, others by a knack for melody or musicianship…Hefner guitarist Jack Hayter does all of this on his debut solo album Practical Wireless. In his own personal style, Hayter plays folk-rock-pop songs that bring characters and feelings to life in vivid ways. His voice, at times reminiscent of a British Vic Chesnutt, has a smoky congeniality yet in its own way can soar like an angel. His lyrics are both direct and oblique. He sings about people, places and circumstances intimately but with a sense of humor, yet also dabbles in abstract poetry from time to time. With eleven originals and a stunning slow-motion take on The Only Ones' "Another Girl, Another Planet," Practical Wireless is moving and captivating from start to finish.--dave heaton

Hellfire Sermons, Hymns: Ancient and Modern (Bus Stop Label)

Hymns: Ancient and Modern is not a collection of religious sermons, but an indie-pop blast from the past, a collection of songs from the late 80s/early 90s Liverpool-based band Hellfire Sermons. I can't offer a dissertation on the group's importance, on how they should be better-known, as until now I wasn't familiar with them at all. So I'm playing catch-up, enjoying their songs while figuring out their backstory. Hellfire Sermons released a series of two-song 7" singles on various indie labels at that time, but never a full-length album. All of those 7" songs are here, along with compilation tracks and some other songs. Sweet and tuneful, these songs have a wit and friendliness reminiscent of many of the bright lights in today's pop world (The Lucksmiths often seem like a pertinent modern-day touchpoint). With both an upward-moving tone of optimism and a inward-looking melancholy air, these 19 songs aim at your heart and at the part of you that likes to sing in the shower.--dave heaton

Irving, Good Morning Beautiful (Eenie Meenie)

Irving's Good Morning Beautiful is one of those albums…you know, an album that never strays too far out of arm's reach, one that keeps getting better every time you hear it, one that insidiously slides into your life and impels you to start foisting it unto other people. Albums like that are hard to summarize in words. Is it the melodies, the lyrics, the voices, the instruments? No doubt it's all of the above and more. Hailing from Los Angeles, Irving's sound combines an Elephant 6-ish admiration of 1960s rock with a fresh approach to song construction and a certain laidback California-ness. I don't know if it stems from the fact that all 5 of the group's members or songwriters or what, but Irving seems to have a lot of tricks up their sleeves but also a way of integrating all of them into a cohesive sound. There's bouncy pop songs ("Turn of the Century"), relaxed dreamers' ballads ("Holiday"), psychedelia ("Heading North") and a straight-up 60s raveup ("L-O-V-E," produced by Andy Paley no less), but it never feels like they're playing musical chairs. Then there's songs that manage to get all of those moods at once. A song like "Did I Ever Tell You I'm in Love With Your Girlfriend," for example, has the snappy, crisp quality of a radio single but also a mellow haziness. It blends a fresh drum sound with electronic beats to good effect, has an angelic background synth part and a nice melodic bass part. Irving know how to write catchy songs but also how to set them up in interesting ways. Good Morning Beautiful is a rock album that's more complex than most, but it also has the undeniable charm of the simplest bubblegum pop. In other words, it's undeniably fun. This is music you can admire on aesthetic and intellectual levels and still feel giddy about.

Landing, Fade In/Fade Out EP (Strange Attractors Audio House)

Sonic impressionists, New Haven, Connecticut-based space-rockers Landing swirl strokes of sound out from the speakers to send listeners into beautiful dreams on their 37-minute, 5-song EP Fade In/Fade Out. With the aptly named "Forest Ocean Sound," they open the CD with a hazy, peaceful sound featuring intricate, delicate guitar playing. That mood continues into "Against the Rain," where gentle pop vocals rise up near the song's end. "Constellations" starts out spacier and more electric, before giving way to a soft but haunting guitar-led melody. "Whirlwind" is a mix of blissful lullaby and the anxious feeling that we're about to launch into space. Then the CD closes with the nearly 12-minute "Pulse," an epic journey into a fuzzy, gorgeous sphere of sound. If you like music to displace you, to lift you off your worn-out couch and into another dimension, Fade In/Fade Out is for you.--dave heaton

Landspeedrecord!, Good Housekeeping (Ambiguous City/Resin Recods)

The Baltimore-based band Landspeedrecord! is one of those groups that seems to have a new release out every time we do a new issue. Their latest, Good Housekeeping is, as the title indicates, a clearing out of odds and ends originally found on various compilations and out-of-print albums. Landspeedrecord! are sort of a hard band to pin down, but also rather easy to like. They're somewhat punk-ish, are melodic yet have that post-punk trademark sense of distance to their sound, have a strong funk center, rely on a wry, somewhat cynical sense of humor (as evidenced by song titles like "Alicia Silverstone Shame Spiral" and "Interoffice Copulation") yet also deal with some pretty heavy subjects. With an even greater breadth of styles than most of their releases, Good Housekeeping shows all of those sides and then some. The Landspeedrecord! scrapbook nature of the album is both its blessing and its curse. If it has a less cohesive feeling to it which might make it harder for non-fans to get into, it also on the whole has more variety than their other releases, allowing all of their strengths to be displayed. In any case, Good Housekeeping is a solid overview of a band that stands in its own unique shadow.--dave heaton

Light the Fuse and Run, All Your Base Are Belong To Us (Exotic Fever Records)

If Light the Fuse and Run's name makes you think they're explosive, well…you're right, they are. With a sound that's unmistakably Fugazi-ish, they crash through the speakers and get in your face with a heavy guitar crunch and lyrics that demand a better world. "Do you remember when things were fresh and new and you had a feeling like something was going on?," they ask during "This Song's Not About Boys or Girls (It's About Punk Rock)," concluding "Things could still be that way/you could make it happen." Light the Fuse and Run are trying their best to put the life into punk rock, to keep everything sharp and on fire. They've also got their ears cocked and eyes open at all times, paying attention to the world around. All Your Base… has a particular emphasis on media and its place in society, with songs about how oversaturated we are with pop culture and the place TV has in making us complacent. In general they're anti- that sort of complacency, fighting against everything that makes us just say "yes" and follow in line without questioning what's going on. And that's exactly what punk rock was about in the first place, right?--dave heaton

The Linger Effect, Beautiful Machines (Best Kept Secret)

Filled to the brim with pretty melodies, jangle-pop guitar and loads of charm, Beautiful Machines collects unreleased and released songs by the Newfoundland-based band The Linger Effect. Sounding rather Unrest-ish in their more energetic moments, which is fine by me since Unrest is one of my all-time-favorite bands, The Linger Effect sing love songs and riddles against a pretty framework of guitar and keyboards. The lead singer has a lowkey elegance that fits both the upbeat pop tunes and the gradually unfolding mood-ballads. Years worth of radiance and heartbreak compacted onto one small cassette, Beautiful Machines will indeed linger around my stereo for a while.--dave heaton

Little Darla Has a Treat For You, v. 19 (Darla)

Dressed in campy, advertisements-of-the-past hyperbole (the cover slogan is "wake up GAY in the morning!"), the latest edition in Darla's series of quarterly compilations is filled with colorful sounds from 20 artists working in a variety of styles. In fact, Little Darla… vol. 19 seems even more varied than past editions, with musicians playing all sorts of music: sunny pop, jazz, DIY punk, psych-rock, melodic electronic, etc. Kicking off with the 1-2-3 pop punch of an exclusive track from the bouncy UK space-pop group Saloon, a catchy tune by the Sinking Ships (featuring members of Holiday Flyer and California Oranges), and a brash garage pop-rocker from the new Canadian band The Snitches, the CD goes from there into all sorts of other places. There's album tracks from the reunited post-punk band Crispy Ambulance, the futurist jazz-funk outfit Pfeuti, Spanish lullaby duo Mus, video-game classicists Super Madrigal Brothers, legendary British pop singer/journalist Cath Carroll and more (Ludus, The Stockholm Monsters, Figurine, Dances With Wolves). There's also plenty of exclusive tracks, including a gorgeous radio version of My Morning Jacket's "Bermuda Highway," a short but sweet song by DIY pop-punkers Boyracer, the return of the dearly missed MBV-loving bliss-out electro group Sweet Trip, and more (including songs by Je Suis France, The Photon Band, Sprites and Lowlights). The whole affair ends with a dreamy sunset soul song from Color Filter, itself worth the cost of the CD. Endorsed by both Liberace and Good Housekeeping (according to the cover) and less than $6, how can you go wrong?--dave heaton

Magwheels, songs from their web site

I'll admit it: for someone who edits a web magazine, I sure don't seek out online music enough. The web is filled with interesting music that you can listen to for free, to learn about musicians you've never heard of. One great example that I was lucky enough to be guided to is the music of Magwheels, found at the website Magwheels' site has 16 songs that you can listen to. Some are taken from two of his three releases, some seem to be otherwise unreleased. As part of "the noise ring" of web sites, you'd expect Magwheels' music to be loud, abrasive, frightening. The first two words don't fit, but the last one does. There's something really creepy about these sounds: a minimalist array of circling guitars and buzzing, beeping and whirring sounds. They're set up in an atmospheric way that makes you feel like you're there with them. Where that is I'm not sure: either a haunted house, an abandoned factory or a dark forest is what my imagination tells me. Guitar seems to be the main instrument, but it's always hard to tell with music as elusive as this. That could be a guitar stretched in bizarre ways, but then again maybe it's a machine or a ghost, I don't know. This sort of low-key but creepy music is absolutely captivating to me. There's pieces that make me sit on the edge of my chair, momentarily expecting the apocalypse ("Mountainisteacup," for example). But there's also pieces that I find oddly beautiful, like the shape-shifting sounds of "Tomaria" and the haunting "Kneelbells," which in a weird way sounds like church music. In either case, whether I'm soothed or freaked out, all of these songs are alluring. They transfix me like music should.--dave heaton

Carolyn Mark and the Room-Mates, Terrible Hostess (Mint Records)

Carolyn Mark's second album Terrible Hostess might have party photos as its cover art and a good-times mood present throughout, but it's clear from the songs that partying is not a celebration of wealth and stature but the exact opposite: a way of dealing with the hardships of life. "But the money never goes to those who've earned it/and fame eludes the ones who deserve it…," she sings on the first track, "don't forget the way hard work improves the taste of ice cold beer." Partying and drinking are a theme running throughout Terrible Hostess, and economic hardship is the accompanying subtext. Which is fitting for Mark's songs, which fit into the genre of traditional country music (with occasional steps toward jazz), a genre about regular folks and their problems if there is one. Terrible Hostess is filled with sharp, witty songs about relationships and everyday struggles, most delivered with the bouncy upbeat tone of a party. Ending with a delightfully catchy ode to playing old-time country music even if you live nowhere near the country ("Country in the City"), Terrible Hostess has an air of fun and articulates meaningful thoughts on people and their lives, a great combination. --dave heaton

The Matinee Summer Splash! (Matinee)

Summer's the perfect time for a cheap label compilation, filled with new and unreleased tracks. Actually every season's good for that sort of compilation; it's one of life's great pleasures. The Matinee Summer Splash! is a showcase for the great indie-pop label Matinee, and it's filled with high-quality material. In particular, this CD was put together to coincide with a live-music event of the same name, two performance showcases of Matinee bands. Matinee tends toward graceful, well-constructed pop songs, often happy in sound but just as often filled with melancholy feelings. This CD is especially upbeat in tone, filled with catchy melodies and lots of life: music to dance to and clap your hands to. It includes recent album/EP tracks from Harper Lee, Would-Be-Goods, The Windmills, Airport Girl and Lovejoy, all of them splendid. There's also songs that are either soon-to-be-released or unreleased, by Slipside, Melodie Group, Pipas, The Liberty Ship and Sportique. Rounding things out are a gorgeous Patsy Cline cover from the Pines and a song by Kosmonaut that was released on another label in the past. The latter song closes the Summer Splash on a note of both sensitivity and energy, a fitting encapsulation of the mood of Matinee.--dave heaton

Dale Morningstar, I Grew Up on Sodom Road (Sonic Unyon)

Taking what I know and like about music now and given that I could suddenly be blessed with the ability to actually make music, I Grew Up on Sodom Road's sound and versatility would be what I would shoot for. Dale Morningstar's voice alone jumps from sounding like Tom Waits to Bob Dylan to Jonathan Richman to Stephen Malkmus. He does this while his music jumps from sounding like the above artists to something more along the lines of Modest Mouse and The Microphones. His lyrics move from tin-pan alley humor to humor that sounds like he should have spent less time hanging out with the Barenaked Ladies (what are you going to do though, they're Canadian). As bumpy and curvy a road as Sodom is, one glides along it surprisingly nicely. Morningstar may confuse you at times, sometimes he may even be fucking with you, but other times his ability and talent will sneak up and amaze you. And, hell, if you don't like where one song is taking you, skip it and I guarantee the next song will be different. One last note, after listening to this album a couple times, I had the urge to listen to Pavement's Slanted and Enchanted, an album I probably haven't picked up in two years.--ryan mckee

Greg Murray, Edge EP (Bus Stop Label)

Lest there be any doubt that you can make a great-sounding recording without spending loads of money (or leaving your house), witness as evidence Greg Murray's four song Edge EP. The back cover notes, "All instruments recorded in my bedroom using an old Apple Mac computer through a Carlsboro mixer console with all instrumentation - analogue in nature," yet this is one of the crispest, most pristine recordings you'll hear. Murray sings and plays guitar, harmonica, bass and sometimes other things, offering up four beautiful pop-folk tunes. Singing sometimes with a croon, sometimes with a whisper, Murray adds a delicate touch to his melodic songs about love and loneliness. The two center tracks, "Rocketship" and "Daggers," are my favorites. They're two sublimely gentle, sadness-tinged love songs. "You could fall in love in the bat of an eye," Murray sings in "Daggers," more as an accusation than a celebration. Throughout the Edge EP, his debut, Greg Murray introduces himself as a songwriter with the remarkable talent of hitting you with raw emotion while caressing you with some of the loveliest pop melodies and vocals you'll hear.--dave heaton

Narrowcasting, …Current or The Tide (self-released)

To tell the truth, when I first received Narrowcasting's CD I was a bit confused: recorded in Moscow but mailed to me from Iowa? Was this some sort of indie-rock ploy, someone's idea of a joke? Um, no. It turns out that it was the real deal. …Current or the Tide is a recorded document stemming from the meeting, friendship and collaboration of Charles Maynes and Andrey Konovalov, who from what I fathom are an American musician who at the time was living in Moscow and a musician who is actually from Moscow. In any case, what's more important than the backstory is the actual music they created, which is wonderful. Melodic rock with a dreamy haze circling around it, …Current or the Tide travels through a variety of rock genres, presumably the meeting points of the two men's musical interests, while maintaining a beautiful sense of atmosphere. That atmosphere, recalling for me the stillness of late-night city air or abandoned landscapes, is the glue that holds everything together, the glow that permeates it all. But atmosphere without musicianship or songwriting can be empty, so luckily there's both of the latter in droves. The two musicians and their friends adeptly coax radiant sounds from their instruments, essentially the standard tools of rock: guitar, bass, drums (plus one cello). The songs include gentle folk songs ("Ostankino," the duet "If and I…"), an REM-ish pop-rocker ("Foreign Corresponding"), a melodic instrumental ("A Seconding Salvo"), a luminous cover of Big Star's "Blue Moon" and a blissful power ballad ("Paris Air Show"). Narrowcasting grew from the simplest of occurrences--two people meeting at a bar and deciding they should play music together--but the music they make isn't trivial in any way. The songs lift you up into an imaginary plane that Narrowcasting has created, and it's a beautiful place to spend some time.--dave heaton

Operation Makeout, Hang Loose (Mint Records)

The first sound you hear on Operation Makeout's debut full-length is a snappy punk-rock bass line, leading the band into the song. The melodic rapidness of that bass line is a great snapshot of the trio's sound, which is quick and catchy. With a fuller sound and even better songwriting than on their dynamic debut EP First Base, Operation Makeout's first album is a lively affair, filled with spark and energy. All three band members--Katie, Anna, Jesse--sing, with their voices creating an intriguing mix. Jesse, the male member of the band, has a heavy-metal tint to his voice which adds an extra edge to the group's music, which is generally pop-punk. The songs, from the opening "Life on Your Windowsill" to the closing "Contents," offer the band members' perspectives on the world around us, concentrating mostly on people and how they relate to each other. Some of the highlights include "Current Events," where all three alternate singing about life as an electric current, the especially pretty instrumental "Lost, Unwanted…but Still Nice" and "Tune Out," which has both a new-wave tunefulness and an endearing raggedness. Hang Loose is the kind of play-it-again-and-again album you don't encounter enough of these days.--dave heaton

Peaches, The Teaches of Peaches (US Version with bonus CD) (XL Recordings/Beggars Group)

If you don't know about Peaches, the official US release of her 2001 debut album The Teaches of Peaches, which comes with a second CD of bonus tracks, gives you another chance. Peaches is a genuine character, with her own unique style of fashion and approach to music. She raps in her own idiosyncratic, spontaneous-sounding way, about sex mostly, over sparse electro-funk beats. While Teaches of Peaches, originally released on the German label Kitty-Yo, is already not too hard to find in US music stores, the official US release includes a CD that has a video for Teaches…' single "Set It Off" and six bonus tracks: three non-album tracks and three remixes. The remixes all up the dance-floor quality of the original track. Especially fetching is the "Kid606 Going Back to Bali remix" of "Fuck the Pain Away," which replaces the original's minimalist hip-hop backdrop with a funky dance groove. The three non-album tracks offer funky pleasures of their own, starting with the mysterious (perhaps only because it's sung in German, and I don't know German) "Keine Melodien." Peaches starts off the next track, "Casanova," with the urging, "Give me some of that hardcore female aggression shit," but the song itself is more like a playful sex rhyme, though the aggression is reflected in her promise to "tease ya, please ya, then Thelma-and-Louise ya." "Sex," the third track, is a double-time expression of lust, with a dream that "we'll make love forever." If there's a better summary of the philosophy behind Peaches' music than that, I'm not sure what it is.--dave heaton

Percee P the Rhyme Inspector, Now and Then (self-released)

You're in New York City, outside of the Fat Beats record store, when a man comes up to you and tells you he's an underground hip-hop legend: do you believe him? I was reluctant, but I'm glad I ended up believing him, the as CD I bought from him is rock-solid, a great display of raw talent. That day Percee P was into the hard sell, showing me photos of him onstage with Jurassic 5, listing off the groups he's worked with. Now and Then is sort of like that, too, as nearly every track is a collaboration between him and someone else (people like Aesop Rock, Pharoah Monch, Lord Finesse, A.G., Kool Keith). That doesn't hurt the CD of course, as the talent level is high all around, but some of the tracks of Percee P on his own are almost better, as they give him a chance to really show off what he can do. And what he can do is impressive; he has a forceful, quick rhyming style and a knack at unique phrases. Into rhyming for its own sake, like so many of his collaborators, Percee P's focus here is on displaying his skills, on showing how rhyming can be an art. The production styles vary, as the tracks seem to come from a range of time periods, but his skills as an MC never get called into question. The solo track "Don't Come Strapped," where he rhymes over a snazzy jazz bassline, is to me the best example of his style, but there's plenty of high points throughout the CD. The album closes with a lo-fidelity snippet of him rhyming on stage with Jurrasic 5, and he appears on their new album, on a track also featuring Big Daddy Kane. Since Percee P's verse on the J-5 track is already receiving high praise, I'm assuming that the day isn't too far off when he won't need to explain to people who he is. While Now and Then's somewhat thrown-together feel makes me really look forward to the day when he gets to make a polished studio album on his own, it's still a fine introduction to a remarkable MC.--dave heaton

Issue 11, October 2002 | next article

this month's issue
about erasing clouds

Copyright (c) 2005 erasing clouds