erasing clouds

16 Reviews of Music

by Dave Heaton, Anna Battista

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

Primitive Painter/Publy, Public Enemy, Rilo Kiley, River, Sectorseven, Single Wish, Soul Position, Souvenir, Tobin Sprout, Rob Swift, Mark Tranmer, Transelement, The Trouble Dolls, Meri Von KleinSmid, Xiu Xiu, The Zephyrs

Primitive Painter/Pulby 7" (Dead Digital)

I love dance music 7"s. It's a type of music usually thought of as suited to longer formats, like 12" records or 75-minute CDs. But there's something great about a compact package of beats, rhythms and samples. It reminds me of old soul or rock 45s, like a James Brown record where you can throw it on, dance to your soul's content for three or four minutes, and then flip it over for some more. The first release from the new Manchester label Dead Digital presents two tracks, one on each side, from two purveyors of uptempo electronic music. Primitive Painter's "Self Reference Hour" takes jittery percussion, a spoken sample cut in half, a melodic bassline and some melodic beep-beep-beeps and wraps it all into something you can dance to. On the flip side is Publy's "Water From Different Falls," which has serene piano, future-soul vocals and a funky groove that's a not-that-distant cousin of hip-hop. Put this on the turntable, dance or dream or express yourself or whatever, then flip it over and go for it again. Repeat ad infinitum.--dave heaton

Public Enemy, Revolverlution (Slam Jamz/Koch)

Revolverlution is a glimpse at everything Public Enemy is, has been and plans to be. Using the album format differently than is traditional, but in a way that they plan on continuing, they present a collection that intersperses new songs with live versions of old songs, remixes of old songs, and short audio snapshots of interviews and public service announcements. What's surprising is the way it works. This is a much more delightful album than if they had written a bunch of substandard tracks just to make sure the album was "all new." The live tracks ("Miuzi Weighs a Ton," "Fight the Power," "Welcome to the Terrordome") are good enough to fit in, and represent some of PE's most powerful tracks. The remixes--the results of an experiment where PE let fans remix their tracks--sound fresh enough and different enough from the originals to make them worthwhile as well. And they too tend toward PE's sharpest social criticisms ("By the Time I Get to Arizona," "Shut Em' Down"), helping give the album an overall in-your-face air that reminds listeners why PE are historically as important as they are. So what about the new tracks? They're solid and unequivocally political. Most forceful are "Get Your Shit Together," a post-911 call for hip-hop artists to focus on what's really important in life instead of just showing off their jewels and stacks of bills, and "Son of a Bush," a sharp critique of the Bush family that Chuck D penned right after the presidential electrion was decided. Even the presence of Professor Griff as lead vocalist on two of the 9 new tracks doesn't really hurt the album. Griff's obviously not the MC Chuck D is or the showman Flavor Flav is, or really much of an MC at all, but his songs are blunt political critiques that get you thinking. The album also marks the welcome return of hip-hop rebel Paris, on a remix of one of the new tracks, "Gotta Give the Peeps What They Need." Revolverlution is an unconventional Public Enemy album, but a good one. It shows a legenedary group trying to keep itself relevant and succeeding.--dave heaton

Rilo Kiley, The Execution of All Things (Saddle Creek)

The cover drawing for Rilo Kiley's second album The Execution of All Things shows two faces of the same person, one looking straight-ahead, the other more shadowy one with eyes closed. It's fitting, as Rilo Kiley's pop-rock songs articulate people's inner thoughts and feelings while also exploring how people fit relate to each to other. Lead singer Jenny Lewis (who co-writes all of the songs with guitarist/sometimes vocalist Blake Sennett) sings about insecurities, goodbyes, childhood memories and plenty more, in a way that's raw and revealing but also congenial and witty. Rilo Kiley, who hail from Los Angles, California, take a relatively straightforward, stripped-down approach to their songs; they don't dress up their songs in outfits of experimentation or pretension. That might be why, at first, The Execution of All Things seems a bit ordinary…they aren't trying to grab your attention with fireworks or flash. What they do, that in the end makes this album so much more fulfilling than most, is give you songs that are true to real life, songs that are constructed in a melodic, ear-pleasing way and have at their center experiences that everyone can relate to. Take the way Lewis sings so bluntly in the moving "A Better Son/Daughter," about family relationships, about hardship, about trying to stay optimistic that life can get better, that you can be happy, even when you seem surrounded by so much bad. Each song is like this, with the group unassumingly touching on feelings you've felt and difficulties you've gone through. It's no doubt that part of the appeal of music is how much it moves you, how much the emotions in the music are something you can identify with. That's why The Execution of All Things is such a great album. It's also why it makes sense that the band is now on Saddle Creek Records. What so many of the Saddle Creek bands have in common, more than musical genre, is the ability to write songs that hit you where you live, that pack a genuine emotional punch. One of the few non-Omaha-based bands on Saddle Creek, Rilo Kiley do exactly that.--dave heaton

River, self-titled (Shelflife)

To put on River's self-titled CD is to enter a sweeping pop universe, filled with glimpses of pop's past, present and future. There's bossa nova, ragtime, electro-pop, jazz ballads, new wave dance tracks, selections from could-be Broadway shows, all present in a myriad of new mutations and ghostly hybrids, spliced from the pop genes of the past but aimed toward the future. Through it all is the androgynous, lovely voice of Fabrice (aka River), projecting an exquisite stillness and purity no matter the musical backdrop. Within this stylistic whirlwind is some truly intimate, straightforward songwriting. The songs elucidate the inner workings of the heart in a romantic melancholy way, while the music eternally shifts through time and space. River's time-traveling approach to love songs helps illuminate the universal qualities of human emotions while taking listeners through an exhilarating maze filled with uncountable surprises and pleasures.--dave heaton

Sectorseven, Sectorseven (Sonic Unyon)

Sectorseven's self-titled album begins with low rumblings that build up before a wall of guitar, bass and drums comes crashing in. During those opening seconds it feels like Godzilla is slowly creeping his way, the best metaphor I can imagine for Sectorseven's music, which is loud and filled with power. Punk as hell but carrying an extra hard-rock crunch, this quartet from Grimsby, Ontario likes to carry their music straight through you, letting you figure out whether you're going to duck and hide or jump on the train and ride along. I'm somewhere between those two reactions; wimp that I am, there's times when they're too tough for my tastes, when I'm ready to sneak off and put on Nick Drake or something. But there's other days when I'm more than ready to pump my fist and rock along with Sectorseven. More revealing than you'd imagine for a band with such a forceful exterior, Sectorseven's lyrics deal with people's inner thoughts, with the ways they think of and relate to themselves and others. Underneath the raging stream of guitar riffs, they offer astute observations about life. Spend some time with Sectorseven and you'll discover more sides to them than you expected.--dave heaton

Single Wish, Various Artists (Sprite Recordings)

When it comes to collections of tracks by various artists, it seems to me what makes some work better than others is something pretty simple: how many good songs there are. Sure, cohesion is important; it matters which songs are placed next to which. But what's really important is how many lulls and lackluster songs there are. Plenty of compilation albums try to give you more for your money by including as many songs as possible, even when some of them just simply aren't as good as the others. Single Wish, a benefit album for a charity devoted to helping underprivileged children learn about the arts, has not only a good cause and a number of musicians with strong followings in the indie music world, but also a level of consistency that's remarkable. Here's 13 top-notch songs, including both unreleased tracks and magically re-envisioned versions or previously released songs. As regards the later, when I say "magic," I mean it. Tobin Sprout gives a heartstopping piano version of his GBV classic "Atom Eyes," a beautiful song performed in a way that really stresses its beauty. Ron Sexsmith does likewise with his "Wastin' Time," showing off his sublime singing voice. And The Impossible Shapes--a band which is not as well known as the other two but deserves to be--offer an understated, lovely piano version of "Dancing In Heaven." Those three tracks might stand out for the way they re-approach old favorites, but the album's charms don't end there. There's a melodic pop-rock number from Nick Kizirnis, an equally melodic and slightly warped folk-pop epic by Robert Pollard, a pretty little guitar instrumental from Mark Kozelek and mellow psychedelia from the Kingsbury Manx, Brando and the Green Pajamas. And then there's songs by The National Splits, the Candy Butchers, the Birds of America and David Garza that are, seriously, just as good as all of the aforementioned songs. In short, Single Wish is a dream of an album.--dave heaton

Soul Position, Unlimited EP (Rhymesayers)

Soul Position is a meeting of two hip-hop talents from Columbus, Ohio's Mhz crew. On the mic is Blueprint, a witty, articulate MC with an old-school style and an introspective side. Supplying the beats is Rjd2, whose Def Jux debut Deadringer is a slamming blend of classic soul grooves and to-the-future atmosphere. Their Unlimited EP is a tantalizing taste to make you ready for their upcoming full-length. Rjd2's beats are in the same flavor as on Deadringer, with melody meeting mood in soul-inflected tracks. Blueprint's congenial style of rhyming fits the tracks well. There's five songs in all (plus an introduction), including the funky, boastful "Mic Control" and the catchy, pickup line-driven "Night to Remember." The EP closes with Rj alone on "Oxford You Really Owe Me," a mellow jam to zone out to that'll also get you snapping your fingers. Unlimited is quick, but it's seamless, as attractive and enjoyable an EP as you'll find.--dave heaton

Souvenir, Points de Suspension (Shelflife)

Souvenir's sound is sleek and French. They're not actually from France, they're from Spain. Yet the musical world they're bringing us into has a distinctly French sound. Lead singer Patricia de la Fuente, who has a gorgeous voice, sings in French. And their style is that of French pop: bouncy, slick, sexy. The 11 originals that, along with two covers, make up their debut album Points de Suspension are bright and pretty. J'aime Cristòbal, the group's songwriter (and guitarist, bassist, keyobardist), creates snappy melodies which are augmented by a stylish array of instruments, including trumpet, pedal steel guitar and electronic programming. Though the general atmosphere is fun and upbeat, there's a melancholy mood to some of the songs (particularly "Rues Arriere" and the lovely French cover of the Go-Betweens' "Spring Rain") which helps broaden the album's emotional effect. It almost goes without saying that fans of French pop will love Points de Suspension. What's also true, and perhaps more impressive, is that the album's giddy charms will likely win over anyone looking for stylish music that's also emotionally affecting.--dave heaton

Tobin Sprout, Sentimental Stations (Recordhead)

Tobin Sprout, who during his tenure in Guided By Voices seemed to represent the kinder, melodic-love-song side of the band, has a surrealist streak too. His lyrics seem more oblique with each release, yet even through that mysteriousness a level of straightforward emotion always shines. I might not know what he's singing about, but I can feel it. The first two tracks of his new EP Sentimental Stations are especially enigmatic. On the first he's "in our majesty's secret service," singing in a near-whisper with a foreboding electric guitar hovering behind. On the second that same guitar shares the spotlight with synth for a low-key, moody instrumental. But just when you think Sprout has entered a shadowy world of spies and will now find that pop songs reveal too much confidential material, he switches gears into some of the best pop songs he's yet recorded. He presents us with "I Think You Would," one of the most fragile, prettiest love poems he's ever sung, and follows it with "Inside the Blockhouse," a fetching mid-tempo pop-rocker. Then there's "Are You Happening?," an aching letter to an unknown someone, a piano ballad-puzzle called "Doctor #8" and the streamlined, rocking title track. Sprout's best songs seem both revealing and cryptic, as these do. I have no idea what it means that "doctor number seven has to sleep alone, with doctor number eight," but when he sings it, it makes me want to cry.--dave heaton

Rob Swift, Sound Event Table Turns)

Earlier this year, the X-ecutioners released their ambitious second album Built From Scratch, showing off their amazing turntablist techniques while broadening their sound to include an assortment of genres. They also reinforced their ability to fruitfully collaborate with all sorts of talents, from the Beat Junkies to Linkin Park. X-ectioners member Rob Swift does something similar on his second solo album, the unstoppable, imminently enjoyable Sound Event. While his first album, The Ablist was both a display of his skills and a showcase for relatively unknown talents like Gudtyme and Dujeous?, Sound Event takes everything up a level. His skills seem even sharper, his guests come from more diverse places, and he tackles a wider variety of styles. After a brief freestyle introduction/collaboration featuring Supernatural sparks the album into motion, Rob Swift moves through an array of solid tracks. There's an old-school-style hip-hop jam featuring Swift and two other DJs (DJ Klever and DJ Melo-D), a soulful cinematic track featuring the legendary MC Large Professor and DJ Radar, a jazz-inflected sound collage about life in the inner-city, a Latin jazz-hip-hop collaboration with Bob James and D-Styles, a track where J-Live expresses his thoughts on the independent/major label divide, and so much more. The album ends with two tracks of Swift solo, taking listeners out on a note of sublime funkiness. There was a time when it seemed like albums from DJs were aimed more for other DJs than general audiences, when having an innovative technique seemed favored over making an album that's a pleasure to listen to. That time is no more. Albums like Sound Event prove definitively what hip-hop fans should have already known instinctively: that DJ-centered music can be experimental and accessible, that a good DJ can take music in new directions while getting you to nod your head and tap your foot.--dave heaton

Mark Tranmer, EP ("Call", "Creaky Door", "Summer Light" and "Glance") (Burn Your Own Disks)

Open a box of old photographs, look at them one after the other and remember the faces of the people portrayed there in sepia, black and white and colours, images that remind you of a past long lost in the folds of time. That's how this little single, containing four tracks, recorded by Mark Tranmer, sounds like. Better known to his audience as Gnac or as part of The Montgolfier Brothers, Mark has finally released some new stuff after his third album Biscuit Barrel Fashion released on Poptones. Tranmer, whose music is a cross between a minimalist childish melody and the refined soundtrack for a neo-realist Italian movie, has recorded "Call", "Creaky Door", "Summer Light" and "Glance", the four tracks contained in this EP, using only guitars and pedal, which is rather scary because it makes you wonder how he managed to write and play the four tracks contained here, tracks that are proper symphonies, using almost nothing. Of the four tracks, "Call" is probably the best one, with its melancholic nuances and melody. Just listen to this EP the next time you're looking through your old photographs: chances are that you'll throw your pics away and will want to be left alone with Mark's music. {}

Transelement , Sour Blaster (Creeping Bent)

Transelement's album SourBlaster is packaged with a funny cartoonish cover that mocks drink ads and promises to offer a 33.3% discount and no artificial colouring or additives. Impossible to pigeonhole in a genre, SourBlaster is indeed a clash of sounds, characterised by different nuances: you have the acid psycho-punky song "Cut Yr Face 4 Me", the (apparently) quieter "Head Of Billy Steele" or the hallucinated "Zyntax Error". The album reaches a perfection of its own with tracks such as "Plonking In Double You Major", basically a long piano-interspersed dream enriched by other influences (listening to it feels like watching the colours melting into a kaleidoscope), and "Digital People", which makes you somehow think of Super Furry Animals, the last track on the album (but check also the hidden track, a carousel of guitars, shouts and hand clapping), an odyssey of sounds that well summarises the spirit of Transelement. "Pop flavoured drink fortified with vitamins and iron", claims the SourBlaster cover. Transelement: a unique blend of music: drink it up. {}--anna battista

The Trouble Dolls, I Don't Know Anything At All EP (La La La Unlimited Records)

The New York by way of California pop-rock quartet The Trouble Dolls deliver three solid works of melody and introspection on their debut EP I Don't Know Anything At All. The title song, both rollicking and sad, kicks off the EP, with lead singer Cheri Leone singing wistfully about staying up all night waiting for a phone call that never comes. In the middle is a bit of more frenzied weirdness, an oblique song about "7:05." The EP ends with a track that's similar in tone to the first one, "Something Blue Amazed Me," with the lyrics taking the perspective of a woman taking stock of her life. But this song presents a more hopeful outlook, with the song lifting up in accord with her feelings. It leaves listeners in a fitting place of optimism as well, making them look forward to the Trouble Dolls' impending full-length album.--dave heaton

Meri von KleinSmid, CHI-TAPE (American Archive Recordings)

"Get ready Chicago--miracles are coming your way!," we're told by the radio announcer at WYCA, "your real Christian love station," just one of the many real-life characters that's present in Meri von KleinSmid's CHI-TAPE, an audio collage she made while living in Chicago during the early 1990s. Now released on CD for the first time, CHI-TAPE is fascinating. Mostly taped parts of radio broadcasts spliced together in a telling way, it presents a vision of a city filled with preachers selling God as a commodity. Voice after voice is singing the praises of God and then asking for your monetary support. These aren't just the Sunday preachers you see on TV but a variety of increasingly desperate-sounding individuals selling God as a way of keeping hope alive in the midst of poverty and loneliness. CHI-TAPE is a dizzying, spectacular piece, spinning your head through an array of advertisements, call-in shows and sermons, not to mention popular songs about Chicago that serve as a sort of sardonic narration for it all. Some of the most bizarre segments are of a group of women selling Aloe Vera products for God. "Have an Aloe day. Praise God!" they say, "Put God first and pick up that phone." Their testimonials for their products, including a colon-cleansing juice, are at first hilarious, as they seem too ridiculous to be real, but get increasingly pathetic and weird. The hour-long recording in general provokes a mixed reaction of humor and sadness; the longer it goes on, the more the surreal environment stops seeming funny and starts to feel downright creepy and claustrophobic. The note it ends on--a telephone operator stating "the number you are trying to reach has been disconnected"--is appropriate, leaving us with a feeling of emptiness.--dave heaton

Xiu Xiu, Chapel of the Chimes (Absolutely Kosher)

When the song with the most upbeat tone is a Joy Division cover, you know you're in for a trip into gloom city. Xiu Xiu's 5-song EP is indeed filled with despair and sadness. You can hear it in every word that lead singer Jamie Stewart sings, in the gothic tone he takes as he paints a picture of the world as a desperate, shadowy place. Each track floods you with dark feelings. Even the song called "Jennifer Lopez," a seemingly tongue-in-cheek title if I ever heard one, is steely and scary. What makes Chapel of the Chimes so exhilarating to listen to is the way the group creates a eerie minimalist backdrop filled with gongs and noises that sound like foghorns. Using a range of instruments, including harmonium, synthesizer, sax, bells and mandolin, Xiu Xiu build a sound that's haunting and overwhelming. This might not be everyday music, at least not for those of us that like to look on the bright side of life, but it's an arresting experience to say the least.--dave heaton

The Zephyrs, The Love That Will Guide You Back Home (Acuarela)

The Zephyrs, from Edinburgh, Scotland, take intimate moments and blow them up into hazy, cinematic pop songs. "I was oh so nearly tempted into your bed," singer Stuart Nicol begins on the opening title track, a slow, dreamy ballad that has guitars, glockenspiel and synth building a melodic backdrop. It's one of two new songs on the EP; both glide across the countryside like sorrowful clouds, leaving you feeling equally sad and in awe. The EP is rounded out by a newly recorded version of "Obeyessekere," a tender plea for help from their first, no-longer-available album, and a new version of "I Came For That," also from their first album, that's been remixed by Mogwai's Stuart Braithwaite. That song has haunted guitars circling overhead, ready to burst in and rock the song up, as they do near its end. A four-song trip into the shadows of the heart, The Love That Will Guide You Back has a low-key majesty to it that envelops you completely.--dave heaton

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