collected scribblings on music, film and other obsessions

current issue | back issues | about erasing clouds | links | contact

Music Reviews

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.

Aarktica, Airport 5, All Tomorrow's Parties 1.1, Auburn Lull, Bad Religion, Belle and Sebastian, Below the Sea/The Relict, Blanket Music, Billy Bragg & the Blokes, Carolyn Mark and Her Room-mates Present a Tribute to the Soundtrack to Robert Altman's Nashville, The Clientele, Clinic, Departure Lounge, Dread Meets Punk Rockers Uptown, Finechina, For Friends: Tomlab + Audio Dregs, Futurism, M. Gira/D. Matz, Go Back Snowball, The Hotwires, The Icicles, In the Beginning There Was Rhythm, Landspeedrecord!/Prosolar Mechanics, Larsen

Aarktica, …or you could just go through your whole life and be happy anyway: Bliss Out Vol. 18 (Darla)

Darla's Bliss Out Series has continually showcased musicians seeking a certain state of ecstasy through music. They're musicians with an awareness of atmosphere, that know how to make music that surrounds you in a sensual way. The 18th installment features Aarktica, a mainly one-man project (of Jon De Rosa, also of Dead Leaves Rising and Flare) which relies heavily on guitar but here places it in a more synthesized, electronic setting, with beats, whirs and waves. It's a serene mix of minimalism, ambience and melody, spectacularly done. There's a solitary feeling to the album that's both comforting and lonely, like it's both a soundtrack to the loneliest evening ever and a prelude to eternal love. There's also a certain new-wave pop balladeering side, particularly in the songs with vocals, like the gorgeous opener "Aura Lee" and the just-as-gorgeous midway point "Nostalgia = Distortion." If you could imagine that an artistic work of absolute beauty could inspire people to be kinder to each other, that glimpsing the world's full beauty through its people's artistic creations could spur altruism, then this album should be spread around but good. Its humble title conceals some of the prettiest music I can imagine; music that makes me want to carry it around with me, music that makes me feel like I can be a better person.--dave heaton

Airport 5, Life Starts Here (Fading Captain Series)

Often-mentioned as a precursor to Airport 5--Pollard's collaborations with Tobin Sprout where Sprout does the music and then Pollard adds vocals--is Guided by Voices' Tonics and Twisted Chasers, a lo-fi album that was done in essentially the same way by the two. But it's clear from the blissed-out, pretty sheen hanging over Airport 5's second album Life Starts Here that another potential precursor could be the Pollard song "People Are Leaving" (off his second solo album Waved Out). That track had Pollard singing over a previously written piano instrumental by Stephanie Sayers; while it wasn't a planned collaboration per se, the sound of it is similar to the sound of Life Starts Here. This album aims at the prettier side of GBV, yet still retains the mysterious, somewhat experimental air that the best Pollard-related releases have. One of the reasons GBV's Bee Thousand is such a classic is the sense of magic that runs through it, that certain something that comes from the way the editing and recording quality fit with the songs. Life Starts Here has a similar quality, a gloss of invisible magic that holds the superb pop-rock songs together as a group, giving them a supernatural beauty that makes the optimism of the title feel appropriate. The songs themselves also fit that aura, from weird poetics like "Wrong Drama Addiction," the synth-guitar closer "Out in the World" and the scary electro-noise bit "The Dawntrust Guarantee" to gorgeous melancholy ballads like "We're in the Business," "However Young They Are," "Forever Since" and "How Brown?" There's also melodic art-rockers ("I Can't Freeze," "Impressions of a Leg," "Natives Approach Our Plane") and songs that are somewhere between all of this, like the great "Yellow Wife No. 5," with creative spoken verses ("White crushed Americans need weird energy") and a killer hook of a chorus. The album shows some of the isolation themes running through Pollard's recent songs, but also a lot of optimism--the last line is "And we are unshakable!"--dave heaton

All Tomorrow's Parties 1.1 (ATP)

When Nico used to sing "All Tomorrow's Parties" with The Velvets she would have never imagined that those three simple words would have become the name of a proper festival with alternative bands, a very successful festival held in Great Britain but also in the States. The LA2002 edition of the festival, courtesy of Sonic Youth, spawned two CD compilations, one assembled by Tortoise and another by Sonic Youth. The latter is the ultimate experience through the world of alternative bands, containing tracks by Stephen Malkmus, Stereolab, Bardo Pond, Papa M and such likes. Undoubtedly, the best tracks are "Fauxhemians" by Sonic Youth and "Super Now" by Boredoms, which will make you wonder how a series of noises can become a complex and danceable rhythm. All Tomorrow's Parties sounds like a mad train to the next cool planet. Come on, board it and experience the world of alternative kings and queens. --anna battista

Auburn Lull, Alone I Admire (Darla)

The other day I put on Alone I Admire, an album by Michigan-based "space-rockers" Auburn Lull which was released in 1999 but was out of print until Darla reissued it this year, and took a nap. That might sound like an insult, but it isn't. The clichéd idea that boring music makes you fall asleep doesn't make too much sense to me…boring music doesn't put me to sleep, it just makes me want to shut it off. You see, there's different musics fit for different aspects of life: music for dancing, music for driving, music for eating…and music for dreaming. That's what this is, with a big universe of sounds--drums, synth, samples, voices, guitars, bass--that lull you into a relaxed state of mystery. "I am so lost at sea without you," Sean Heenan sings on the first track. Indeed Auburn Lull's music does evoke that sense of being alone, but also a feeling of awe at the vastness of things. The note on the front cover, a sort of apology for the fact that the group uses myriad studio techniques to craft their songs into being, says it best: "It is in the defense of emotion, irrationality and a terrifyingly beautiful sense of isolation that we continue, in an attempt to describe the feelings that words cannot possibly touch upon." That attempt to capture the uncapturable is what so much music is about…the music that "succeeds," if any sort of success is really possible, is the music that strikes the listener as getting at something deeper, which stirs up feelings from far within. Alone I Admire does that, as the music floats over you, hovers around you and encircles you, capturing you.--dave heaton

Bad Religion, The Process of Belief (Epitaph)

The Process of Belief is an apt title for a Bad Religion album, as they've always been encouraging people to question what they believe and why they believe it, whether its religious belief, societal beliefs or just outlooks on life. Here a major theme is religious conviction and what comes with it, particularly why we're here and what comes after life, as well as the ideas of hell and sin. Musically Bad Religion seem tighter and more confident about their sound than in some time; perhaps it's the return of Brett Gurewitz to the lineup, or the band's return to Gurewitz's label Epitaph, though it'd be a mistake to make too much of those things, as the group's last two albums but top-notch too. Still here they explode with genuine ferocity right from the start. If anything's fair this album should make a mark with the young or uninitiated audiences, as in terms of power they blow most of today's "punk" bands away. The lives of youth form another theme here, especially the ways that certain people become outcasts and the whole question of what life paths are socially accepted. The message behind these songs is a loving, humanist one, as demonstrated by the song "Broken," where lead singer Greg Graffin declares that there's "no such thing as human debris." As always, the group also pays attention to environmental issues and questions our notions of progress, as on the call for global change "Kyoto Now!" And as critical as they are of the way our society is going today, they reserve a hope that things can change, epitomized here by "Sorrow." That track is their sort of gospel song, a hope for a better world. To me, Bad Religion make the most quotable albums of anybody. Their lyrics contain timely messages that if heeded would help change our world for the better. What makes them such a great band is how they manage to do that within such forceful, well-crafted songs. Process of Belief feels like a strong sign that Bad Religion is not going to fade away anytime soon. If that's not a reason to celebrate, I don't know what is.--dave heaton

Belle & Sebastian, I'm Waking Up to Us (Jeepster/Matador)

Belle and Sebastian's newest EP I'm Waking Up to Us is getting more raves than most of their EPs, being hailed as a "return to form" and all that. I suspect it has everything to do with the fact that Stuart Murdoch sings lead on all three songs--for some reason people seem to have a block about his voice which keeps them from appreciating the great B&S songs that have other members as lead vocalists. In any case, I'm Waking Up to Us isn't a comeback but it is fantastic, as pleasing to my ears as…well, nearly every song they do. I'll admit it, I'm smitten with their songwriting, enough so that's it hard for me to write anything really constructive about them, I just keep babbling. This EP starts off with the title track, a hyper-retro, Zombies-ish orchestral pop song which dissects why a relationship didn't work, looking at what people want from each other and how they act around each other. The track features what seems like a full orchestra, giving it a big, just a smidge away from being overblown, sound. The second track, "I Love My Car," starts out equally 60s-ish, with a nice melodic preface, before moving into a sort of gentle-pop version of a Dixieland jazz shuffle (aided by guests called Dave Wilson & The Uptown Shufflers, no less). The final track, though, is what really gets to me--a sublime melancholy piano ballad called "Marx and Engels." It features a typical B&S character, a girl who just wants to be left alone to read, and has a gorgeous section with entwining vocal lines, with one singer gently crooning a quote from Marx behind Murdoch's lead vocals. It displays the same growth in songwriting and emotional impact that was shown on their last full-length Fold Your Hands Child…. Belle and Sebastian's songwriting style is deepening with every release, years after many music fans have written them off.--dave heaton

Below the Sea/The Relict, split 7"(Johnny Kane Records)

The cover photograph for the Below the Sea/Relict split 7" is of a large skylight, a window in an interesting geometric pattern, with light shining through in a hazy burst. The vantage point is from below, as if you're on the ground looking up. Yet it's too close for us to be on the ground, it's more like we're floating in mid-air beneath it, lost in a sunlight daydream, wrapped up in a mysterious spell. Both tracks on the single evoke the same sort of beautiful, hazy feeling. Though each artist takes a different musical approach, both cast similar spells over us, using sound to carry us off on a gorgeous, melancholy voyage. Below the Sea's "Pola Mountain" is an atmospheric instrumental, where guitar, strings and drums lift us up with a serene energy. The Relict add to their discography of sublime pop songs that combine melody and mood with "Out of Time," a little gem that quietly says goodbye to lost friends and days. Both songs end too soon, but that's what 7" singles should be: small measures of bliss that you want to experience again and again…--dave heaton

Blanket Music, Move (Hush)

After a short instrumental intro, the Portland, Oregon-based band Blanket Music start their debut full-length Move with a song instructing over-analytical music "experts" to just "shut up and sway your hips." It's a wonderful song, but it makes review-writing a bit intimidating, because they're right, really; it's easy to over-think things and miss out on the sheer pleasure of just listening to a song and seeing how it moves you. And Move will move you; this music will carry you a long way. Blanket Music play a delightful, inventive, bright form of pop music flittered with jazz and tropical flourishes. Singer Chad Crouch has a laidback style of singing which is charming in its own unique way. Crisp guitar, pretty backing vocals and light programming touches help to make a truly fresh sound. The whole album is drenched with an aura of fun--something that should be noticeable before you even put the CD on, by the presence in the clear jewelcase spine of a genuine drink umbrella (definitely something I've never seen before in CD packaging). But the umbrella's a minor element next to the music, which describes the world in a way that's both humorous and sincere. There's songs about karaoke bars, over-commercialized beaches, fashion designers, the mechanics of cities and the poetry of day-to-day life, along with friendly encouragements for everyone to get along, understand each other, take care and have fun. All in all, Blanket Music come across as one of the most good-natured bands around, yet their appeal is about more than just personality and likeability--they make exceptional music that shines in its own unique light.--dave heaton

Billy Bragg & The Blokes, England, Half English(Elektra)

Some singer/songwriters need backing bands; Billy Bragg does not. For evidence see "Take Down the Union Jack," the most powerful song on his new album with The Blokes, England, Half English. The one song on the album featuring just Bragg's voice and his guitar, it's a sensitive, embittered acoustic track anylyzing the "united" part of the U.K. The rest of the album has him performing with the Blokes, a gang of talented, seasoned rock musicians with whom Bragg and has been touring over the last few years. They have an old time rock n' soul sound which is at times a bit overdone. The second tier of songs on the album (after the one solo Bragg track) are the songs where Bragg wrote all of the words and music and the Blokes are featured as performers only. On these songs--"St. Monday," "Another Kind of Judy," "Tears of My Tracks"--the Blokes help give a fuller, more energetic feeling to Bragg's well-crafted songs. The rest of the album's songs, where Bragg wrote the words but The Blokes wrote the music, are rather uneven. They occasional work with that same sort of energy (as on "Baby Faroukh") but often have routine choruses and patterns and a sound which is too bombastic and shiny. Still, Bragg, who can be one of the more incisive social critics in music, does manage to express some important, timely ideas even within not-so-forceful musical tracks. A major theme here is English-ness, addressed humorously on the title track, more seriously elsewhere. The two most lyrically powerful songs, both of which suffer a bit on the music-writing side, are "NPWA," a call for action concerning the abuses of power in today's globally corporatized world, and "Some Days I See the Point," a ballad about trying to stay optimistic during tough times. The Mermaid Avenue projects putting Bragg's music to Woody Guthrie's lyrics were further evidence of Bragg's ability as a writer of music. On England, Half English, his lyric-writing skills are displayed, but the music side is sacrificed a bit in the name of collaboration. The resulting album is a bit disappointing when compared to Bragg's other albums, but still not a complete waste of time.{}--dave heaton

Carolyn Mark and Her Room-mates Present a Tribute to the Soundtrack to Robert Altman's Nashville (Mint Records)

Nowadays, it seems that if you can imagine a tribute album, it probably exists. From crazed fans who happen to be musicians throwing together tributes to their favorite little indie band to big-budget, major-label tributes to classic bands or albums, there's quite an array of tribute albums out there. That said, an album of musicians covering the songs featured in Robert Altman's 1975 film Nashville still seems like a novel idea. In theory, it's an odd but interesting concept; in practice it's a lot of fun, a collection of traditional country songs that continually jump between sarcasm and honesty, as befitting the tone of the film, a satire still loaded with genuine heart. Put together by Carolyn Mark and Her Room-mates, the Nashville tribute album includes an assortment of country-ish, folk-ish pop and rock musicians, including Neko Case, Cindy Wolfe (The Tennessee Twin), Dave Lang, Dallas Good (the Sadies) and Robert Dayton. It's essentially a gaggle of friends getting together and running through 17 songs from the movie in pretty straightforward fashion (plus three of the film's political speeches). Fans of the movie will no doubt love this. People who haven't seen the film might have a harder time grasping the part-serious, part-silly tone of the album, but will still find genuine treasures here, performances where talented musicians of today take on country classics of the past. The highlights include some of the more reverent, heartfelt takes on great old country ballads, like Carl Newman (The New Pornographers) version of "Memphis," Tolan McNeil singing the Academy Award-winning "I'm Easy," Kelly Hogan's cover of "Dues" and Robyn Carrigan's bluesy "Don't Worry Me." As Carolyn Mark (who herself sings on a handful of songs) describes in the liner notes, the album came from an obsession with the movie that lead her and Dave Lang to put on staged performances of the entire movie as a live show. A "humble tribute" (as she describes it), this album is so clearly an act of love that it's hard to criticize. What makes it easy to praise is how good so many of the performances are; that fact makes this more than just friends goofing around. This is a genuine love letter not just to the film Nashville, not just to traditional Country and Western music, but to the creative arts in general, to the way artistic creations, whether they're movies or songs or whatever, bring people together in meaningful ways. --dave heaton

The Clientele, Lost Weekend EP (Acuarela)

The Clientele excel at gorgeous piano ballads that are loaded with atmosphere, with the ability to transport you to a place and its accompanying mood and feeling. The most common place is their hometown of London: its rainy streets, public parks and other features that I've never experienced in person but at times feel like I have when I listen to the Clientele. This 5-song EP is especially relaxed and atmospheric, with field recordings used as segues. At its center is the standout track "…", a 6-minute ride through foggy streets filled with longing and loneliness. But every song here is splendid, richly soaked in color, style and melody. --dave heaton

Clinic, Walk With Thee (Domino Recording Company)

Liverpool's best surgeons around are finally back with a new album. The band whose music was successfully used for a Levi's ad, the band who, taking inspiration from their name, used to go around and play gigs dressed as surgeons, with proper masks and matching overalls, get more psyched out than they were on previous album with Walking With Thee. "Harmony", the opening track, is a doomed but enchanting nightmare, and sets the mood for the rest of the album; the track that gives the title to the album is nothing more than a post-psychedelic frenzy; acid rock explodes in "Pet Eunuch" and "For The Wars" is the very aptly quiet conclusion to the madness that haunts the whole album, a psychedelic melody that will lull you into the best dreams. Get lobotomised by Clinic's music: it's such an enthralling experience getting into their world that losing a part of your mind in the name of their rhythms, it's a risk you will be willing to run. {}--anna battista

Departure Lounge, Too Late To Die Young (Bella Union)

Wait and wait and wait, that's what happens in departure lounges all around the world, just waiting for that late plane that never seems to be ready to take off and getting bored by the tedious atmosphere around. Luckily for their listeners, Departure Lounge's music is all but tedious. Produced and mixed by Kid Loco, Too Late To Die Young oozes happiness and joy from every track, it actually sounds as if summer were around the corner and it was already time for going on long holidays. Quiet breezy tracks such as "Straight Line To The Kerb" and "What You Have Is Good" are sweet, uplifting soundtracks for a Sunday on the beach; "Alone Again, And…" lasts more than six minutes and it's an attempt at some ambient music, with guitars courtesy of Kid Loco who also plays on "Over The Side", a trashy blues. As a whole this album is rather good, though the second part it's less intriguing than the first and contains less promising tracks than the opening ones. Do not pretend you're in a proper departure lounge while listening to this band, just pretend you're on the beach and have found an oyster with a precious pearl inside. {}--anna battista

Dread Meets Punk Rockers Uptown (Heavenly)

"Every generation needs its own soundtrack", recites the quote that opens the booklet of this brilliant compilation put together by Don Letts, the guy who was in the right place at the right time. In the booklet Letts tells his own story, starting from the mid-seventies, when he used to run a clothes shop, 'Acme Attraction', together with Jeannette Lee. Caught in a game of coincidences and good chances, Don Letts started messing around with the coolest names of punk music. He even became a legendary DJ at Roxy Club where he mixed reggae tracks with punk records. But spinning records wasn't enough for him, so one day he started, almost for fun, shooting footage of the various punk bands he knew. The NME thought that he was shooting a movie and Don Letts decided that, yes, he was shooting a proper film that accidentally turned into the infamous "The Punk Rock Movie". The rest is history: going to Jamaica with Rotten, becoming The Slits' manager and so on. This compilation is just a magnificent mess of classic reggae stuff, from King Tubby's "Bag A Wire Dub" to Junior Byles' "Fade Away", from Tappa Zukie's "Rush I Some Dub" to U Brown's "Train To Zion". An essential release to go back to the punk era and to praise reggae music like you never did. --anna battista

Fine China, You Make Me Hate Music (Tooth and Nail)

"I tried to believe that I could write another Daydream Believer/believe me I tried, but this song's a mess and this is all you're gonna get I guess," sings Fine China vocalist/guitarist Rob Withem on one song of their second album You Make Me Hate Music. Throughout the album Fine China seem a bit unsure about music, about its importance, and about their role in the creation of it. "Rock can't last forever," it's just a fad, they assert at one place, elsewhere referring to themselves as "the unsuccessful." They seem concerned with what success means for musicians and with where they fit in the music world. There's one thing they shouldn't worry about: their ability to make melodic, rewarding music. Sounding like a less-theatrical, less dour Smiths, Fine China play soft rock that isn't "soft rock." In other words, they make rock music that feels like a soft pillow, due to the combination of pop hooks, keyboards (played by Joshua Block) and Withem's soft voice. You Make Me Hate Music is filled with singles, with and anthems that are reasons to love music. A great one is "Your Heart Was Made of Gold," a vague traveller's song with the sentiment that "everything should just be OK." On "You Ain't Happy," Withem sings about seeking a song to help someone fall asleep and a a place where they can spend their days together. That place is in Fine China's music itself--these are songs to soothe and comfort. That they also rock makes them doubly fulfilling.--dave heaton

For Friends: Tomlab + Audio Dregs (Tomlab/Audio Dregs)

The title of For Friends could refer to Tomlab and Audio Dregs, the two labels behind the compilation, or maybe the like-minded electronic musicians whose songs make up the CD…but it just as well could refer to us, the music fans picking it up, as any label which packs this much great music on a $6 CD must think of music-buyers in a kind way. Anyone seeking adventurous new sounds will find plenty here. The focus is on electronic music, but not for dancing; the style is minimalist, ambient, experimental, yet there's persistent attention paid to melody as well. There's 7 tracks supplied by the Michigan-based label Audio Dregs. Generally speaking, these mix melody with rhythm in a gentle, playful way. All of the musicians use essentially synthesizers and samplers (plus, I'm sure, computer devices and programs that I don't understand), yet each has his own musical language. There's Carpet Musics, who practice the joy of repetition with a slow soundscape; The Grace Period, who pulls you in and out of a part conversation while layering on melodic synth and using shifting rhythms; Dim Dim, whose bright, sunny, sound-effect laden style has a cartoon-music to it and more: Super Sprite, E*Rock, Lineland and the always-fascinating E*Vax. The 12 tracks from the Denmark-based label Tomlab are a bit more diverse, with a greater sense of genre-blending (as well as more tracks with vocals), but also more minimalist overall. These tracks include the reggae/soul groove-music of Ekiti Son, a pretty, vibes-like instrumental from F.S. Blumm & Binkink Krakor, the radar blips-meet-mechanical-sounds style of Inkblot and so much more. Jon Sheffield contributes a pop song that's been so mixed-up and garbled that it hardly resembles a song anymore (but still retains the bright feeling of pop), while : dz sets conversation samples to kiddie-keyboard sounds in a playful and melancholy way. The other artists--Alejandra & Aeron, Casiotone for the Painfully Alone, Adlib, Juergen De Blonde, Zammuto--are just as interesting, making For Friends a well-rounded, absolutely fascinating journey through some of the more exciting music being made these days.--dave heaton

Futurism (City Rockers)

Brought to you by the cool City Rockers label, Futurism is a mono-chromatic double CD compilation of the best synth-electro beats available in Europe. Felix Da Housecat opens and closes the compilation (apart from appearing also right in the middle of it), but among the great tracks of the comp there are the by now super famous "Sunglasses at Night" by Tiga & Zyntherius, that stands between electronica and trashy disco, the great fat beats of Golden Boy and Miss Kittin's "Rippin Kittin" and Fat Truckers' retro-futuristic "Superbike". Robotic voices, liquid rhythms, irresistible breakbeats and the odd Venus in Furs impersonator (Peaches with "Lovetits" - who else?) are all part of this compilation, which is not an hymn to arty-fartsy music and pseudo-futuristic stuff, but an hymn to complete fun that surely can't be recommended to those who hate with a vengeance repetitive beats. --anna battista

M. Gira/D. Matz, What We Did (Young God Records)

What We Did, a collaboration between Michael Gira of Angels of Light and Dan Matz of Windsor for the Derby, is pop music as meditation or philosophical exploration. The duo regard what they're playing as pop music, and they're right--the album is filled with lovely melodies and harmonies. Yet this is far from what your average person on the street thinks of as "pop." Everything's delivered in a dreamy way that reveals itself slowly. The vocals are part-sung part-chanted, and the heady, complicated lyrics alternate abstract poetics with musings on the mysteries of the world. There's a world of exploratory noises--plentiful percussion, whirs and beeps. And the album's captivating guitar-playing is of the free, open, mysterious sort. Indeed, this all is a mystery, a fascinating musical puzzle. "A link you can't define/a link you'll lose in time," Matz gently intones on the first track, "Pacing the Locks." Loss and forgetting recur as lyrical themes throughout, while the album as a whole exudes a sense of being hard to define. Its essence may be difficult to capture in words, but it will definitely stay with you.--dave heaton

Go Back Snowball, Calling Zero (Fading Captain Series)

The cover photo of a hotel room is atypical for a Bob Pollard, Fading Captain Series album. But then again, this is an atypical album in every sense. The latest in Pollard's attempt at distance songwriting--where he writes lyrics and sings vocals to musical tracks already created by someone else--Calling Zero has him working with Mac Macaughan of Superchunk/Portastatic. And right there is the key--where the Airport 5 albums and the Robert Pollard/Doug Gillard album had him working with musicians who essentially play guitar-rock, here Pollard's found a partner whose musical interests get more diverse wih each passing year. With Portastatic he's explored Brazilian pop, jazz and electronic music, and Superchunk has been broadening their sound with each album. That definitely carries through to Calling Zero, where Pollard sings typically abstract lyrics over musical backdrops that are, for him, quite new: electric beats, horns, synthesizers, piano, acoustic guitar. One of the most surprising moments I've heard in a GBV/Pollard album occurs here during the first song, "Radical Girl," when a horn section comes in. What could have been a mess of conflicting styles is instead a vibrant, diverse pop-rock album with a majesty all its own. Everything clicks just right--Pollard does some of his best singing over music which is melodic, exciting and surprising. This is the best evidence yet that this sort of collaboration can work as well as more typical songwriting arrangements…and it makes me excited for all the possible collaborations Pollard can put together if he keeps pursuing these partnerships with different musicians.--dave heaton

The Hotwires, The Red Glare of Rockets (Concrete Life Records)

"I stand in the venue and don't feel a part of anything - the crowd laughs and moves - I hate over-confident people, they're always so in your fucking face", reads the quote on the back cover of The Hotwires' first 10". Billy Nameless (whom some of us will remember as one of The Action Time's members), Cherry Bomb, Harry Stein and Kriss Kringle, better known to the music fans as The Hotwires, are ready to invade the world with their punky guitars and raw tracks. "The Red Glare of Rockets" contains four proper tracks and two interludes, "Police State" and "Rockets Redglare", just three or four seconds of speedy guitars and sampled voices. Best tracks are undoubtedly "The Scene Sucks", "Furious Desires" and "I Am Crime". But what makes The Hotwires cool is their unique unassuming attitude to music, their quasi-anonymity and their thirst for rage and revolution. "The revolutionary is a man condemned in advance. He must have neither romantic relationships nor object to engage his feelings. He should even cast off his own name," the Sergei Nechayev's quote on the cover of The Hotwires' 10" reads: they might be revolutionaries, but surely with such a perky talent for making music, The Hotwires won't be cast off from the music world. {}--anna battista

The Icicles, Pure Sugar (Drive-In Records)

The Icicles have a bright pop sound that's all sunny afternoons, days at the park, fun without commitments or concerns. They're unbelievably catchy, with great melodies and an upbeat, jaunty style. On their debut 6-song EP Pure Sugar, guitars, keyboards, ba-ba-ba harmonies and ultra-pretty vocals from lead singer Gretchen DeVault combine to make this Grand Rapids, Michigan-based quartet the sort of quintessentially pop group that just wakes you up and makes you smile. Yet as with all really good pop music, this isn't one-dimensional, "everything's happy" superficiality. There's an undertone of sadness in their sunny songs, giving their music real-life depth to accompany its pleasurable bounciness. "I've been so sad all day, wish things hadn't turned out that way," DeVault sings on "So Sad," a touching ballad that's the one overtly sad song here. Yet all of the songs carry with them themes of loneliness, of not fitting in with the world around you. Even two songs that seem to be simple appreciations of style--"New Haircolor" and "Polyester Dress"--carry the idea that clothes, hair color, fashion, etc. are ways of dealing with loneliness. All in all, Pure Sugar is not just sugar; it has a full sense of the emotional scope of life which helps make The Icicles' sweet, melodic pop songs even more rewarding. {}--dave heaton

In The Beginning There Was Rhythm (Soul Jazz Records)

Collecting all the groups that "grew out of Punk in the UK and embraced Dance music" is the main aim of this brilliant compilation. Accompanied by an amazing booklet that traces the story of the various bands here included and a brief introduction on the pre- and post-punk era, this impeccable compilation includes A Certain Ratio, 23 Skidoo, Gang of Four, The Slits, The Pop Group, The Human League, This Heat, Cabaret Voltaire and Throbbing Gristle at their best. Singles such as the brilliant "Shack Up" and "Knife Slits Water" by A Certain Ration or the raw "In The Beginning, There was Rhythm" by The Slits or the electronic "Being Boiled" by The Human League, are tracks that marked the contamination of punk with other equally intriguing musical genres and the collaboration between one group and another. The story told in the booklet underlines how almost all of this bands recycled into other bands, created a pure and true sound and achieved a legend like status for their fans and for the bands that followed in their trail. It's practically impossible not to buy this release.--anna battista

Landspeedrecord!/Prosolar Mechanics, Urban Development Series Vol. 4 (Ambiguous City)

I think the music world can use more split albums. There's plenty of split EPs and singles, but I love the albums better. They have more depth; they let both artists really show what they're about. ambiguous City! Records, based in Baltimore, has a series of split releases called the "Urban Development Series." While I haven't heard the other releases, Vol. 4 is a dandy, showcasing two unique, hard-to-pin-down bands. Up first is Baltimore's Landspeedrecord!, a trio playing smart, funny, clever, melodic punk rock, with occasional electronic touches and varied vocal styles (chanting, whispering, speaking, singing) from vocalist/guitarist/synthesizer player Charles Jamison. With a slightly cynical perspective, they sharply cut through societal hypocrisy, creating a slightly cynical portrait of life in the 21st century. Their outlook is at times paranoid, at times almost apocalyptic, but also emotional, with a certain sense of altruism and hopefulness. If that all sounds like a contradiction, it isn't really, just an indication of the lyrical depth behind their music. There's 5 tracks from Landspeedrecord!, beginning with the melancholy "Visiting Hours" and proceeding through to the trumpet-inflected "Neophobes." That last track is a big f-you to people who are afraid of something new; those people can stay away from Landspeedrecord! and their musical compadres, the New Jersey-based Prosolar Mechanics. That group, also a trio, combines a Sonic Youth-ish, two-guitar-attack style with slightly abstract lyrics and vocals (from guitarist/vocalist Amy Jacob) that are sultry, laidback and a tad artsy. Their sound sort of resembles early 90s alternative rock, but is much more warped. Almost captivating and often surprising, on these 4 tracks, Prosolar Mechanics are at their best when they explode into free rock (like at the end of "The Future of Sex") or conjure up sparse, spooky atmospheres, as on the final track "415." As far as I can tell, the Urban Development Series is about groups who are building their own musical universes, marking a mark in their hometowns. These groups definitely fit in; they have their own voices, and use them to grab hold of your attention.--dave heaton

Larsen, Rever (Young God Records)

Larsen's Rever album first seems ordinary enough, with guitarists mellowly improvising. Yet by the 2-minute mark it starts getting weird, with gruff voices singing low in the mix, trumpet playing wildly in the back, "instruments" that are hard to identify…and then a cloud of almost-silent noise, leading into the next track. That one's a 12-minute rain cloud-meets-industrial screaming-meets-a slowly oncoming train, with what be an accordion floating about, that turns into a dark, guitar-led marching song. Welcome to the world of the Italian foursome Larsen. It's a mysterious place, where noisy clouds lurk overhead and masked guitarists jump out from behind every corner, sometimes to caress you with a sweet lullaby, sometimes to attack you heavy-metal style. Meanwhile ghostly voices come from the shadows, singing/speaking/begging for your soul, usually in Italian. Other times they'll bust into a melodic stroll, throw a minimalist piece at you like classical musicians, or get all Sonic Youth on your ass…you never know. This is the soundtrack for bad dreams and good nightmares, a strange strange world.--dave heaton

Issue 9, April 2002 | next article

this month's issue
about erasing clouds

Copyright (c) 2005 erasing clouds