erasing clouds

4 Music Reviews

Adam Bianchi, The Vallejo Demos (self-released)

Adam Bianchi's The Vallejo Demos includes "Requiem for John Fahey," a instrumental which poignantly emulates Fahey in his memory. Bianchi sings on the rest of the 8-track CD, yet his songs carry the spirit of Fahey's music - they draw on the ghosts of the past to create music that feels very alive today. The Vallejo Demos are possessed by memories of American folk musics past; it shows in the acoustic guitars, banjos and harmonicas Bianchi plays, but also in the how the lyrics echo gospel, blues and folk traditions. Yet these songs, recorded by Bianchi at his home last summer, don't come off like exercises in style or like trips down memory lane. Instead they're alive with real human stories and feelings. Love, loss, sadness, mortality...these are timeless themes that bridge generations, and in Bianchi's hands they're rendered powerfully. The Vallejo Demos is generally in the vein of musicians like Pale Horse and Rider and M. Ward, distinctly American artists who draw on the past for inspiration, but whose songs also bear the mark of their creators' distinct perspectives and personalities. The Vallejo Demos positively glows with atmosphere and feeling - the songs linger long after the last seconds have passed. - dave heaton

Murdocks, Surrenderender (Surprise Truck Entertainment)

Ausin, Texas-based rockers Murdocks' debut album Surrenderender opens with a perfectly messy and infectious sing-along anthem. Called "Saddest Star" (as in, "you are the saddest star I've ever known") it takes a Pavement-ish carefree attitude and revs it up with punk attitude - like when lead singer Franklin Morris screams about thinking up "some words that rhymed." For the next song they turn up the guitars and put the pedal to the floor, and Houghton takes screaming on as the way to communicate. The rest of the album hovers between punk/metal-ish confrontation and laidback pop melody with a bit of an "adult alternative" sheen. They're most convincing when they get the right balance of the two. When they're in your face with their daggers ("Horsegore"), they sound like they're trying too hard. And when they tone things down too far ("Dance the Vomit Shakes"), they sound rather routine and indistinct. But that first track is a killer; they sound driven and lazy at once, and it really works. - dave heaton

Tompaulin, Into the Black (Track & Field)

"Between the fighting and the loving / each of us lose something," Tompaulin's Stacey Mckenna sings during the first track of their new album Into the Black, and it could be a capsule summary of the album. Lovers argue, lust and cry throughout the album, and there's a continual sense that all this emotion is draining something from them, that they're growing weary of the back-and-forth even as they keep pushing it along. That weariness echoes in the music too, in the way these gorgeous midnight-country ballads and lovely pop tunes often hover and slowly glide. The album gains a lightness in tone as it nears the end, but one of the brightest and prettiest songs, "Seams" is still built around the lyric "when we finally fall apart at the seams." Heartbreak and emotional devastation is the lay of the land, here, but did it ever sound so soothing? - dave heaton

Tree Wave, Cabana EP+ (Made Up Records)

The plus sign in the title of Tree Wave's Cabana EP+ refers not just to the two videos included on the disc, but to one of the more unique bonus tracks you'll find. Track 7 of the CD is a data track - record it on a tape, play it on the cassette drive of your Commodore 64 computer, and you've got yourself a brand-new synthesizer program. That's a brilliant gimmick, no matter how few of their listeners will be able to try it out. It's fitting for the Dallas-based duo, as they have an obvious love for using "obsolete" equipment as instruments - the software Tree Wave member Paul Slocum writes for old computers is what they use to make music, along with old Ataris, and dot-matrix printers, even. Atmosphere is the main function of all these old machines - singer Lauren Gray's voice is completely surrounded by synth waves, bleeps and blurts. They give Tree Wave's pop songs a sense of mystery that they likely wouldn't have otherwise. In fact, though Gray has a lovely voice, the EP is most alluring when she's almost overwhelmed by the machines, or when they take over completely. Songs like "Morning Coffee Hymn" and the instrumental "Instrumental 1b," for example, generate a warm yet dizzying feeling that is truly remarkable. Cabana is both a unique experiment, then, and an six tracks of completely involving, dynamic pop music by two artists who are gently destroying notions of what's alive and dead, of what's old-fashioned and what's futuristic. - dave heaton

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