erasing clouds

12 Music Reviews

Keith John Adams, Pip (HHBTM)

"Have you ever had an accident that changed the way you feel?", Keith John Adams ask us, along with numoerous other questions, on the song "Ever Been You?" It's representative of the unusual yet probing lyrics he writes. His album Pip is filled with song lyrics that are quirky and odd yet at the same time serve the purpose of provoking thought. The first song "Inconsequential Thought" expresses the desire to get to know every particle of someone's brain, and his music overall gives the impression that he's trying to do the same with his own, to work every idea out in a song. That isn't to suggest that Pip comes off as an intellectual exercise, though. He has a politely off-kilter style of writing and playing pop-rock songs. His singing ranges from a conversational sort of style to a weird squeak; he tackles playing piano and guitar in a smiliar way, straightforward at times but taking odd twists. In Pip Adams delivers an album that offers the basic pleasures of a solid pop album (melody, for example), but also has an delightfully eccentric edge. - dave heaton

Beaumont, No Time Like the Past (Siesta)

Classy pop balladry takes center stage on Beaumont's new album No Time Like the Past. Ex-Blueboy members Paul Stewart (guitarist/keyboardist/music-writer) and Cath Close (singer/lyricist) together create elegant music with jazz overtones. Close is a spellbinding crooner, her voice smooth and graceful yet exuding genuine feeling as she sings lyrics about love and loneliness, heartbreak and hope. Lines like "my smile is false/and plays with my skin" phrase common emotions in a less common way. The duo, joined by a trio of guest musicians, has a real knack at this sort of emotional, sophisticated pop music. But their songs are also not as monolithic as you migh expect. No Time Like the Past has a brillant country-western subtext, evocative like a gorgeous sunset across the desert. Pedal steel guitar, banjo, and accordion bring this style to the forefront, yet it's in the writing too. A stylish album with heart. - dave heaton

Broken Spindles, Inside/Absent (Saddle Creek)

Inside/Absent, the newest album from Broken Spindles aka Joel Peterson of the Faint, starts off sounding like a work of contemporary classical music - a minimalist piano piece. A bit spooky, very stately, mostly proper. "Inward", the track is called, and while the music quickly shifts into music less likely to fit into one particular genre, that word "inward" does feel appropriate for the album. The songs here have a very personal feeling to them, like we're leaning in to hear a secret. Musically it's as if the sort of personal singer-songwriter style of a labelmate like Bright Eyes or Son Ambulance has been tackled by someone also deeply interested in both classical composition and electronics. Somehow the feeling of that opening instrumental (with related keywords like stately and minimalist) has been injected into personal pop-rock songs, making for an intriguing hybrid. - dave heaton

Eurythmics, Ultimate Collection (Arista)

It's funny how writing about music leads me to think about music I don't really think much about. Case in point: I get this Eurythmics compilation in the mail...not a band I think about all that often, but hey, some of their hits were kind of catchy I suppose, so maybe I should give it a try? Lesson 1: Ultimate Collection is always a misnomer. There's nothing ultimate, or final, about a scavenger collection that takes a couple songs from this album, a couple from that one, and presents them without context. This collection is more or less in chronological order at least, but it opens with a new song ("I've Got a Life"), feeling completely incongruous considering how different the music they started out making (sleek synth-pop with slight soul leanings) is from what they're doing now (big, ultra-serious adult-contemporary ballads), not to mention the different turns they've taken in the middle (the occasional blues, gospel, rock leanings). Starting off with a brand-new song screams "we're still here", and the CD's general tilt away from their earliest recordings bears out the impression that this is a re-introduction, and a statement of "hey, we aren't just about our early '80s hits, we've done so much more since then". Which makes sense, that artists wouldn't want to be associated in 2005 with music they made over 20 years ago. The problem for me as a listener is that the tracks from 1983 - "Love Is a Stranger", "Right By Your Side", plus the overplayed hits "Sweet Dreams" and "Here Comes the Rain Again" - are the most compelling: snappy, infectious and fun, without the later leanings towards operatic drama and dull attempts at "importance". I suppose that's the biggest problem with the Ultimate Collection claim in general - doesn't each listener determine what's "ultimate" for him- or herself? - dave heaton

Githead, Profile (Swim)

Profile is the first full-length issue from Githead, a supergroup of sorts featuring Colin Newman of Wire, Robin Rimbaud of Scanner and Malka Spiegel and Max Franken of Minimal Compact. It's a pretty impressive collection of brainy but rhythmic pop, and one that seems well in step with the times; the kids playing in all the retro new wave bands should listen to this and try to learn something. The record is densely and perhaps a bit too cleanly mixed, with layers of digitally processed guitars cresting atop fairly rigid beats and Spiegel's contrastingly Protean bass. The lyrics are consistently clever, and the atmospheric instrumentals "Antiphon" and "Pylon" come off well also. Githead's Profile is something like an update of the best the UK had to offer in the mid 80's, sounding current but in places recalling PiL, Brix-era Fall, and U2 as produced by Brian Eno and, in truth, exceeding most of what Wire did during that time. - ted kane

The Lucy Show, Mania (Words on Music)

"Their perpetual out of print status robbed subsequent generations of inspiration and influence," Jack Rabid writes of The Lucy Show's albums in the liner notes to Words-on-Music's reissue of the UK post-punk band's second album Mania, from 1986. This is a subject I've been thinking about a lot lately: how huge an impact availability has on legacy, on music history. How much amazing music is completely out of circulation, unknown to today's music fans even in our hyper-information age? Mania's reissue is a welcome one, then, even (or especially) to those of us who knew very little of The Lucy Show. Its songs strike a unique balance between a dark, cloudy atmosphere and sharp, well-put-together songwriting. There's echoes of The Cure in the album's mood, perhaps, yet the tuneful melodies and often bright guitars and vocals just as often evoke well-crafted pop songs of previous decades. Remastered, and including seven bonus tracks (five of them previously unreleased), Mania is a beautiful testament to the talent of a band whose name might be unknown to many, yet not deservedly so.- dave heaton

Hilken Mancini and Chris Colbourn, self-titled (Kimchee)

The entertainment press these days tries to act like all that matters is the bands that make the headlines today or have been accepted as the legends of yesteryear. But all devoted music fans have their own lists of bands from the past that meant so much to them then, and still do, even if they're hardly ever mentioned anymore. Hilken Mancini and Chris Colbourn is a great collaborative album between two veteran songwriters whose respective bands, both associated with the '90s alternative rock scene in Boston, seem to be off the cool list these days, even though their fans still hold their songs dear. Mancini was a guitarist and co-lead singer for Fuzzy, and Colbourn was the bassist/secondary vocalist for Buffalo Tom (always underrated, even within the context of that band). On this album they shared their songs, worked on them together, traded off lead vocals, and often sang together, all in all coming up with a true jewel built from their combined talents - in the same general vein as their previous bands, trending a bit toward the low-key and folksier side of pop/rock but occasionally picking up in speed and force. The mood overall is a contemplative one; many of the songs are considerations of the past and present, of where lives have gone or are going. One of the most potent, "I Will Die", is both ambiguous and direct, built around the powerful line "I will die / full of questions". Then there's the gorgeous lullaby/love song "Moonbeams", the bittersweet trade-off vocals leading into a racuous anthem on "In My Arms", the way the simple yet heartfelt confessional "Life Is a Trick" doubles as an infectious rocker ... it's an album filled with moments that feel truly special, where everything aligns in just the right way. - dave heaton

Margo, Furtives Furies (Chez Moi)

The French duo Margo's second album Furtives Furies is an hour-long kaleidoscopic dream: colorful and spellbinding. Singer Melanie Massons has an alluring voice, sweet and light; it's set perfectly atop an electronic groove-scape created by Jean-François Le Coq. The music is funky in a gently provocative way – there's nothing in-your-face or ostentatious about it, yet it definitely has that hard-to-attain quality of carrying you right along with it, making you move your body. On Furtives Furies Margo creates one memorable and compelling sound, and then within that basic style they're constantly changing things up. The beats can be surprisingly forceful at times, while light melodies dance in a whirlwind over them. Margo's songs also have an enchanting tendency to float off onto a cloud, as on the gorgeous "Space Summer". Furtives Furies is like space-age, fantastic-voyage music that at its core carries the heart-turning passion of a crooner from centuries ago. There's something truly timeless about their music, even as its style is fresh and forward-looking. - dave heaton

Merry Mixmas: Christmas Classics Remixed (Capitol)

You might wonder why someone would remix a song yet place their own mark on it gently, leaving the song sounding not that much different than it did originally. But with Christmas music, it's another story. The remixers tackling Christmas pop classics on Merry Mixmas: Christmas Classics Remixed take a less-is-more approach, and it works well for the most part. Almost all of them try to gently play up the Christmas feeling of these songs - the goofy, optimistic, cheery, corny side. Bent's remix of Bing Crosby's "Winter Wonderland" extends the glowing tone of the song; on MJ Cole's remix of Nat King Cole Trio doing "All I Want For Christmas (Is My Two Front Teeth)" he strips the song down a bit and amplifies both the over-the-top backing vocals and the "gosh oh gee" feeling of the song. This isn't dazzling remixing work - no track here will make you look at the song in a new light, nothing will leave you with your jaw hanging open. The project overall smacks in tone of a fashion project, and a marketing attempt to make Christmas songs hip. And there's a couple real missteps - most notably The Latin Project's ridiculous addition of quiet-storm modern-R&B backing vocals to Ella Fitzgerald's "Sleigh Ride". But ultimately it stands as a thoroughly enjoyable Christmas album, precisely because of how toned-down the approach is. It's like a well-put-together compilation of old Christmas songs that's been toyed with a bit, modernized in ways that aren't necesary at all, but yet fairly entertaining, and certainly not damaging. The album manages to capture the Christmas spirit twofold: through the great original songs and through the humble way in which the remixers generally approach the material. - dave heaton

The Mizell Brothers, Mizell (Blue Note)

Like Capitol/Blue Note's recent David Axelrod compilation, Mizell takes someone whose music has been heavily sampled by hip-hop artists and puts together a solid, if brief, overview. That it's meant as an introduction is clear from the cover, which has one big, bold word presented against a blue sky: MIZELL. As in Larry and Fonce Mizell, the Mizell Brothers. As the liner notes succinctly put it, they were "producers/songwriters who used(d) the studio to craft a new type of vision". They created source material for today's hip-hop producers and also stand as examples of the producer as artist (as auteur). Mizell compiles 11 tracks from the '70s - one given a 2005 remix by the Mizells and another previously unreleased and recently worked on by the brothers, to show they still have it. The compilation draws from the years 1973-1977, starting after their first Blue Note production, Donald Byrd's Blackbyrd. There's six Donald Byrd tracks, plus some by Bobbi Humphrey, Rance Allen, and Gary Bartz. It's obviously not comprehensive, or a "greatest hits" album even, but a well-put-together mix that's enjoyable from start to finish. Mizell is a groovy, spacey, funky collection: a nice showcase of how powerfully immersive and complicated their mixture of soul and jazz was. - dave heaton

Modern Giant, Satellite Nights (Pop Boomerang)

In the liner notes of their debut album Satellite Nights, the Sydney, Australia-based band Modern Giant has a picture of the four members sitting in the aisle of a record store, holding records by Billy Bragg, The Go-Betweens, David Bowie, and Queen. Their music, too, reveals them to be students of these bands (the first two they particularly echo at times) and many others. They're huge music fans - listen to the doo-wop harmonies on "I Thought You Were Somebody Else", or the glee with which they'll deliver a potent guitar solo. The power of music also forms the basis for some of bassist Adam Gibson's spoken-word pieces that are brillantly woven into songs like "The Band's Broken Up" and "Angie Hart". Just being music fans is of course not enough to make lasting, powerful music, so I won't belabor that point any longer. For this is a band with its own talents, whose songs themselves are full of amazing melodies, real spirit, and lyrics loaded with feeling. Modern Giant understands the impact of a great hook, but also doesn't overplay that card - many of the songs here, especially but not exclusively those with the spoken narratives in them - are subtle and thoughtful, filled with vivid details and observations about the world around us. Overall it's a rock album that's not about flash or fashion, but about songs that connect with the listener, that relate truths about the world under the guise of loud guitars and catchy tunes. - dave heaton

P:ano, Ghosts Pirates Without Heads (Mint)

P:ano's third album Brigadoon was one of 2005's little gems: a complex, seriously sprawling album of eclectic gentle pop. It danced all over the place, feeling like an epic children's tale crossed with some classic pop album of yesteryear. Ghost Pirates Without Heads is much easier to grasp: a "mini-album", 11 songs in 26 minutes. Since these new songs are very much in the same vein as Brigadoon, and just as good, in many ways this CD presents all the joys of that epic album in a more easily-grasped form. It's a more portable, "to go" version. P:ano's songs are propelled by a fascination with the world; that combined with the delicately adventurous way they play their instruments is what makes their music evocative of children's adventures. But there's always serious, real-life feelings in their fantasy tales. Ghosts Pirates... starts with a song about washing up on an island which ends on a serious note of loneliness, the notion that looking up at the stars "just make(s) the world seem small and hard". "Foot Hills" is the story of a lonely man trying to escape into dreams, a bittersweet song though it's played like a friendly little doo-wop song from a tropical island. P:ano's songs almost all have dual levels of fantasy and reality, the former inevitably a way to deal with the former. The songs on Ghost Pirates are built around that core truth, that art and imagination help us deal with life. Or as the last song "Animal Friends" puts it, "Tonight I'm gonna try to do some reading before bed / in the the hopes that my sleep will be less troubled then." Musically P:ano generate the feeling of those flights of fancy, while retaining a somewhat melancholy core. It's a truly affecting combination, the way they take us on imaginary journeys while capturing the feeling of sitting at home with nothing to do, wishing you had more friends. - dave heaton

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