erasing clouds

7 Music Reviews

Comomusic Anthology 1990-2005 Volume 2 (Painfully Midwestern Records)

If Comomusic Anthology 1990-2005, Volume 1 (reviewed here) didn't teach you a thing or two about Columbia, Missouri, Volume 2 is another chance to get schooled. The CD booklet presents a great drawing of downtown Columbia, and a photo collage of the city. Yet the chief focus is of course music; Volume 2, like Volume 1, is an endearing celebration of Columbia's local bands. Where the first set contained numerous bands from the first half of that 1990-2005 date range, this volume is much more centered on the past few years. There are some exceptions, like Sofa Kit XL's excellent manifesto "Sissy" ("I don't want to play in a band / where only the girlfriends dance"), Untamed Youth's racuous surf-rock number "PBR" (actually from 1988), and a track from supergroup At Proper Distance (featuring Dwight Douglas from the beloved Incontinentals on vocals). But the overall emphasis of the 2-cd Volume 2 is to show what's going on in Columbia now, and it certainly sounds like there's a lot going on. The bulk of the bands play rock n' roll, each with its own style and personality. Wes Wingate opens the set with a power-pop song that has echos of a particular Big Star classic in its melody; Holy Frog closes it with an instrumental built from layers of electric guitars that build an atmosphere yet push forward. In between there's a host of loud and wild rock bands - drawing from post-punk, garage rock, punk, metal, and college-rock traditions yet doing their own thing - plus the ocasional trip to another genre (The People's Republic of Klezmerica, for example). In the past the chances that you'd heard bands with names like Miami Dragons and The Convergence Conspiracy Collective Psychoto-Electro Akrestra probably decreased exponentially as you left the Columbia, Missouri area. Thanks to this admirable and enjoyable series ("Volume 3 is forthcoming"), that's no longer the case. Every city had compilations like these the world would be a much better place.- dave heaton

Kind of Like Spitting, In the Red (Hush)

Kind of Like Spitting's eighth album In the Red opens with "Aubergine", a rolling folk song that offers an incisive look into a hometown and its effects on a person. The song's acute descriptions of life and its confusing side ("I'm still learning what my heart is for"), and its gently sublime melody, are instantly arresting. But don't expect track 2 to sound the same, or for track 3 to sound like track 2, and so on. On In the Red, singer/songwriter Ben Barnett integrates his troubadour/folk singer style (following up on his recent Learn EP of Phil Ochs covers) with louder, electric guitar-heavy college-radio-style rock (like an angrier version of contemporaries like Death Cab for Cutie). He bounces from one style to the other, and often integrates the two. There's an abrasive side to the music at times, a tuneful side at others, and always the music captures Barnett's personality. It's an epic album, with storytelling and contemplation and the sort of personal songs that seem cut right from the singer's heart. Barnett's tone is often that of a seeker or dissector, exploring what his life is about and why he does what he does. As he sings at one point, "I will keep singing / I will keep fishing for some words in this water all around me". - dave heaton

Kobi, Dronesyndrome (Silber)

"Faint Echos Ran Round the Unseen Hall", the first song on Kobi's Dronesyndrome album is titled. Taken together, that song title and album title do a better job describing the music that I'm likely to. The Norwegian collective, with Kai Mikalsen at the helm, use a mixture of processed sounds and more traditional musical instruments. That description might tell you what's going on technically, but it doesn't give you a sense for what the music feels like, or sounds like, even. The music created by Kobi is that of a ghost, slowly roaming around an empty mansion. Their instrumental ambient drones are filled with cavernous spaces, occupied by haunted drums, faint touches of jazz (or more accurately, like a group of musicians who seem like they've about to play jazz, yet the jazz never really begins), bizarre noises somewhere in the distance, and the unsettling yet oddly peaceful atmosphere of a horror film, screened at midnight to an empty theatre. - dave heaton

Looper, MP3 EP #3 (self-released)

Don't forget about Looper just because they haven't released a "proper" recording since 2002. That is, they haven't put anything out there in the world of commerce with their name stamped on it. They've still been making music; since 2003 they've recorded three EPs, and released them for free as MP3s downloadable through their web site. Each is brief but fantastic, including their latest, the 3-song MP3 EP #3. It closes with Bitmap's fun if not ground-shaking remix of the first EP's song "The Strangest Girl", a nice addition. But before that are two even better tracks, infectious pop songs that rank right up there with Looper's best. "Cleo Laine" has a breezy, lazy-day bounce, driven by piano and blessed by trumpet, with Stuart David singing a gentle yet passionate ode to the soothing power of a singer's voice. "Close Your Eyes" is a slower lullaby that's related in atmosphere. It's a gorgeous daydream of a song, with Looper beckoning us to "go on holiday and never ever ever come home". Sounds good to me... - dave heaton

Ninja High School, Young Adults Against Suicide (Tomlab)

"Ninja High School is a positive hardcore dance-rap band from Toronto", their web site declares simply. A statement of fact, but what does "positive hardcore dance-rap" sound like, exactly? In this case it's an uptempo, playfully messy style of music. Samples are used often, each track finds a nice groove that you can dance to, and the band members rap in the stilted yet eager style of cheerleaders at a sporting event (a style that screams "we can't rap but we don't care"). The "positive" side lies with the overall exuberance of the sound and the activist/intellectual slant of the lyrics, the "hardcore" side with the intensity of that exuberance and choruses like "you're going home in a fuckin' ambulance". The best moments on Young Adults Against Suicide offer a synthesis of styles and ideas that feels fun and fresh, with (like on the Go! Team's recent album) the atmosphere of a crowd of joyous people getting down and/or calling for change. The downside is how awkwardly wordy the raps can be. Part of Ninja High School's project is to take complicated ideas and form them into simple slogan-style lyrics that can be shouted/sung along to, but the complex sentences don't always fit the musical style they've chosen, at least not in a way that keeps from damagin the pleasurable aesthetic of fun and progress. And to put it in the simplest terms, some of the genre-mixes sound cool (the sung chorus on "Jam Band Death Cult", the sample of Talking Heads' "This Must Be the Place" that's used on "Shake It Off") and some really don't (the singing of "Day-O" over frantic drums on "Nap"). That's the danger with experiments, and Ninja High School as a band certainly feels like one, like a jump over a cliff, an attempt to fool around and see where the party can take you. - dave heaton

The Snowdrops, Sleepydust EP (Matinee)

The Snowdrops' last single for Matinee featured a cover of Tears for Fears' "Mad World". This time around the title song "Sleepydust" is clearly in love with the Pet Shop Boys, with an unmistakably similar sound. But don't think the trio is necesarily on a 'back to the '80s' nostalgia kick, at least not in a superficially retro way. For in both cases the emotions are real and the performances are superb. "Sleepydust" appears here in two versions (the original, and an extended 12" version featuring more vocals from Pam Berry). Both are romantic and lovely, a tribute to a "new best friend" which begins with Keith Girdler (also of Blueboy, Lovejoy, etc.) singing "As you were sleeping, I held your hand..." The song has a lush electro-pop atmosphere, Diana Ross references, and an overly tender and soft demeanor. That feeling carries through to the gorgeous slow-motion instrumental "Too Cold to Snow", and then on to the EP's other featured pop song. Sung by the Snowdrops' third member Dick Preece (lead singer for Lovejoy) and produced by Keris Howard (Harper Less, Brighter), "The Boy With the Hummingbird Eyes" is a beautiful, sad snapshot of "another lonely star fallen from the sky". It has a spectaular tune, a bittersweet aura, and a title that my memory tells me comes from a book by my favorite author, Douglas Coupland. In other words, it's a winner, another stylish, melancholy pop song for the ages. - dave heaton

Tender Trap, Language Lessons EP (Matinee)

Throughout the '80s, '90s, and 00's, Amelia Fletcher has made quite an impressive trail of fantastic indie-label pop groups, displaying her gift for truly sublime melodies and harmonies, and her knack for writing witty and emotional lyrics. Following Talulah Gosh, Heavenly, and Marine Research (not to mention roles in Hefner, Sportique, and others) came her current group Tender Trap, a trio featuring three of the four members of Marine Research. Tender Trap's debut album was released on K back in 2002, and now their latest EP Language Lessons is out on Matinee. The title is so appropriate, considering how important language is to each of the four songs; issues of communication are at the forefront in these tales love and infatuation, set to impeccably catchy, bouncy pop tunes. "Talking Backwards" starts with lush harmonies, a driving rhythm, and a clever way of conveying the idea that trying to express love interest in someone can feel like you're talking backwards: the chorus itself is sung backwards. "Unputdownable" sweeps along nicely, with series of sung diary entries unveiling the story of a burgoning romance. "Friendster" has a nice lazy gait to it, one suited for the tongue-in-cheek Internet-era come-on. Then the EP wraps up with a sleek and gorgeous electro-pop duet with Pipas' Lupe Nunez-Fernandez, a bi-lingual personal ad ("Como te llamas?"). All in all Language Lessons is one more sterling piece of a stellar series of discographies, and a great little pop record. - dave heaton

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