Well, Papas Fritas' 2nd-ever album is supposedly named after the apocryphal Sun Ra sessions that were never released due to their sheer cosmic power, but don't let that confuse you -- this is not jazz (although admittedly, there are some elements of it in there). What this is, instead, is totally pure pop music, packed full of melodies, happy vocal harmonies, and songs about love...wow. From the first time I heard "Small Rooms," I've been totally hooked. Yeah, this is kinda cheesy at points, but so what? It's fun music, and beyond that, it's smart fun music. It makes me think of classic pop stuff from the 60s & 70s, mostly (yes, there was some) -- Harry Nilson, for one, or the Beach Boys, or maybe even Elton John ("Captain of the City," in particular). All three folks in the band sing their hearts out, and somehow I just know they're having a blast doing it. This one's great to crank up on the car stereo the next time you drive down to the beach... (JH)
(Minty Fresh Records -- P.O. Box 577400, Chicago, IL. 60657)
dreaming of directions
Another little "offshoot" of the weird Houston web of bands, Pop Deflation (now called We've Got Airplanes, after discovering that somebody else had used the name "Pop Deflation" first) is the pet project of Ben from Linoleum Experiment, and is a true rarity among Houston bands -- unlike most of their contemporaries, these guys and girl (Ben, Joseph and Melissa) are actually quiet. This tape (I'd heard about a CD, but this cassette is all I've seen so far) is some of the most beautiful, melodic, melancholy pop you'll ever hear in your life. For the most part, it reminds me very strongly of the sensitive pop of Holiday, but also bears some resemblance to stuff like Jumprope, Bunnygrunt, and a huge array of other indie-pop bands floating around out there. The twelve songs on dreaming cover a lot of ground, too, ranging from the soft, ultra-minimal "Platoon" all the way to the cool, synth-filled "Harold & Maude." And y'know what the best part is? This is the most well-done D.I.Y. tape I've ever heard, no joke -- even though it was all done all on a 4-track, reportedly, it's so well-produced it makes some major-label recordings sound noisy and underdone. There's barely a bit of tape-hiss anywhere on here (and yes, it makes me jealous as hell). At any rate, find a copy of this somehow, stick it in the tape deck, and then bliss out 'til these kids actually put out a CD... (JH)
(P.O. Box 980651, Houston, TX. 77098; 281-482-9214; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.angelfire.com/me/popdeflation/)
"Spying On The Spys"
(Goddammit, they need to put warnings on those darn CD things...) Picked this record up mostly at random (and because I'm a big Superchunk freak), and it managed to bring me closer to tears than any piece of music has in years. It starts with a delicately-picked melody that reminds me of nothing more than the "Rainbows" song Kermit sings in The Muppet Movie (ha! and now you, too, will be cursed by it!), and then quietly builds to a majestic, pained chorus of minimal, jangly guitars, voices, and some kind of mellotron-type thing. It's beautiful like a cold night under the stars, and you can almost hear the crickets chirping along. The b-side, "Do You Want To Buy A Bridge?," on the other hand, is more like a quieter 'chunk tune (although a good bit louder), a sarcastic, bitter song about love-gone-wrong. But hey, is there any other kind?
[And now, for the warning...here's a tip to all you Portastatic fans out there: the version of "Spys" on The Nature Of Sap sucks. No, really, it does. It's overproduced, played with a full band (as opposed to the spare instrumentation on here), and well, it just bites, okay? The fragile-ness is gone, replaced by more ordinary "rök pöwr," and it just doesn't do the song justice. Just wanted to do everybody a favor and let 'em know -- I've heard the rest of the CD's cool, by the way...] (JH)
(Merge Records -- P.O. Box 1235, Chapel Hill, NC. 27514)
Turnstyles & Junkpiles
The first thing I heard about this record was that it contained two Tortoise members, a guy from Come, and a guy from Rex. This is proof that the post-rock scene of the late '90s has developed something akin to the mainstream rock scene of the mid-'70s and '80s, where supergroups formed at will. (Anyone remember GTR?)
Anyway, don't hold any of that against these guys. This has little to do with their heritage (either in the scope of music history or their performing resumes, although parts of the first Tortoise record and Rex's work do hint at the same area). This is the music of four people playing acoustic string instruments, mostly plucked (although each fellow gets a solo piece, and Chris Brokaw's is mostly strummed). Comparisons to John Fahey, while inevitable (mostly because they're encouraged by the press kit), are highly inappropriate; this music is much less ornate, with slow lines more akin to Ry Cooder's work on his Paris, Texas soundtrack. Pullman doesn't bat 1.000 (I could've done without the tango), but it's a surprisingly pleasant effort that I find to be a very satisfying multipurpose record.
I should note that one of my friends holds a contradictory view; he claims that Bundy Brown (the ex-Tortoisean whose loft this was recorded in and who appears to lead this project) is trying to resuscitate New Age music and sneak it into the post-rock generation, so that before they know it they're cranking George Winston records. I think there's more guts here than that, but nevertheless I'll stay on guard. (DD)
(Thrill Jockey Records -- P.O. Box 476794, Chicago, IL. 60647)