Closet Organ EP
While it's tough to get a really good impression of a band from only two songs, this split EP does its best to let listeners in on some of North Texas' best-kept secrets. Bangarang, who contribute "Closet Organ" (sample lyric: "I've got this closet organ / When I threw away my monsters"), mix a funked-up thrashfest of electronic beats with low-key guitars and (gasp!) an organ. But their "Brights in the Fog" shows a completely different band; for a band recently voted one of the best unsigned bands by Seattle's Redefine magazine, the band lightens up a bit too much.
Wellwisher's "Sleeves" and "Grow" -- easily the high points of this EP -- sound similar to the Brit-rock of South and Starsailor. Both songs could easily fit into the glut of British exports of the past half a decade, and they prove once again that bands from the Dallas area deserve the attention they continually receive. (DAC)
(Supergenius Recording Co. -- 6850 N. Shiloh Rd, Ste. K, #273, Garland, TX. 75044; Bangarang -- http://www.bangarang.us/; Wellwisher -- http://www.garageband.com/artist/wellwisher)
The Bell Curve
Electronic, synth-heavy beats coupled with lyrics that bleed emotion -- perfect for disaffected youth and trend-weary scenesters. The Bell Curve's self-titled album is everything that early '90s indie was built on and blends the slow drone of British shoegazer bands (like Ride) with layered, emo-esque guitars and harmonies (like Pavement and Fig Dish). But The Bell Curve owes a lot of its sound to Radiohead, as well -- several of the album's tracks have characteristics of songs from their catalogue, but songs like the sprawling, nearly eight-minute "See With My Eyes Closed" recall The Verve's early work ("Gravity Grave").
The album's featured live tracks -- "Style," "Everything Will Be Alright," and "For What It's Worth" -- offer up a slightly more energetic side of the band and show the Houston band in their element. Overall, The Bell Curve's songs are an addictive mixture of styles that make for an addictive listen. (DAC)
(self-released; The Bell Curve -- http://www.thebellcurve.net/)
Safe in Sound
With pop savants like Jon Brion, Jason Falkner and even Nickel Creek's Chris Thile making sure to do everything themselves, a performer like Jim Boggia comes off as a phenomenal slacker, contributing nothing but vocals (a cross between Richard X. Heyman and the Gin Blossoms' Robin Wilson), guitar and the occasional keyboardy instrument to his own album. That's not the reason Safe In Sound ends up a disappointment, though; as any pop nerd knows, the key is always songs, songs, songs. The fast numbers, like "Made Me So Happy" and the supercharged "Underground" (which pits an Attraction against one of the MC5 and comes out a draw) get by not on hooks or invention but on momentum, and slower cuts like the dithering "Show My Face Around" and "Where's The Party?" (which sounds like the perfunctory gathering chronicled at the start of Weezer's "Undone") are just plain dreary. The result is similar to Bleu's Redhead but without the three or four undeniable songs that made him so promising, lazybones or no. (MH)
(bluhammock Music -- 227 W. 29th St., 6th Floor, New York, NY. 10001; http://www.bluhammock.com/; Jim Boggia -- http://www.jimboggia.com/)
The Book of Lists
Four Canadians deliver average pop-rock on this EP. Vocalist Chris Frey is the most interesting thing about this record, being both a former member of better band Destroyer and the focal point of the music itself. His vocals are of the Ian Curtis variety, although to their credit the Book of Lists declines to parlay this into yet another Joy Division knockoff, perhaps recognizing that everyone is way tired of that shit. Instead, with Red Arrows they seem to have taken the Velvet Underground route, which is fine, I guess. Frey's lyrics are an abstruse mush of half-expression that are nearly impossible to read, let alone remember.
Speaking of knockoffs, though, here's a question: why don't any of those bands seem to remember how much Joy Divison rocked? What about "Warsaw," man? That shit was wild! Swing Kids covered it, for God's sake!
Anyway, to conclude this review, I offer two pieces of advice for The Book of Lists: 1. Change your name. "Red Arrows" would work fine, and that way you could still sell this record. 2. Take a freakin' English class. "Blue in its columns," not "it's;" "Altar of an art treasure," not "Alter;" and "Who do you damn but you," not "dam-" -- although since none of those lyrics make any sense anyway, I'm not sure why it matters. But honestly, use your fucking spellcheck. Damn. (DM)
(Global Symphonic Records -- 7624 Sussex Ave, Burnaby, BC V5J 3V8 CANADA; http://www.globalsymphonic.com/; The Book of Lists -- http://www.myspace.com/thebookoflists)
The Breakup Society
James at 35
In the liner notes to Incesticide, St. Kurt of Aberdeen, in his quest for ever more refined mortification to maintain his state of rock-star holiness, wrote the following comment (one assumes he intended it to be self-lacerating), "I'll be the first to admit that we're the 90s version of Cheap Trick..." Oh, really? He wished. Nirvana's songs had half the brains, a quarter of the irony, and none of the joy or charm of Rick Nielsen's; by extension, he implied that power pop is easy, vapid, or possibly musically impure (gasp!), as if ripping Zeppelin, Sabbath, and ABBA (allegedly) isn't....
I bring all this up because James at 35 makes me yearn for those times in which power pop ruled the land as the reigning musical taste -- it's one of most literate, classic-and-live-sounding records I've heard in a damned long time, with song after song (courtesy of singer and guitarist Ed Masley) blasting out of the speakers with all the authority of Moses descending from Mount Sinai. Starting with the cheeky lament of "Robin Zander" ("Every girl I ever had a crush on had a bigger crush on you / Robin Zander, Robin Zander / They'd chew upon their pencils reading Tiger Beat / Yeah, the girls were sweet on you"), the record covers confusion about the opposite sex ("Introduction to Girls," "She Doesn't Like That Anymore," "She's Been Using Words Like Hurt Again"), anticipatory regret (the Rubber Soul-like bounce of "She Doesn't Know She's Not Supposed to Like Me Yet"), post-trauma regret and longing ("The Summer of Joycelynn May" and "I Could Put You Behind Me," as haunting as anything I've heard from Wilco recently), obsessive, petty squabbling over nothing (the hilarious "Favorite Shorts") -- in short, the full range of topics in the Book of Love is represented faithfully (not that the subject can ever be exhausted, mind you). You'll find the Breakup Society in the same quadrant as the Young Fresh Fellows, the Kinks, Elvis Costello, the Fab Four, the Beach Boys, etc., etc., with a hefty dose of electric Neil Young in the guise of Sean Lally's solos.
But this album is more than about celebrating past worthies; the band members tear through these songs as if their lives depended it. The majestic, delirious stomp of "I Don't Give a Damn About the Sun," the elegiac Pet Sounds nod of "Never Wanted to Be Your Disappointment," and the tangy effusion of the album closer "He Wants His World Back (Baby)" remind me of why I ever listened to rock'n'roll in the first place -- put your head between the speakers, surf on that titanic wave of energy, attitude, and anguish, and the world is yours for all of two and a half minutes. It's a beautiful thing. (MA)
(Get Hip Records -- Columbus & Prebles Aves., Pittsburgh, PA. 15233; http://www.gethip.com/; The Breakup Society -- http://www.thebreakupsociety.com/)
It's funny; I know that I should know Joel Peterson more for his work in The Faint than for anything -- after all, those Omaha electroslammers pretty much threw the doors wide open between indie-rock and quirky dance music -- but after listening to Inside/Absent, his new effort as Broken Spindles, I realize that this is the part of his musical identity that I keep coming back to. It just feels more like it's him talking and not some über-cool hipster. In some ways, it makes sense: The Faint are a band, while Spindles is basically just Peterson himself, so it's natural that it be more of a personal deal. Along with that, it's always seemed like The Faint's been playing for other people, kind of hoping for recognition and maybe that eventual bridging of the gap between the rock and dance worlds; Broken Spindles, on the other hand, feels like it was done strictly for Peterson's own benefit. It's still a little strange, though, that what started off as a side project has evolved perceptually (at least for me) into the guy's defining sound.
Of course, it could have to do with Peterson's own internal evolution and not just the evolution of my perceptions. I listened to Wet From Birth, The Faint's latest, and I hate to say it, but it didn't do much for me. It was good, but it wasn't anything new -- there wasn't really much difference between Birth and the band's earlier albums Danse Macabre and Blank-wave Arcade. When I stumbled across Broken Spindles self-titled debut, though, it felt like I'd hit upon the missing piece of the puzzle, the part Peterson was somehow holding back. It was the emotional edge absent from The Faint's hard metal-and-plastic music, more experimental, creepy instead of snarky.
Inside/Absent proves the point. The new album takes an even further step away from The Faint's get-the-indie-rockers-on-the-dancefloor sound and towards a more unique, more introspective kind of music. Odd, creepy little piano instrumentals are sprinkled throughout the album ("Inward," "Desaturated"), making the proceedings feel less like a Saddle Creek deal and more like the soundtrack to a horror movie. The electronics are still in evidence, particularly on "The Distance Is Nearsighted" (which sounds like a Faint outtake and is, incidentally, probably the weakest track here), but it's more evenly integrated. Take, for example, songs like "Burn My Body," which melds the programming with a nervous little rock song, "This Is An Introduction," which is a nicely low-key, bitter pop track, and "Birthday," which takes the pianos mentioned previously and marries them with a disaffected vocal and background synths. As a whole, the disc has a fragile, claustrophobic feel to it, like the music's playing in a small, windowless room with the air supply cut off and panic quietly beginning to set in.
One interesting bit of evidence of Peterson's musical growth can be drawn from the comparisons that come to mind when listening to Inside/Absent. First off, there's "Please Don't Remember This," a thumping, skronking bit of electronic sex music that comes off like Trent Reznor's subtler moments (and yes, that's intended as a compliment) -- it's far more in the Orgy/NiN/Pigface camp than up there with Radio 4 or Interpol. Then there's "Valentine," which, with its quiet, chiming piano and percolating synth noises, could be a track straight off Underworld's A Hundred Days Off. Ironically, by trying to get away from the overt "electronica"-isms of his full-time band, Peterson may have come closer than ever before to straddling the line between the worlds of the guitar and the sequencer. (JH)
(Saddle Creek Records -- P.O. Box 8554, Omaha, NE. 68108-0554; http://www.saddle-creek.com/)
Built Like Alaska
I was told this was country...and yet, when I listened to it, I didn't hear a lick of country. But maybe what our esteemed editor meant when he recommended it as "country" was that it's...rural. "Rural" may not sound like a way to describe music, I'll admit (hey, I've heard that you can't describe music), and there are a few other comparisons. I could compare them to Built to Spill, and a friend of mine assures me that they're a lot like Arab Strap. But the rural thing.... It's storytelling music, so they get called "folk," but they're also sad-ish. Telling the story of rural America could be a sad way to go. Tales of a life of pity, even. Country music is (used to be?) like that. People always tell me that they don't like Hank Williams (Sr.) because his music is too slow and sad, but from experience, I can say that people in "the country" -- i.e., rural America -- do not so often find that to be so. In a place where there are no sirens, traffic noise, gunshots (at night, anyway), less going on, in general, this music becomes serene, less sad, more artistic. You can see the beauty in the pity. In a place where you listen to crickets, go to bed early, and wake up early, slow sad songs resonate.
Look for Built Like Alaska to become this year's Shins. They just scored the film Ellie Parker with their own music, and they became the darlings of the Sundance Film Festival, so I'm comparing it to the Garden State thing that made the Shins so popular. I like the singing on the Shins records more than Built Like Alaska, but Autumnland bests them in a lot of ways. (CL)
(Future Farmer Recordings -- P.O. Box 225128, San Francisco, CA. 94122-5029; http://www.futurefarmer.com/; Built Like Alaska -- http://www.builtlikealaska.com/)