Singers Ruin Perfectly Good Bands
Sean's an instrumental duo made up of a keyboardist and a drummer -- the keyboardist plays through a guitar amplifier and effects, getting a sound that's closer to a guitar, or at least not always like a keyboard. They get a decent range of sounds out of the keyboards, and the sounds're definitely different from the normal guitar effect sounds. They play short, highly complex, prog-ish compositions (mostly 1-2 minutes) at ear-splitting volumes.
All of the songs here are well executed -- both the guys in the band are extremely technically gifted. The problem is that there isn't a lot of variety to the songs; both instruments do pretty much the same thing at all times. While some of the keyboard and drum parts are interesting, they don't particularly stand out from the others. And when you're dealing with music that is consistently loud (something they're clearly doing intentionally), you need to vary it in some other way. So, if you don't want to change the volume, you've got to do something to break things up (unless what you're doing is really inspired, that is [which, no, this isn't]). Sean would be a fun band to see live, I'm sure, but what makes a good performance versus a good record are often two different things. (HM)
(Ladies Choice Records -- http://www.ladieschoicerecords.com/)
Always Pithy After Repose
This is a different direction for the Seximals. Whereas their previous album, My Old Problems, was a collection of lo-fi rock songs, Always Pithy After Repose is a collection of sample-based pieces with samples culled from some of the Seximals' favorite recordings, augmented with some original instrumentation. The samples tend more toward the ambient than, say, hip-hop, so there's little to break up the looping. The repetition can be a bit much at times, but I like this a lot more than the previous album. It might very well have been easier to create these songs than ones that were made from scratch, but this feels fresher, more interesting, and free of indie-rock clichés. It's just not the sort of thing that you'll want to listen to actively. While doing things like driving, though, it's just the thing. You can tune in and out as you like. I just wish that all spaces that now contain music that should be ambient, but is more often golden oldies or super hits of the seventies, would contain the Seximals instead. I would like to see this replace the background music in malls and grocery stores everywhere. It would make standing in checkout lines so much easier. Until then, though, I'll have to settle for listening to it in my car. Maybe you should give it a shot, too. Since the samples are unauthorized, The Seximals are giving this album away, rather than selling it. That's certainly the right price; you can't really go wrong with free. (JC)
(Infernal Bridegroom Productions -- P.O. Box 131004, Houston, TX. 77219-1004; http://www.infernalbridegroom.com/)
The Short Happy Life
The Album Is Also Called 'The Short Happy Life'
For a few tracks, the home-brewed nerd-pop of Jerry Fels's one-man band the Short Happy Life (a name also used by a completely different band about five years ago) has a certain offhand charm, especially on songs like the lo-fi synth-pop of "What The Body Wants" and "Oh Carrie Brownstein," a frustrated (for a hundred reasons) love song to a woman who has surely inspired scads of unrequited crushes. Then The Album Is Also Called 'The Short Happy Life' collapses into the simplistic and cutesy singalongs of an acoustic-slinging, thin-voiced bedroom rat whose thoughts of the girl of his dreams send him breathlessly through cringe-inducing lines like, "I want so badly to go to sleep/But you're keeping me up/And not in the good way." As with Atom and His Package, a little of Fels's schtick goes a long way, but if he doesn't have the former's pop-intelligentsia logorrhea, he also lacks the hookiness and focus that make him/them occasionally tolerable; say what you want about Atom Goren, the guy never comes off as sloppy or half-assed. The Album Is Also Called 'The Short Happy Life' aims for modest pleasures, but then, it has much to be modest about. (MH)
(Nobody's Favorite Records -- http://www.nobodysfavoriterecords.com/)
Never Get Better
The Skintones are a punk rock trio from Madison, WI, and they've filled this album, Never Get Better, with politically-charged songs and traditional punk rock clichés. They keep the number of chords on most of their songs to a minimum, but there are some impressive basslines and drumbeats. Some of the songs also have catchy, shout-along choruses, which are always easy for the listener to get into. Most of the songs' melodies, however, consist of a single measure repeated over and over again.
The opening track, "Basket Case" (not to be confused with the Green Day song of the same name), is an energetic, anti-patriotic anthem describing the current state of things in our country. Other standout tracks include "Baba Ganoush," named after a Turkish appetizer dip, and "Million $ Itch;" the latter of which is a nice little tune about materialism that makes clever use of metaphors ("You've got a million-dollar itch / With a hundred-dollar scratch"). Perhaps the best song, though, is "Rocka Locka"; it begins with a long instrumental reminiscent of Middle Eastern folk music, and then the shout-along chorus comes in: "Rocka Locka Mooka Locka / Rocka Locka Ding Dong / Rocka Locka Mooka Locka / Rocka to the Islam." Sounding less like punk than any of the album's other songs, it's definitely worth hearing.
The Skintones are a talented group; they'd be cool to see in concert and, with more practice and experience, have the potential to become something big. This album is recommended for punk rock afficionados, left-wing political activists, and those interested in the current goings-on in the Middle East. (PG)
(Crustacean Records -- P.O. Box 829, Madison, WI. 53701; http://www.crustaceanrecords.com/)
Strands and Drools EP
The Pasadena goofballs formerly known as the Slurpees, forced to change their name by 7-11, continue to expand their no-longer-conventional definition of punk, creating for this EP, Strands and Drools, some kind of weird cross between mutant prog, post-rock and space-alien funk fusion. Drummer Jason Tortorice really comes into his own here, getting around the kit and the beat quite impressively. Prime examples of the raw power of the Squishees are "Bobbysox," a bizarro-world ZZ Top stomp with a salty sense of humor, herky-jerky timing, and a wicked solo, and the improv jam "Zindler's Lobe," which might as well be "Don Caballero 4" until it breaks into Minutemen-inspired funk, then heads off to Sabbathland and parts unknown. Even the rather silly "Bacon" comes off well when played by such imaginative musicians. Less successful is "The Theory of Billy and the Train," an eight-and-a-half minute dirge, less theory than half-assed epic poem, that tells the story of an unfortunate boy who is hit by a train and cut in half. I trust I will spoil nothing if I reveal that both halves survive and that one of them is -- gasp -- evil. Despite its problems, even this song is hardly weak, instrumentally speaking.
This music is virtuosic and ambitious, while retaining a visceral punch -- and yet it's almost anti-commerical in its bizarre and idiosyncratic approach. Such a mixture, to me, seems quintessentially Houstonian in its artistic isolation. The Squishees represent the gritty, organic, and unpredictable sprawl of our city as well as anyone. (DM)
(Smelly Menace Records; The Squishees -- http://www.thesquishees.net/)
So, what do you do when everybody around you suddenly seems to be doing the same thing you've been working at for the past few years? You stop and change directions. It can be one of the axioms for success, and one that Statistics frontman Denver Dalley seems to have taken to heart on Often Lie. While his previous efforts have practically glistened with a metallic sheen, bittersweet pop songs covered by a protective shell of robotic electro-isms, Often Lie runs in the opposite direction, eschewing the techno-pop aesthetic in favor of the tried-and-true rock-with-guitars formula.
The end result is, well, basically a damn good indie-rock album. Big, roaring guitars dominate, counterbalanced occasionally by chiming, shimmery melodies, and dosed with dreamy emo-boy vocals. Tracks like "Nobody Knows Your Name" and "No Promises" bring to mind Clarity-era Jimmy Eat World, with their delicate, baroque melancholy and repetitive-yet-beautiful guitar lines, while "Say You Will" makes me think alternately of The Promise Ring and the Foo Fighters, of all things, and opener "Final Broadcast" and the thumping "A Foreword" sound a hell of a lot like Weezer covering, say, Cursive; a far cry, needless to say, from Dalley's previous attempts at merging Kraftwerk with the Get Up Kids. With "Final Broadcast," in fact, he practically telegraphs the shift: "You could say we're changing formats."
This isn't exactly new, mind you. Statistics's previous album, Leave Your Name, actually put a fair amount of distance between itself and the self-titled debut EP -- there, however, Dalley still did quite a bit of electronic experimentation, even if it was better-integrated into the actual pop songs he was writing. Often Lie, then, is the next logical step, with the electronics relegated to a background role (it still pops up occasionally, like on the atmospheric filler piece "By(e) Now") and the focus placed where it really should be: on Dalley's songwriting. With this album he's proven himself a master at carefully-paced songs that burn slow, drifting along on beds of chiming guitars and processed drums 'til they eventually light the whole place on fire.
The lyrics are decent, as well, if a little minimal -- the closest comparison would probably be to Elliott's Chris Higdon, and that's hardly a bad comparison to have thrown at you, to be sure. Of course, he doesn't even really need 'em, as he demonstrates with the album's closing instrumental, "10:22," which comes off like a strange, otherworldly, gorgeous collaboration between The Edge and The Gloria Record. Even without the synths and electronic trickery, Dalley's got atmosphere and feeling to spare. (JH)
(Jade Tree Records -- 2310 Kennwynn Rd., Wilmington, DE. 19810; http://www.jadetree.com/; Statistics -- http://www.statisticsmusic.com/)