Boy Sets Fire
I get tired of all the heavy Dillinger Escape Plan-esque bands that seem to be floating around right now -- lots of tortured howling, heavy-metal guitars and hardcore tempos. I guess that encompasses a lot of modern hc, but I just really don't get into it all that much; ah, well. So, every time I listen to this EP, I tend to zone out for the first two songs, because they follow the general framework above pretty damn closely. They may be great, but usually they just zip by. The closer is a similar deal -- it's a very metal-influenced cover of the classic DK's "Holiday In Cambodia," which is nice but nothing really special. "Loser of the Year Award," the third track, catches my attention every time, though; it's a lot more melodic than the previous two, more like early Jawbox than anything else. On that track and the next ("Cavity"), Singer Nathan Gray demonstrates that not only can he roar with the best of 'em, but he can actually hit a few notes when he feels like it. And for my money, he ought to do it more often. (JH/Fall 1999)
Birth Through Knowledge
I really like this album. Officially, it would be categorized with rap -- in fact, when I hadn't heard the full album, and tried to explain it to people, I called it 'alternative rap', but there's much more to it. The music is mostly analog instruments (violin, horns, heavy metal guitars...) sliced and diced ala Beck, whom I would compare them to the most, music-wise. The rappin' and singin' is really good, it flows together very well, and while the lyrics do have some structure, these guys (Lo-Ki and Stone Groove) will rhyme anything with anything. (For example "That's why I kill son, just like Flip Wilson.") I would highly recommend this album,Y¥although it might be hard to find -- look around the web and you can find it. Or, if you have the sampler that came with some copies ofY¥Korn's Follow The Leader album, there's a track on there.
These guys are apparently really big in Canada, but they couldn't get arrestedY¥here (much like Barenaked Ladies, until recently). I first heard (and saw)Y¥BTK while watching Much MusicY¥(the Canadian MTV) while on vacation about a year ago. When I got back, I tried to find the album, and was not successful until 8 months later, when I got this CD to review. And unfortunately, since it's still not available in the states, Americans will have to wait until the summer to hear this album. (JP/Fall 1999)
Full Metal Overdrive
First of all, I have to say that the cover picture is one of the funniest things that I have seen in a long time. Very accurate, and apropos for an album titled Full Metal Overdrive. Buck Wild, for those of you that haven't heard Beat Me Silly, is the band started by Shawn Dewey of Lagwagon fame. As with Lagwagon, Buck Wild features some pretty neato guitar action, with bouncy little riffs that descend into crunchy punk-o-rama. As soon as I put this into the CD player, I was hooked. The first track, "Where Are We," was enjoyable, but the second track, "Empty Bottles," is one of the most kick-ass songs that I've heard in a long while. It only gets better from there, from the groovy little runs on "Don't Touch Me," to the little ukulele riff on "What To Do" that provides a nice variation to the quiet-loud-quiet-loud dynamic. I even enjoyed the pro-vegan punk preaching of "Tribute To The Mammal." The album's closer, "K.T.'s Dream," clocks in at six minutes, making it seem epic by most punk standards. With it, the band veers a little into Jawbreakerish emo territory, and it's pretty damn good. In Buck Wild, Shawn may have indeed started a band that could surpass his current legacy. (MHo/Fall 1999)
(Lobster Records -- P.O. Box 1473, Santa Barbara, CA 93102; http://www.www.lobsterrecords.com)
"Your Casual Smokes"/"Michael J. Fox"
Saw these guys live, and I have to say I wasn't absolutely blown away or anything, unfortunately -- they were good, but not great, y'know? I grabbed the 7", though, hoping that maybe it was just a bad night, and from the sound of this, I was right. "Your Casual Smokes" rocks Silver Scooter-style, starting quiet and low-key but building in a heavier crescendo, and it's a fine song (and I don't even smoke). "Michael J. Fox," the B-side, is a bit more iffy; there are some nice harmony vocals and a decent midtempo groove, but the song is super-short, and really doesn't stick around long enough to gather the energy to be very memorable. Ah, well -- that's the chance you take with a B-side... (JH/Fall 1999)
(Motorcoat Records -- 1818 Sherwood, Beloit, WI. 53511; firstname.lastname@example.org)
Sketches For My Sweetheart The Drunk
My father listens primarily to classical music, and I remember him telling me once about one of the strangest records that he had ever heard. It was an unfinished symphony (I don't remember whose), and instead of filling in the blanks with what the composer would have written or just stopping where the "unfinished" parts began, the record continued on, playing exactly what had been written and nothing more. My father said that listening as instruments started dropping out one by one (since their parts hadn't yet been scored) until a lone piano remained and then stopped was one of the eeriest musical experiences that he'd ever had.
It wasn't until the third time listening to Sketches For My Sweetheart The Drunk, which is an exact modern analog of the above, that I finally realized that the point behind what I'd previously passed off as a silly goof was one of unequivocal respect for the artist. Culling two CDs' worth of material from Jeff Buckley's attempts to come up with a worthy follow-up to 1994's shockingly good Grace, the compilers of this posthumous release make it clear that this is what Buckley had done, nothing more and nothing less.
The result is awfully creepy for a number of obvious and not-so-obvious reasons. The entire first disc is Buckley's first stab at recording a new album, the one he scrapped for the songs that comprise the second disc. But wait: aren't we listening to an entire album's worth of songs that he didn't want us to hear in the first place? So now we're not only being serenaded from beyond the grave, we're doing it against the poor fella's explicit wishes.
And, naturally, these are the songs that hit hardest, if for no other reason than the fact that they were done when Buckley decided to dive into the Mississippi. I'm a stickler for starting an album off right, and "The Sky Is A Landfill," with its swirling noise wrapped around Buckley's delicate pipes, does its job, recapturing the beauty of Grace and setting us up for the rest of the album, which pulls an immediate changeup with the faux-'70s soul of "Everybody Here Wants You." Throughout the rest of the disc, Buckley seems to have been veering away from the personal directness of Grace, standing outside himself for songs like "Yard of Blonde Girls" and "Witches' Rave." If Buckley'd been satisfied and released just the first disc, it would have been a decent though flawed follow-up. Which is no doubt why Buckley killed it early.
And then, with new versions of the abandoned first attempt's hurricane-like "Nightmares By The Sea" and "New Year's Prayer," disc 2 brings us back to reality, showing us glimpses of what Buckley had in mind when he vanished under the waves. It's here that the unfinished symphony starts unravelling, with demos taking the place of finished songs and instruments dropping out (drums are the first casualty) and Buckley's ambition being laid pretty damn bare. It's rough going; lord knows what Buckley had in mind for these songs, which sound very much like works in progress with possibility. Really, the only of Buckley's demos that shows more than potential, that shows actual goddamn promise realized, is "Jewel Box," which, in this form, comes across as one of Chris Knox's more delicate ballads, if Chris Knox was a rhapsodic romantic (instead of a grounded pragmatist) with a quavering falsetto like nothing else on earth.
Just as the full-bodied and electric "The Sky Is A Landfill" started of a disc of produced and finished work, so the closing "Satisfied Mind," live and solo, caps off a disc of something akin to quiet introspection. As his electric guitar quietly plays its elegaic notes, his voice floats along like a feather on the melody, touching down on it for the most part but darting up or down on the slightest change in the climate. It indicates that Jeff Buckley shuffled off this mortal coil with a clear conscience. But I'll bet he was amused as hell that his epitaph went #1 in Australia.
Meanwhile, if, as my friend Josh so eloquently put it, there has never been a band as aptly named as Garbage, I'll counter by suggesting that no album title has been as appropriate as This Euphoria. While Jeff Buckley descends into melancholy for the sheer tragic romanticism of it, David Garza luxuriates in melody and sound because he is a sex god extraordinaire. I can think of no other explanation for it, and I stand in awe.
Nor can I explain that after 5 years in Houston, my first exposure to Garza was in the cultural molasses factory of Indianapolis, opening for Ani DiFranco. It was unfortunate in more ways than one: performing with guitar and computer, dah-veed squeezed unfocused noise out of the loudspeakers and generally confused the crowd, who probably didn't care anyway.
Mistake. On both sides. Turns out that hearing Euphoria's tunes in concert and then on record is like watching a blur snap into focus (putting on your glasses, for instance, for those who are blind like me). Rumbling low end becomes pounding bass and wall of distortion coalesces into thundering guitar. And it still washes over you, because it's all one unit of glorious sound, propelled by Garza's urgent vocal pleadings.
Like Buckley, Garza possesses a tenor of unhinged beauty, which can swoop and soar and glide and dive in unexpected ways with precision and control. It's just that Garza is too busy trying to woo his beloved (or beloved-to-be) to get bogged down in the depressive poesy that Buckley made his trademark. The promises made in the pulsing "Discoball World" (which would make a glorious dancefloor song, though it'll never happen) get reinforced with a melody that starts out in beautiful simplicity before losing itself momentarily in the prechorus and then, just when you think it'll be wandering for a while, slams into a chorus of breathtaking urgency and confidence. When Garza claims to glow in the dark (in the song of the same name), he doesn't sound like he's bragging; I think he wants to prove it to you. (MH/Fall 1999)
(Columbia Records; Atlantic/Lava Records)
Englishman Joe Cassidy is the catalyst for this delicate pop outfit, and while his tear-stained vision occasionally brings other melancholy tunesmiths to mind, the end equation remains singularly fresh. "Number One," its string-driven hook equal parts Brian Wilson and Slowdive, is the immediate standout, with such impressive also-rans as "Mad Bird" (which explores the same easy swing as Jools Holland's tunes for Squeeze) and "When You Return" ("Send In The Clowns" dipped in red house paint). Although Soft Explosives (the third full-length BC effort to date) falters towards the end, thanks to the avant-cappella failure "Zepplin Catches Fire At Speed" and Duncan Sheik-via-OMD closer "The Sound Of Love Breaking Apart" (not to mention Cassidy's occasional sour note), the jewels picked up along the path make this a worthy excursion indeed. (JT/Fall 1999)
(HitIt! Recordings -- 1617 North Hoyne Avenue, First Floor, Chicago, IL. 60647; http://www.nowhitit.com/)