I hate to use "indie-rock" as a genre, but what can I say? Calibos is definitely indie-rock (think Sebadoh), and they've got the repetition and steady beats any great indie band should have. There's nothing on this CD that really stands out as "amazing," and they definitely aren't going to change the way of music to come, but by no means does that mean that its a bad release.
It doesn't sound like they're trying to be rock gods or anything, just trying to rock, and they do a great job of it. They've got decent melodies and get loud when its needed, as shown on tracks like "Locust Ballet," "Bald Fountain," and "Albion." Also, there doesn't appear to be a bass player, but despite that, they've got quite a full sound. I've got to say, by the way, that the lyrics are pretty cool, so buy the CD and read them (that is a command).
One reason to buy this CD: to rock, old school "indie rock" style. This CD really grows on you. (TC)
(Arlingtone Records -- 25 Monroe Place, Apt. 2E, Brooklyn, NY. 11201; email@example.com; http://www.arlingtone.com/; Calibos -- http://www.calibos.com/)
Verse By Verse
Okay, so I do like this, but... The Caribbean throws some beautiful melodies into the mix, and they truly make some intriguing-sounding weird-pop; that's the good part. The bad part is that I'm 99% sure I won't remember a single bit of it five minutes after the CD's run its course. Why not? Well, there's just a lot to take in, here, and it doesn't all quite assimilate into a coherent whole. I remember feeling somewhat the same about the band's eponymous debut, and unfortunately, things haven't changed.
The Caribbean create some incredibly interesting little soundscapes, layering sound on sound on sound until you can't be sure what the hell any of the sounds are doing (see the "chorus," if that's what it is, of "What Would Jane Jacobs Say?," or the entirety of "Knife Replacement Blades"). The general sound almost comes close to The Flaming Lips' The Soft Bulletin at points, which is cool, with one major difference: The Lips' songs, at their heart, are really, truly pop songs. They're melodic, easy to sing along with (well, sometimes), and drive themselves into the listener's brain like a railroad spike. On Verse By Verse, by way of comparison, even the best songs, like "I Am The Mosque" or the majestic "Have You Ever Thought About Turning Pro?," sound more like clever and contrived "pieces" than real-live songs.
The way tracks start and finish gives more proof of that, as well -- songs stumble in like a sodden drunk, floundering in a puddle of a couple of different musical styles before standing up and brushing themselves off, but then they pass out cold on the floor before they can deliver the real goods. Jangly acoustic-pop ditty "Help Would Only Confuse Me" is a prime example, in that it ends so abruptly it feels like the band just got bored and put down their instruments before finding the real climax of the song. Similarly, the end of "Girl at Fairgrounds" came so suddenly I had to check and make sure my CD player hadn't run out of batteries, and "What Would Jane Jacobs Say?" bumbles along for barely 2 minutes before crashing to a halt without warning.
Granted, "Soundproofing Makes a Practice Space," off The Caribbean, was one of the best damn songs on the EP because it was structured that way, but that's part of the point -- it at least felt structured, even if it crumbled to a close at the track's end. Most of Verse By Verse is like a jam-band gone awry. With the exception of "I Am The Mosque," where the singer sounds so absolutely convinced of the song's title that I feel I have to believe him (not that I know he means, but y'know), for most of the CD The Caribbean sound unsure of themselves, and they compensate by throwing in everything but the kitchen sink. They're good musicians, and clever folks, to boot -- one look at the song titles (or their admittedly very entertaining Website) will tell you that -- but that doesn't excuse the fact that they recorded what sounds like every little bit of practice-room screwing-around that they could come up with.
Now, like I said, I do like this, despite my ranting above. Some of the tracks on here, like the aforementioned Guided by Voices-esque anthem "Have You Ever Thought About Turning Pro?" and the scratching, thumping testimonial "I Am The Mosque," are truly wonderful things to behold (behear?). "Front Row at the Rodeo" jumps into that crew, as well, with its wavering, manipulated vocals and layering, as does the beautiful, delicate opener, "I'll Simplify My Life (In Fremont)," a song that sounds to me like nothing more than Brian Eno hanging out with Robert Pollard in a recording studio. There are some good ideas on here; I just wish the band would hang on a little longer and try to follow those ideas to their end, rather than calling them done halfway and moving along to the next. That's just plain lazy. (JH)
(Endearing Records -- P.O. Box 69009, 2025 Corydon Avenue, Winnipeg, MB. R3P 2G9 CANADA; http://www.endearing.com/; The Caribbean -- http://www.littlevoice.com/thecaribbean/)
Barricades & Brickwalls
"Barricades & Brickwalls," the song, ought to scare the shit out of anybody who buys Barricades & Brickwalls, the album, based on "Not Pretty Enough," the song that I'm sure I'd hear on the radio if I listened to the radio stations that play that sort of thing. The title track kicks off the album with a single-minded determination, as Chambers declares that she will get her man come hell or high water; "By the end of the day," she vows, "I'll take you away like a force 10 hurricane," and not for a second is there any wavering doubt that she possesses the power and inclination to make it happen.
Coming immediately afterwards, "Not Pretty Enough" is jarring as hell, sort of like "Passionate Kisses" wracked by self-doubt. It is a sweet, fine song that is totally at odds with the track that's just finished. I will hunt you down like a woman possessed, says Chambers, following it up with, Is there something wrong with me? Hearing it on the heels of "Barricades," I don't believe that she could possibly believe the words coming out of her mouth; it would be like Liz Phair singing "You Were Meant For Me" on Exile in Guyville.
The dissonance established by those first two songs sets the tone for the rest of Barricades. There's no law against showing range, but Chambers ends up establishing a two-dimensional persona instead of a three-dimensional one; all it does is further polarize the alt-country spitfire from the adult contemporary balladeer. The difference is so striking that the best songs (all, for what it's worth, in minor keys) amount to something akin to damage control. Every few tracks, another barnburner pops up to remind us why we're allowing Chambers to toy with us. "Runaway Train" picks up on the promise (or threat) of "Barricades" three songs later, and the country-punk of "Crossfire" flares up ten cuts in to snarl, "I thought I had it clear from the start / I don't have a heart."
Too true, but such reminders would be unnecessary if Chambers wasn't afflicted, in songs like "A Million Tears" (which finds her almost crippled by the absence of her man), with the urge to play the weepy lovelorn diarist. Such Jewel-ry runs deep, as evidenced by the solo acoustic "Falling Into You" and the unlisted "Ignorance"; the latter is a ghastly, ultra-topical query into the state of the world with a title far too ironic for a song that attempts to boil down society's ills into convenient, simplistic verses. When Chambers sings, "I've got something to say / And I thought it might be worth a mention," you want to tell her to think again.
The problem with the problem with Barricades is that the generic AAA songs often aren't bad. "Not Pretty Enough," "If I Were You" ("...I would notice me") and "Nullarbor Song" would be keepers for anybody else -- handsome, well-crafted roots-pop sung in a borderline-remarkable voice that's equal parts Ms. Kilcher and Susan Cowsill. And Chambers gets credit for sticking to her guns and making it dingoes howling in "Nullarbor Song," giving the song a distinct sense of place, when "wild dogs" would have scanned just as well while blanding the title locale just enough for global consumption. I suspect that this change will be made when Nashville gives these songs to a singer whose persona allows her to pull it off better.
Only the final listed track successfully combines the two Kaseys. Sharing a vocal with fellow Aussie Paul Kelly, Chambers infuses "I Still Pray" with both the steeliness and humility that switch off everywhere else on the album. Maybe it's because she's not getting gooshy over a gentleman caller but declaring her faith in something beyond her control. It'd be great if the two sides of Chambers would fully merge, vulnerability combined with fierceness in one devastating package. Until that happens, though, if I have to choose which Kasey is the real one, I'll take the Woman Who Will Not Be Scorned over the sensitiva in a heartbeat. Barricades & Brickwalls may not deliver on her promise, but it sure raises the stakes high enough to root for her. (MH)
(Warner Bros. Records -- http://www.warnerbrosrecords.com/; Kasey Chambers -- http://www.kaseychambers.com/)
This Sad Movie
Con Dolore thinks This Sad Movie tells a story; the liner notes list the band members under "Cast," the tracks tend to bleed together without so much as a pause and there's a series of photos in the insert that clearly delineate a plot (or the progression of a scene, at the very least). That's too bad, since such cinematic pretensions serve merely as distractions for a band whose best ideas demand a focus that they can't, or won't, muster for very long. The songs that don't meander past the breaking point reprise unnecessarily ("Fractions of a Second 1" is nothing more than a continuation of "All Our Favorite Cats," which doesn't need one) or dissolve into awfully incidental music that perhaps fits into some grander, failed scheme but does nothing for the track at hand.
Which is a shame, because for the first few songs at least, Con Dolore creates a reasonably affecting mood of swelling sadness. Sounding like a cross between a European auto commercial and the bands that used to play the Bronze during the high school seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (with a dab of My Bloody Valentine-esque noise-as-melancholy-oppression thrown in for good measure), the band processes everything at their disposal, from the guitars and keyboards to the loop-like drums and the vocals of Kristy Moss, who, along with guitarist Ed Ballinger, doesn't sing so much as whisper melodically. The resulting denseness is too oppressive to last, and as the album elapses, my interest shifts into an entirely passive mode, so that when it's over, I'm ready for it to be over. Too long and with too many ideas by half, This Sad Movie runs out of steam well before the credits start to roll. (MH)
(Clairecords -- P.O. Box 161372, Sacramento, CA. 95816; http://www.clairecords.com/; Con Dolore -- http://www.condolore.com/)
Total Pops Madness
Pop, snap (your neck) and crackle like a sheet of cellophane. Track one clocks in at under 1:45, but it infects like a rabid virus. Track two is 1:02 -- better listen up and don't get too far away, or you will miss the ska/punk/pop amalgamation, with hollering choruses and vocals that remind us of Rancid-esque thrashing abandon. Whew. Exceptionally recorded in Tokyo, it seems that this band has figured out the complicated labyrinth that is ska-punk. Do they have fun? Oh, hell yes. Are they breaking any rules? Oh, hell no. But who cares? This isn't music to brood over. It's got "party" written all over it. They make the Minutemen sound like opera buffs. It seems a bit short for a disc, but then I'm old-fashioned and think songs generally need to be over 2 minutes in length -- shame on me. Jeez, these nuggets are just the right size to pop in your mouth and enjoy in the car. No muss, no fuss. (BW)
(Asian Man/No Movement Records -- P.O. Box 35585, Monte Sereno, CA. 95030-5585; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.asianmanrecords.com/)
You know, I've gotten a ton of press kits of late, and I've been very disappointed to see that Space City Rock hasn't figured prominently in any of them. The only conclusion I can reach is that our reviews aren't pithy enough. So, with that in mind, I shamelessly offer Matador five cheesy pull quotes for the wonderful new Couch record:
- Kind of like post rock, only it doesn't suck!
- The Germans are coming ... and they rock and rule!
- The best band named after a piece of furniture ever!
- Kind of like electronica, only it doesn't suck!
- This record is great, and I'm not just sucking up to Matador because I gave the Mogwai record a tepid review and still want promos, I swear!
No jokes: this is probably my favorite record of the year so far (2001, that is). All instrumentals, with a live drummer who I'm convinced is a cyborg and an overall pounding energy that draws from the same psychic well as Neu! as far as feel, but a different musical tradition. (Worth mentioning here that their live show and sound is awe-inspiring as well.) Let's put it this way -- if you ever liked a Tortoise or Stereolab record (regardless of your current opinion of their musical output), you need to hear this record. (DD)
(Matador Records -- 625 Broadway, 12th Floor, New York, NY. 10012; http://www.matadorrecords.com/)
Or, as you might know him, Eric Bachmann of Archers of Loaf. This is his new band (as near as I can discern, the Loaf is gone, and it appears he's abandoned his largely instrumental Barry Black project for the time being), and while I'll miss the visceral experience of seeing the Archers live, this record is something quite fascinating and staggeringly good. White Trash Heroes, the last Archers record, hinted at the direction of this album a bit, but I don't know that anyone really saw the shocking beauty of this record coming. Frankly, it sounds more like a Tom Waits record than an Archers of Loaf record, with Bachmann's grumbled odes to drinking and smoking and urban decay and...well, drinking set to strings, drum machines (and occasional live ones, and sometimes none at all), and, of course, Bachmann's guitar playing. It's mostly slow, pretty songs that are deadly sad, although there is the occasional anthem (such as "New Drink for the Old Drunk") that will keep those that like to sing along happy. Or, more likely, sad in the most pleasant way possible. (DD)
(Warm Electronic Recordings -- P.O. Box 1423, Athens, GA. 30603; http://www.thewarmsupercomputer.com/; Crooked Fingers -- http://www.crookedfingers.com/)
Burst and Bloom
If you've never heard of Cursive before now, you can probably be forgiven (well, maybe). The circles these Omaha-bred underground heroes travel in don't intersect often with mainstream radio or MTV, but rather with a network of other indie bands, record labels, magazines, and dingy clubs. Simply put, music like Burst and Bloom doesn't get played on the Buzz. Which is a shame, really, because it's music deserving a much wider audience.
This EP (their fifth release on super-cool indie label Saddle Creek Records) sucks the listener in right from the start with "Sink to the Beat," a sarcastic, self-referential wink of a song that methodically dissects the "marketing strategy" behind the band, the music, and the disc. You've got to respect any band who's that honest up-front, right? And don't worry; while there's a risk inherent in any in-joke track like this, that the joke might wear thin or, even worse, become just too darn accurate, Cursive jump that stumbling block on the sheer power of the music. Behind the namechecking and the sly self-analysis, the guitars rage and release, matching the intensity of the lyrics -- by the time vocalist Tim Kasher howls "Hit song / Let it burst and bloom," the music's doing just that.
The title of the EP is a pretty accurate description of the band's sound, actually. Take for an example the nautical epic "Tall Tales, Telltales," which has a swirling, swaying feel to it, like a boat in high seas. Up and down it goes, riding the waves, from the quiet, rough desperation of the verse to the heroic melody of the chorus, all to an almost waltz-like beat. The following track, "Mothership, Mothership, Do You Read Me," looks to the sky rather than the deep of the ocean, either sounding the plaintive cry of a left-behind alien being or the wishful plea of a disillusioned Earthling (it's hard to tell which), but the sound remains the same, all nervous energy and frantic passion.
That's not to say Cursive has stumbled onto a completely new form of music or anything, obviously. The churning, roaring guitars and rough vocals bring to mind a good dozen other rock bands, from Weezer to Jawbreaker; it's Cursive's blend of melodic sense and off-kilter rock that makes it work. By the time "Fairy Tales Tell Tales," the last song on the EP, rolls around and spins out its cautionary, confessional story of people desperate for somebody, anybody to fill the space beside them in bed, pressing "Repeat" on the CD player seems like the natural thing to do. (JH)
(Saddle Creek Records -- P.O. Box 8554, Omaha, NE. 68108-0554; http://www.saddle-creek.com/; Cursive -- http://www.cursivearmy.com/)