Last Of The Sane
Any album that starts off with a cover of Slayer's "Hell Awaits" (even if it's just the intro) is an instant classic. It's just icing on the cake that the rest of Last Of The Sane is a damn good listen, in spite of the fact that its more or less a "filler" album; the disc contains seven cover tunes and four new Crisis-penned songs. The cover choices are interesting; in addition to Slayer, we get Zeppelin ("Wanton Song"), DYS ("City To City"), Sabbath ("Children of The Grave"), the Stones ("Paint it Black"), Misfits ("Earth A.D.") and The Dead Kennedys ("Holiday in Cambodia"). Each cover actually succeeds in being an interesting take on the song while not eschewing the source material, which is a pretty good trick when doing this type of album. I really like "Holiday in Cambodia" and "Earth A.D." in particular, but maybe those are my biases on the original bands speaking. At any rate, this is a must-have for any Crisis fan (the new tracks here are as good as anything off of Slither), and it would also make a good jumping on point for new listeners. (MHo)
(Victory Records -- 346 N. Justine, Suite 504, Chicago, IL. 60607; http://www.victoryrecords.com/; Earth Crisis -- http://www.earthcrisis.cc/)
There are two ways to review this record: on musical grounds and conceptual grounds. So as not to disappoint the thousands of Edie Sedgwick (and it should be noted that this is a band name) fans out there, I will provide both. (Although I'll probably disappoint them anyway.)
Musically: Edie Sedgwick is a bass/drums duo with vocals, performing largely in a jazzy punk idiom (meaning fast tempos and lots of noodly lines). Perhaps it's a necessity of the genre, perhaps it's the flatness of the recording, or perhaps it's that my ears are more attuned to textural variations than harmonic or rhythmic structures, but Edie Sedgwick largely reminds me of other bass/drums duos, particularly Ruins and early NoMeansNo. Held up to those high standards, they don't really compare, but for those looking for other music along those lines, Edie Sedgwick is a good place to look.
Ideologically: Edie Sedgwick may or may not be doing a pisstake, but the CD contains two pages of post-Nation of Ulysses statements of intent. A sample: "With a modern heart and a post-modern mind, Edie Sedgwick says We care!...not for the struggle or the want of a struggle, but for the icons adorning the pages of People magazine." Put into practice, this means that every song is named after, and is about, a celebrity: "Faye Dunaway," "Sean Connery," "Winona Ryder," "Jennifer Love Hewitt"...and those are just the first four tracks.
Unfortunately (and I may be falling for a big fishhook by even discussing this), Edie Sedgwick fails in their quest for ideological purity on two levels. First of all, rather than being about emotion or empathy, the lyrics are essentially impressionist views of the celebrities. Further debasing the purity of the lyrical approach is the failure to maintain a consistent point of view. Specifically, "MacCauley Culkin" (sic) posits a viewpoint from the subject of the lyrics ("I don't want to grow up in Pampers"), while others ("Meryl Streep" -- "virtuosity and professionalism...ingenuity and heroism") are told from a third party's point of view. Without providing a consistent conceptual approach, Edie Sedgwick betrays the core of their voice. They choose to speak for others, or speak for themselves, but cannot decide which to do on a consistent basis.
This failure could have been dodged, had it not been for the deeper failure of the music. The liner notes claim that "Edie Sedgwick today fights for...today, STANDS FOR the glam and glitter of our party-girl culture." But, while they may stand for this lyrically (and that's debatable, to say the least), their music fails in every respect. Rather than striving for the essence of their ideology (that is, truly disposable music), Edie Sedgwick instead musically strives for such musical avatars as Ornette Coleman, The Minutemen, and Charlie Mingus. (This striving is self-proclaimed in their press kit, lest somebody think I'm merely setting them up for a fall.) That they fail in this quest is not surprising, given the heights to which they wish to soar; but, more pointedly, this direction is counter to their philosophical goal. Further, the stripped-down production fails to even provide the "glam and glitter" that one heading in their chosen musical direction could hope for; this is certainly not a party record.
Ultimately, this means one of two things: 1) Edie Sedgwick has not successfully placed their ideology into practice, or 2) Edie Sedgwick are full of shit. I'm not going to waste any more energy figuring out which. (DD)
(Mud Memory Records -- 1654 Monroe St. NW, Washington DC. 20010; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.mudmemory.com/; Dischord Records -- 3819 Beecher St. NW, Washington, DC. 20007; email@example.com; http://www.dischord.com/)
Behind the Curtain
As soon as I heard the first chords of Egon's Behind the Curtain, I was reminded of something I had loved before. As I continued to listen, wracking my brain, it finally struck me: Egon is a reincarnation of the Cure, back in the form of passionate punk and deeply probing lyrics. In general, Egon defy comparison in terms of both genre and other bands, but they do possess a Cure-like quality complete with lofty, quivering, and oddly beautiful vocals leading the way.
The first track sets the tone for the full range of sounds to come. It starts mellow, builds intensity, pulsates, and then returns to mellow. Musically, this band is tight, and they take the liberty of serving up lovely and wandering instrumentals, both with vocal tracks and standing alone. The lyrics deal with some interesting subject matter, from questioning the theory of evolution to critiquing human logic. There's also a dose or two of some Biblical knowledge, like "Don't give the folks fish to eat / Instead you should teach them how to fish," in "The Blameful Ones," and "The same way that you're judging / You'll be judged," in "The Modish You."
I became a fast fan of Egon after giving this CD a whirl. Its experimental yet familiar sounds give it a home-away-from-home feel, and yet the beauty and versatility of their music gives you the sensation of going where no band has gone before. If you even remotely appreciate the Cure and/or the style of punk, then I would highly recommend giving this one a try. (NL)
(Has Anyone Ever Told You? -- P.O. Box 161702, Austin, TX. 78716-1702; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.hasanyoneevertoldyou.com/)
The Geography of Dissolution
In two other reviews (Arab Strap and Mogwai), I've taken bands to task for giving up their rocking ways. So it may seem peculiar that I praise El Guapo for discarding rock almost entirely on this record, but there's a reason, which I'll get to shortly.
But first: for those of you who haven't kept track, their earlier records (The Phenomenon of Renewal, which I've heard, and The Burden of History, which I haven't) were filled with polyrhythmic rock tunes a la Trenchmouth and the Minutemen. But this is something that should be almost entirely irrelevant in listening to this record, as virtually no sign of that is on here.
I'm in the third paragraph (yeah, they're short, but still), and I haven't come close to explaining what this record sounds like. I'm not sure I can, but let me start with the purely factual: this record consists of two live performances of the quartet lineup of El Guapo (previous records having been duos and trios -- this record adds an accordion/keyboardist). The first performance seems vaguely song-oriented, while the second performance feels much more improvisational.
So the deal is this: this record is what happens with a rock band with great musical chops decides to strip out every last piece of rock from their sound. The press kit hopefully compares their sound to Albert Ayler, Velvet Underground, Suicide, Fela Kuti, and Xenakis -- frankly, that's a bunch of self-congratulatory hooey, except for maybe the Fela Kuti (who I've never heard) and Xenakis; the second performance (largely divided into tracks called "Sectors") does have an architectural percussive feel, although it also sort of feels like the game pieces of John Zorn (but more listenable than anything I've heard by him).
What this music really is: uninflected. It's talented musicians trying to engage in a musical discourse without relying on any conventional music idioms (particularly those of rock). And it will bore and/or annoy the shit out of some people, and I don't know that I can say I completely get it. But it is pretty darn fascinating and refreshing, and listeners looking for something different should check it out. (DD)
(Mud Memory Records -- 1654 Monroe St. NW, Washington DC. 20010; email@example.com; http://www.mudmemory.com/)
We Sing Loud Sing Soft Tonight
So, I'll probably be the only person to group these two records together for review. But there is a common thread, though it's not sonic -- both are projects centered around the label owners, and both are from innovative labels who are changing their respective scenes in one way or another.
If you care at all about hip-hop, you're probably familiar with two of the highlights of the Def Jux label, Cannibal Ox and Aesop Rock. (The latter's Labor Days, by the way -- best of 2001. Period.) Perhaps you're also familiar with Company Flow; the latter is the group that El-P was with prior to this record, and their Funcrusher Plus on Rawkus is recommended. But, as much as I respect El-P for his Company Flow work, and for putting out lots of great music on Def Jux, this new CD is the biggest feather in his cap to date. I can't think of the last hip-hop CD I've heard that reminded me so much of classic Public Enemy -- not so much in style (this is no pale imitation, that's for damned sure), but in sheer aggressiveness and density of production. Like virtually every hip-hop CD out there, it's longer than it needs to be, sure. And it doesn't have quite the same level of lyrical ambition that Aesop Rock does -- but, honestly, that's praising with faint damns.
Meanwhile, in the indie rock universe you can find Jeremy Devine of Temporary Residence Limited and sonna. The TRL label has had two sets of subscription albums; the first, "The Sounds of the Geographically Challenged," focused on bands who were geographically discontinuous (and was my introduction to the label), while the second, "Travels and Constants," is a series of exclusive CDEPs by various artists. Meanwhile, they're also putting out some fantastic albums by Explosions in the Sky and Bonny Billy (and reportedly others, though I have yet to ascertain the quality of everything out there). Given all of that, I wish I was more enthused about the sonna album. The press kit goes to pains to point out how incredibly detailed and textured the songs are, but this level of detail is only evident to the highly attentive listener. The average listener, who is not as attentive, will most likely parse this as a mingling of the Tortoise, Bedhead, and Brian Eno aesthetics. This particular listener, me, will find himself completely unable to pay attention to the music for more than a few moments before being distracted by something. This may well be a personal failing, or it may yield itself to me yet, but at this point I would call it relatively inessential but pleasant. (DD)
(Definitive Jux Recordings -- firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.defjux.net/; Temporary Residence Limited -- P.O. Box 22810, Baltimore, MD. 21203-4910; http://www.temporaryresidence.com/)
Eltro is a Philadelphia band whose second full-length album, Velodrome, was released by San Francisco label Absolutely Kosher; it seems that label founder Cory Brown has a thing for bands with male/female vocals. Usually the music on AK records is harder, evidenced by the math rock of P.E.E. and the post-punk of Thingy, but Eltro provides a nice contrast to these bands, and would be my choice for the drive home after one of those other bands' shows.
On Velodrome, Eltro create a hazy, electronic dream-pop world where anything is musically possible. Solid drumming and electronic noise are topped with sweet vocals enveloped in washes of guitars and synthesizer. Eltro cover similar ground as fellow Philly residents Bardo Pond, except where Bardo Pond keep things straight ahead with fuzzy guitar psychedelia, Eltro shake things up with electronic noise more in the vein of Stereolab. Arrangements on Velodrome are tight and constantly evolve to keep the listener involved. "3 Gorges, Damn" starts with a repeated thumb piano-like pattern which is soon joined by triangle, bass guitar, and sparse drumming. The low male/female vocals work well here, as they sing a trance-like call and response-style chorus and repeated verse. Interesting touches on other songs, like bits of sitar on the track "Ether," or the electronic beat of closing track "Denver International," keep things from ever becoming repetitive.
Eltro seem like the right type of music for a long dreary drive home. Velodrome's layers of textures often drone along, allowing the listener space to dream. Although they're from Philly, Eltro remind me of the fog that slowly moves along the San Francisco Bay, enveloping the city in white and then disappearing. (KM)
(Absolutely Kosher Records -- 1412 10th Street, Berkeley, CA. 94710-1512; http://www.absolutelykosher.com/; Eltro -- http://www.eltro.net/)
Flash Flash Flash
These guys opened for Snapcase. They also opened for Jets To Brazil. Impressive range, and that would make one think The Explosion were maybe in the same quasi-emo-punk gang as say, Thursday. Not the case. They're punk...for real. Short, fast and loud, The Explosion is a nice reminder that punk rock can still be incisive and incendiary. These young bucks from the Garden State combine the classic sound of the Descendents and Buzzcocks with the abrasive pop sensibilities of the Offspring and enough barking and spitting to make you want to throw a rock at your daddy's Cadillac. Lyrically, The Explosion skirts the ever faithful punk rock political themes ("No Revolution", "Points West"), but the majority of their anger seems to be directed at apathy ("God Bless The S.O.S") and stupidity ("Conniption Fit") in general. Hey, I can relate to that. Track number six, "Tarantulas Attack," is the campy '50s icing on the cake: "Tarantulas attack / Missles do nothing eight legs and hairy backs / Tarantulas attack!" Who says bratty punks can't also be dorks? (MHo)
(Jade Tree Records -- 2310 Kennwynn Rd., Wilmington, DE. 19810; http://www.jadetree.com/; The Explosion -- http://www.theexplosion.net/)
The Extra Glenns
Martial Arts Weekend
For those not in the know, this is John Darnielle of The Mountain Goats and Franklin Bruno of Nothing Painted Blue/solo fame. While billed as a collaboration, these songs all bear the fingerprints of Darnielle's compositions (well, except "Memories," which bears Leonard Cohen's fingerprints, since he wrote it, but that's neither here nor there); Franklin's role in this is to add vocal harmonies, electric guitar, piano, and other flourishes. For those of you who have opinions on The Mountain Goats, your opinions on this record will probably closely resemble those, although the production values are substantially higher on this record. For those of you that don't, this is a pretty darn good entry point to The Mountain Goats, given the high quality of the songs (particularly "Somebody Else's Parking Lot in Sebastopol," high on my list of best songs of 2002 at the moment, with "Going to Marrakesh" trailing just behind it) and the high quality of the production. (DD)
(Absolutely Kosher Records -- 1412 10th Street, Berkeley, CA. 94710-1512; http://www.absolutelykosher.com/)
Eyedea and Abilities
I'm still a novice at hip-hop, so I have a hard time describing it well, or evaluating it qualitatively. Given that, let me do my best here: the first album by Eyedea & Abilities features some positives, including interesting and unusual samples and admirably dense rapping, while keeping the tempo up throughout. On the negative side, the production is rather thin much of the time, and the words aren't nearly as memorable as, say, Aesop Rock. All in all, though, I'd call it a promising debut, and definitely recommend keeping your eyes on these folks. (DD)
(Rhymesayers Entertainment -- email@example.com; http://www.rhymesayers.com/)