I See Spots
I See Spots is a songwriting soapbox for Sean O'Brien and Joel Rosenquist, two singing guitarists who have been playing together in the D.C. area since the mid-'90s. On Cantilevered Heart, the two are joined by Peter Vidito on drums, harmonica, and percussion, and these three multitalented musicians work together to create acoustic guitar-based pop music a notch or two above the lo-fi variety.
It doesn't surprise me that Cantilevered Heart was recorded and mixed by the band; it sounds like a home-recorded analog eight-track album. The songs are standard singer-songwriter fare you might hear at your average open mic night. While some of the songs slip into background noise, what sets this album apart is how I See Spots use reverb and small instrumental flourishes to keep things interesting. I liked the use of brushes on snare drum and the harmonica breaks of the opening track "On a Roll." More reverb is used on vocals and often on the entire song to give it a wash effect. This is well-done on "Red Room," where guitars, keyboards, and shakers blend together into a dreamy soundscape.
I See Spots are good songwriters and have a solid sense of arrangement, but I wish they sang more vocal harmonies. It isn't until the second to last track, "Powerderedsugarfinger," that we hear great R.E.M.-style harmonies, but similar harmonies could have benefited other songs on the album, as well. Perhaps the restrictions of recording at home didn't allow it. Overall, this is very well-recorded for a basement recording, and I suspect that as these two songwriters progress, they will only get better. (KM)
(Arlingtone Records -- 25 Monroe Place, Apt. 2E, Brooklyn, NY. 11201; email@example.com; http://www.arlingtone.com/)
Are you my lionkiller?
It was really hard to get a definite grip on this CD. I really liked the lyrics, and I'm sure I would have liked the music if the production didn't sound so muddled. Either way, the more I listened, the more the songs grew on me; kind of a Red Hot Chili Peppers meets Radiohead.
The majority of tracks are bass-heavy, with lead guitar relegated to the background, and the vocals are subdued, but they probably meant to mix it that way. Their abrupt transitions can throw off a listener at first, but by the third track, it comes to be expected and actually anticipated. The tracks I liked best were "The Rain That Falls Won't Slow Me Down" and "Calm Your Fears" -- two totally different sounds, but that just shows the diversity of which this band is capable (if you can get past the mix).
As their intro sheet says "you can't help but be drawn in." All in all, worth a second or third listen. (CPl)
(Deep Elm Records -- P.O. Box 36939, Charlotte, NC 28236; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.deepelm.com/)
I've just gone cold on the whole New Wave revival trend that was happening for a while, I'm afraid. Sure, it was fun at first, but even the bands I like -- like The Faint, for example -- aren't bringing a whole lot new to the table, beyond updated production values, beefier-sounding keys, and a bigger dose of punk aggression. All of that's fine in and of itself, naturally, but unless it's backed by substance, well...the end result is an homage to a dead art form, nothing more.
Just because that's the norm, however, doesn't mean there aren't exceptions. Although my initial reaction to these three songs was pretty much, "oh, great -- they're even remaking New Order these days," but that impression dissipated after the first minute or so. To call Interpol a retro-'80s band isn't very accurate, truthfully; there's a lot that differentiates them from the crop of Nu-New Wavers. Interpol do bear some stylistic resemblance to NY art-rock of the '80s, particularly the Talking Heads, and there are some elements reminiscent of cheesy synth-heavy popsters like OMD and the aforementioned New Order, but they also owe a heavy debt to fellow New Yorkers Sonic Youth and the Velvet Underground, as well as disjointed songsmiths The Pixies and Gang of Four.
The sum of these parts, as evidenced on the band's self-titled EP, beats the hell out of any expectations (especially considering the swanky, minimalist package design). "PDA" starts off stuttering and paranoiac, with edgy, sharp guitars, but transmutes halfway through into a beautiful, swooping pop song (about sleeping on someone's couch?), and "NYC" takes Lou Reed's sappiest, most misguided New Yorker-in-love song stylings and infuses them with a subtle sense of love and wonder, all the while holding onto an uncertain "city" feel.
The EP's closer, "Specialist," clinches the deal nicely, coming off like Cake might if they somehow turned out to be as smart and cool as they think they are. Sing-songy, wobbly, detached Bowie-esque vocals, lyrics about control, love, and clothing, and a bumping pseudo-disco bass guitar...what else could you ask for? Add to that the awesome chorus (not that I can claim to understand any of it -- "Catch up on your sleep, girl / When you wear that body glove"?), and Interpol have managed to throw out one of the most confident, smart, catchy debuts I've heard in years. Wow. (JH)
(Matador Records -- 625 Broadway, 12th Floor, New York, NY. 10012; http://www.matadorrecords.com/; Interpol -- http://www.interpolny.com)
It seems ludicrous in retrospect that it never occurred to Burt Bacharach to have a Frenchwoman sing his frothy pop concoctions. After all, if you want something as cool, as sultry and as suave-to-the-core as Bacharach always seemed to want, there's nothing quite so dead-on as les jeunes filles de Paris. Does Ivy know this? It would seem so, since Dominique Durand's whole approach is about distance. She's one of those puzzling singers whose voice doesn't carry much behind it besides conviction and the possibility of bottomless fathoms of hurt. In other words, she does not have a great voice, but she may just be a great singer.
Long Distance provides Durand with exactly what a great singer needs but so rarely gets: an environment in which she can shine by reflecting off of everybody else instead of just standing out by default. In the four years since Apartment Life, Ivy have developed an extraordinary sense of structure and a deep commitment to having it complement the material. Andy Chase's unresolved acoustic chords create an atmosphere of unfinished (perhaps unfinishable) melancholy, while Adam Schlesinger's insistent bass ensures that this swoony hour-long ode to impermanence is nothing if not ludicrously danceable.
Still, as much as I worship the guy who gave us "That Thing You Do!" and who will (I pray) someday bring us a great Fountains of Wayne album (at long last), Long Distance is all Durand's baby, and she runs with it like a champ. "Nothing's ever going to make you happy," she coos about midway through, but the finger's pointed more often right back at herself. When in "Disappointed" she swears, "I could never be what you want me to be / I'm just going to leave you disappointed," her delivery makes it pretty clear that the party at fault is the person doing all the talking.
Maybe that's why, eventually, language simply fails Durand. Left with untold things to say but no earthly way to put it in words, she resorts to nonsense singsong syllables (not unprecedented, as attested by Apartment Life's "Ba Ba Ba") and trusts you to get the point. As the sadness of "Edge of the Ocean" swells to its peak, she sighs a gentle and heartbreaking "sha la la" refrain; in the gorgeous "While Were In Love," she coaxes us out of the song with a hypnotized "ba ba da ba da," merely one of a dozen hooks in the song (out of probably a hundred hooks on the album) which find themselves gloriously piled atop one another by the end.
And I wish that some of that extended beyond "Lucy Doesn't Love You," after which my attention starts to waver. There's some nice stuff happening there, to be sure; when all is said and done, the entire second half of the album is nothing less than well-crafted and enjoyable. In fact, it's about on par with Apartment Life, an album that I've always liked but never really felt floated high enough. For the first six songs of Long Distance, Ivy finally soars to that point and well beyond, delivering a sustained sequence as strong as any I've heard in a good long while. The rest is a pleasant afterglow. You'll forgive me if I go ahead and consider that a triumph. (MH)
(Nettwerk Records -- 1650 W. 2nd Avenue, Vancouver, BC, V6J 4R3, CANADA; email@example.com; http://www.nettwerk.com/; Ivy -- http://www.thebandivy.com/)