You've seen us...you must have seen us...
Montigola Underground EP
Kait0 is a four-piece noise-pop indie band from England. For me, they are such a breath of fresh air; I love 'em. Instead of the annoying emo-screaming about nothing and generic rock that seems to be the order of the day, Kait0 are something of a throwback to an earlier era (the early- to mid-1990s, I guess), when bands that seemed to be having fun playing what would become known as noise-pop still roamed the land, bringing smiles to faces and ringing to eardrums at the same time. They have tunes you can hum, a girl singing, noisy guitars, and crazy sounds (apparently mostly from those little bomb-sound electric gizmos that you might remember from your childhood, played through guitar pickups). The essence of their sound is expressed in purified form with the fourth track, "Bow Wow," on their debut album, which is a bouncy noisy tune with repeated lyrics like "When I see you smiling / not with me," etc. My only complaint is that the vocals use the distorto-megaphone effect a bit too much for my liking. The 25-minute Montigola Underground EP has more of the same, including reprises of three of the catchiest tracks from the debut album, "Bow Wow," "Shoot Shoot," and "Go." Particularly noteworthy though is the new "Fresno Song," which utilitizes the band's usual elements, but to more melancholic effect. This is probably the kind of band that would be a blast to see live, too, so check them out. (CP)
(Devil in the Woods -- P.O. Box 579168, Modesto, CA. 95357; http://www.devilinthewoods.com/)
I'm really not sure what it says about an album whose most salient feature is the backing vocals, but that's precisely what sells me on Nothing/Everything. They don't even fall squarely into the category of straight-up background harmony; were talking about sheer, stand-alone vocals of the "ooh la la la" school, as though Rubber Soul happened yesterday. And, truth to be told, they're glorious, winding their way through Paula Kelley's songs like another instrument, the way some folks add a keyboard or saxophone to the lineup.
It's the singing in the foreground that's going to polarize listeners. Kelley has been saddled with an impossibly girlish voice that occasionally devours her lyrics; it wasn't until I confronted her after a show that I finally learned that Barry Gibb was "wrong," not "robbed." Cutesypoo this ain't, though; Kelley neither exploits her teeny-tiny voice nor ignores it to the point of writing checks her pipes can't cover. She simply lays it out there unaffected, and if you don't like it, at least it's an honest reaction to an honest performance.
The real trick with Nothing/Everything is to find a reason to stick with it. Despite the sunny pop melodies couched in a luscious mid-'70s Rundgrenian bed of giddy acoustics, lyrical electrics and occasional light orchestration (the breezy "You Gonna Make It?" nicely manages to combine strings and handclaps successfully), it's not really until the third or fourth listen that Nothing/Everything starts to gel. The songs may take their sweet time digging in but stay deep once embedded. The album has few real peaks; the only songs that continued to surprise me after hearing them once are the peripatetic, slowly-swelling "Girl of the Day" and the mellotron-driven "Ordinary Mind," which shifts from vaguely downcast verses to a sprightly bridge that threatens to turn the song's earlier Four Seasons paraphrase into a direct quote before spiraling, unnoticed, back to the moodiness of the chorus. Even so, Nothing/Everything is never less than solidly entertaining throughout, as the rest of the album merely nails a comfortably enjoyable tone right from the start and barely budges for the duration. (MH)
(Stop, Pop, and Roll Records -- http://www.stoppopnroll.net; Paula Kelley -- http://www.paulakelley.com/)
Kind of Like Spitting
Bridges Worth Burning
I recently conducted a "top movies of all time" poll on a webboard I frequent. The most often asked question was: is that the best movies, or favorite? This is a distinction that movie fans make much more often than music fans, for some reason.
I bring this up because the new KOLS record is almost inarguably their best. The best recorded, the strongest band, the hardest rocking, the tightest collection of songs. And yet, it's not my favorite. Perhaps part of the recent is the recycling at work here: with repeated songs such as "tyco racing set and a christmas story fifteen times" and "crossover potential," this record feels like it's meant to encapsulate everything that's happened to date. A perfect introduction for the person who thinks this is their first record (instead of, like, their sixth or so), who's getting to see them for the first time on tour with Saves the Day (instead of in a small concrete room with ten other people).
Is this elitism? The usual grousing about your favorite lo-fi band going hi-fi? (c.f. everything written about Guided By Voices from Under the Bushes, Under the Stars to Isolation Drills.) Maybe. But there's this moment on "43C," a song I've written about in these pages before that's on an earlier record -- there's a moment when Ben Barnett (who pretty much is Kind of Like Spitting, although on this record he's joined by Brian Grant on bass and Ben Gibbard [Death Cab For Cutie] on drums) is trying to sing and winds up vocalizing through saliva, almost gurgling a line. It's awful, except that it's incredibly intimate and powerful. It's the sort of moment there's no room for on this record -- which, I must emphasize, is a very good record. It's got a higher hit-to-miss ratio than any other record, it's more intricate, and it's the record I'd recommend to first-time listeners for sure. I just hope that the future will continue to have room for some of the other sounds from KOLS's past that are missing here. (DD)
(Barsuk Records -- P.O. Box 22546, Seattle, WA. 98122 ; http://www.barsuk.com/)
One of my dirty little secrets about reviewing records is my reliance on outside information. While I often try to avoid other reviews, lest I find myself being influenced by (or, God help me, referencing) someone else's opinions, I nonetheless like a little context before I process an album. But Kill Rock Stars, in their infinite wisdom, didn't bother with any of that for LiLiPUT. They sent Space City Rock two CDs in individual slipcovers and nothing more: no jewel box, no tray insert and no liner notes (they did, to be fair, provide a three-page press kit). And so I'm stuck: I have to review the complete works of LiLiPUT with absolutely nothing to go on except the music itself.
Faced with the purest of reviewing tasks, I did what any self-respecting writer would do: I cheated, retreating to the (short) essays on the band by Robert Christgau (in Grown Up All Wrong) and Griel Marcus (in In The Fascist Bathroom), the latter of whom provided, along with guitarist Marlene Marder, the liner notes to which I can't refer. I'm not sure I had much of a choice, though, since LiLiPUT is being presented not as music so much as a historical document of the initial flush of postpunk whammy. In other words, there is a very real and somewhat sinister way in which the music on LiLiPUT is made irrelevant by the mere fact of its having existed in the first place.
Which, until now, it may as well not have. LiLiPUT is, when you get right down to it, a rerelease of a rerelease, the U.S. debut of a compilation put out in Switzerland ten years ago, a decade after the initial unnoticed recordings tapered off. In essence, LiLiPUT was wiped from the history books and barely a soul blinked. Why is that? I figure that nobody knew what to do with them when they were around. One of the contingent of bohemian artistes (rather than thugs) who were attracted to the creative liberties laid bare by punk, Kleenex (the band's pre-lawsuit moniker) fell in with the glorious noise that was suddenly, obviously possible. They then proceeded to collapse what few rules were left standing, thus paving the way for postpunk. If the Clash did away with articulation, the band that eventually became LiLiPUT did away with active meaning altogether, instead choosing their English lyrics on the basis of euphony. If this tactic would be picked up on a decade later by bands like Guided By Voices, LiLiPUT took it further by applying it at the syllabic level. The titles of their songs are often merely sing-song repetition ("Beri-Beri," "Dolly Dollar" and "Ring-a-ding-dong") or complete nonsense ("Umamm," "Tshik-mo" and, yes indeed, "Ü").
As a general rule, then, the lyrics defy criticism; sometimes even the nonsense becomes too constricting and the band resort to the first noises they can muster, from the siren-like "woo woo woo woo" in "Split" to the grunts and animal calls of "Outburst" to the now incredibly politically incorrect Indian calls that seem for a while like they're going to be the only vocals in "Dolly Dollar" (the referee's whistle in "Hitch-Hike" and the pinched saxophone squeals in "Igel" differ from the above only in cramming a device between the mouth and the microphone). The band's early sides, which were more or less in line with the low-fi punk of the day, took relatively sparse advantage of that adventurousness, which eventually seeped into the instrumental foundation of the songs and began taking center stage as LiLiPUT evolved and added a "post-" to their punk. Most of the band's later material, beginning with the start of disc two, seems to be without movement and dynamics in the traditional sense. Instead, as in the prototypical "Ü," they hit a groove of sorts and then set it on indefinite repeat, embellishing it without altering the chord progression or whatever riff the guitar happens to be playing ("Ring-a-ding-dong" carries this to the extreme, based as it is around the same guitar figure as "The Jatz" two songs prior). LiLiPUT tends, especially in those later tracks, to be fairly rhythm-heavy; many songs are carried by bass and drums, with guitar and the occasional saxophone adding noises but not really taking on any standard harmonic role. "Tong Tong" is the logical conclusion of this pursuit, with a title that is simultaneously the only words and the only sounds that any of its instruments make.
Intriguing ideas, to be sure, but with few exceptions, including the typhonic "Eiseger Wind" and the backwards-beat "DC-10," there isn't much that seems to stick beyond its allotted duration. For those not attuned to what LiLiPUT are up to, cramming everything together in one place makes for one long wash with little differentiation between tracks in a way that, say, the Buzzcocks never suffered in the half-as-long-again Product. On the other hand, there's no denying that LiLiPUT developed their own aesthetic, boldly staking their claim on the postpunk landscape in the hopes that others would choose to set up camp under their flag. Neither a rock-critic hoax nor the apotheosis of punk rock, LiLiPUT appears in the final analysis to be a band that had their moment but never capitalized on it and who were never quite as important as they should have been. Unless they were. If that's the case, LiLiPUT isn't the band's legacy but its gravestone. (MH)
(Kill Rock Stars -- 120 NE State Ave. #418, Olympia, WA. 98501; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.killrockstars.com/)
Madison, Wisconsin's Klipstein has a way with labyrinthine melodies which spiral endlessly through shifts in mood and tempo, and his verses are about twice as melodic as most people's choruses. The guitar tones are a bit Weezer-ish in spots, and the structure of most songs follows a "quiet jangly verse -- anthemic fuzztone chorus" pattern that sounds very Nirvana-ish. Klipstein's voice is a breathy, slightly geeky Donovan-esque whisper that is quite attractive, and his songs call out for a wide screen production, something this decently-recorded CD doesn't quite posses.
The melodies, however, more than make up for the average recording quality. Track nine, "Embrianna, Lady Baltimore," is a six-minute pop opera that packs in more melodies, rhythmic shifts and power chord riffs than a barrel of Cheap Trick albums. This track is the highlight of this record -- it begins as a full-on rocker with one of Klipstein's endlessly evolving melodies, then keeps shifting gears into mellower moods before ending as a spacy, pastoral, folk-rock-ish ditty full of chiming guitars and a delicate Donovan-meets-Incredible String Band flavor.
Nothing else on this CD hits that level of inspired ambition, not even the hiphop tracks, where Klipstein's rapping manages to make Cex sound like Kool Moe Dee. "Golden Sky" comes close to "Embrianna"'s sweep, with its waltzing rhythm and "Hurdy Gurdy Man" vocal mannerisms that culminating in a Nirvana-esque "Sabbath wearing a tutu" workout full of grunge guitars, violin and Klipstein's soaring falsetto. (CPz)
(Crustacean Records -- P.O. Box 370156, Milwaukee, WI. 53237; email@example.com; http://www.crustaceanrecords.com/; Ivan Klipstein -- http://www.ivanklipstein.com/)