Never Kill The Boy On The First Date
Jimmy Eat World meets Snapcase? Believe it. Waterdown is part of the next wave of Victory bands that really showcase the diverse monster that hardcore has become. Not content with playing monotonous crunch-scream-crunch-slow part-scream type songs, Waterdown runs the gamut from melodic choruses to guttural screaming and everything in between, employing two vocalists to do it (with great effect, unlike other bands that seem to use it as a gimmick). Their music reminds me a lot of the underappreciated post-hardcore supergroup Handsome, fluidly metamorphosing from melodic runs to muted heaviness to complex, layered walls of sound. They also evoke comparisons to Drowningman, Cave-In and Boy Sets Fire, but I think that Waterdown manage to craft their own musical niche without ripping any of those bands off. "Lessons I Can't Learn" and "Round Two" both threaten to be radio singles. These German kids took their honest blend of emo, hardcore, and pop-punk and made one of the best records I've heard this year. Now if they could just play a show somewhere relatively close to me... (MHo)
(Victory Records -- 346 N. Justine, Suite 504, Chicago, IL. 60607; http://www.victoryrecords.com/; Waterdown -- http://www.waterdown.de/)
Time (The Revelator)
Gillian Welch's Time (The Revelator) is so good that even specific bothersome features that immediately tripped my mental alarm system upon appearance ultimately result in transcendent moments, making my initial concerns ill-founded. The benefits so immeasurably outweigh the debits that it's like a chess player who makes what appears to be a bad opening gambit only to have it revealed, many moves later, as the disguised setup for an inevitable checkmate. I'll be, my thoughts go, she knew what she was doing all along.
I started out with reservations, for instance, about the harmony vocals provided by the utterly invaluable David Rawlings, whose range, tone and timbre are so indistinguishable from the voice of his partner that it sounds for all the world like two Gillians pining away together when one would probably do just fine (this is, after all, a record so basic as never to offer, or require, more than two acoustic guitars). But "Elvis Presley Blues" eradicates all earlier complaints; swirling their voices together at the end of each verse, Welch and Rawlings forge a sound like a human pedal steel guitar, and the effect is gorgeous. The lugubrious tempo of the album-closing "I Dream A Highway" also sent up a red flag, but though it may be an extraordinary risk for a 15-minute song, it's a calculated one. The song picks up momentum (without speeding up) and develops its own rhythm, emphasizing not the highway but the dream. That's as it should be; the latter is real, the former is not.
There's also what should be an grotesque violation of something that really ought to be a stone-etched rule of songwriting: never reference another song in your own, and for God's sake, don't sing the refrain (as on Rodney Crowell's recent "I Walk The Line (Revisited)," which is noble enough but does itself no favors by not only reminiscing about how great the Johnny Cash song was but getting the Man In Black himself to sing it between verses). The implicit paradox, of course, is that music is, for many of us, such an inextricable part of our lives that to disregard it in song is to cast a blind eye to much of what it's supposed to capture in the first place. So when Welch not only invokes the Steve Miller Band in "My First Lover" but throws in a vocal echo of "Quicksilver Girl" (a brilliant choice for at least three different reasons), it is in the service of acknowledging the power of big (and little) moments to pierce through specific songs and become embedded in them like light developing photographic paper into pictures that only we can see.
And each of those reservations having been dealt with in short order suggests that all complaints, all questions will be addressed and answered in due course. Welch, in fact, doesn't just suggest it, she flat out says so in the opening "Revelator." Maybe thats why she's comfortable and confident enough to deliver "Everything is Free," which I'm fairly positive is the first pro-Napster folk song ever written. In it, Welch questions the motives of anybody who rails against file-sharing and CD burning in what is ultimately an eloquently plainspoken restatement of the age-old saw, "It used to be about the music." Money fades and people die, Welch says. I do this because music lingers on. So why are you so fucking greedy?
And with that celebration of a common, public and shared musical heritage, Welch successfully earns the tag of "folk music" that awaited her by sheer default anyway thanks to Time (The Revelator)'s instrumentation and "Red Clay Halo," wherein the dirt-farmer's daughter frets not that the boys avoid her because she knows Heaven will take her caked in the earth that won't wash off. Playing fast and loose with the American timeline, she conflates (possibly) Abraham Lincoln and the Titanic and (definitely) Elvis and John Henry, which must be another first. Welch also pulls it off, and in the process synthesizes an America without bounded eras, one where normally discrete events, artifacts and time frames overlap and resonate off of one another. It sounds like a pretty nice place. (MH)
(Acony Records -- email@example.com; Gillian Welch -- http://www.gillianwelch.com/)
The Massed Albert Sounds
I have to say, this album confused me the first time I listened to it. It's not the Weston I'm really used too, in that some songs seem to lean too much on the "emo" side for my tastes. It's not that I don't like emo, and its not that I don't like Weston -- its just that I don't care for them at the same time. Sure, there's the goofy "Liz Phair" and the catchy "Summer's Over," and a few tracks that do rock, but overall, I found this album to be a disappointment. I liked what they were trying to do, but it just didn't quite work.
I don't want this to be taken as an "all-bad" review, though. This CD is a fun listen and rocks out at some points. It's just that it doesn't do much more than that, even though the CD shows a maturity in recording (which could probably have something to do with their signing to Mojo Records). So, what I'm saying is this: it's worth a listen, but it's not the best album Weston ever put out. (TC)
(MOJO Records/Universal Records -- 1453 14th Street Box 284, Santa Monica, CA. 90404; http://www.mojorecords.com/)
Aside from the CD cover and cryptic techno-stylings, Whitford's record doesn't sound electronic in the slightest. In fact, you might say it's slightly anti-technological. Whitford's touchstone is still indie-rock, even with the incorporation of saxophone, but they distinguish themselves in the way they use the sax, which is to say that they use it in place of a keyboard or organ: lots of long droning notes filling in space and occasionally some minimal rhythmic hooks.
It's an interesting idea that, when it works, sounds really nice. And they've taken on a difficult task, that of writing distinctive minimal indie-rock style drony instrumentals; even YLT only deploy theirs occasionally, so making an entire record is a real challenge. Therefore, it's an achievement that the openers and closers to the record are really nice (even if "Until He Comes Home" still sounds like "Detouring America With Horns"). Parts of "Shine So Bright" and "George Mule Suttles" evoke the chiming and pulsing of Tom Verlaine too hoarse to sing but still crunching out chords, and "Strangers Have the Best Candy" finds a middle ground where the band really sounds at home.
Unfortunately, when it doesn't work, it really doesn't work. One of the other challenges that they've taken on is to make quiet saxophone not sound too smooth. Sometimes it works, but then there are moments like the verse of "Marilyn Hanson," which, despite its interesting herky-jerky rhythms, still sounds like smooth jazz. And it's a good thing track #6 is not identified as a song.
On the whole, the record definitely has moments that are worth hearing. Hopefully their next record will offer a few more. (HM)
(Rotary-Dial Records -- 41 Watchung Plaza Suite 322, Montclair, NJ. 07042; http://www.rotarydial.com/; Whitford -- http://listen.to/whitford)
Dog Tired and Then Some
San Fran street punk. This re-issue of the legendary, out-of-print debut includes new (old?) takes of hits from some early vinyl EPs also. It's quick, frenetic hollering; the verses and choruses are right there in your face. You are able to revisit the roots of some of the punk scene here and see why it took hold. Of special note are the bonus tracks, which offer two earlier versions of songs from the debut. "1974" and "New Man" are presented in their original versions, and, well, it's very hard to pick which ones of each that you'll enjoy more. It's always a treat to hear the evolution of a song, but here, you get to hear the raw, untreated versions, and they rawk. If you have/had a Mohawk, wish you ever had one, or just like the San Fran TKO street punk scene, this is a disc for you. Posers, get a listen of this for the real deal. (BW)
(TKO Records -- 4104 24th Street #103, San Francisco, CA. 94114; http://www.tkorecords.com/)