Solo Live '98
Take this review with however many grains of salt as you choose, since I've met Philip Gayle a number of times. But I've consistently found his records to present an interesting, individualistic approach to guitar -- one wants to draw comparisons to Derek Bailey, or AMM, given the often pontillistic and experimental approach, but there's a sense of pure play that Gayle has as well. Not that this isn't a serious endeavor, per se, but that there's joy to be found in this setting that is too often left behind.
Of course, there's a lot of people that won't hear that at all, and will just hear random noise that might sound more like a guitar being thrown down a staircase or intermittently being walked across by a cat. And maybe it's a prerequisite to have seen Gayle live to understand how these pieces would work. But once it all comes together, it'll be a pleasure. (DD)
(Yabyum Productions -- P.O. Box 70012, Houston, TX. 77270; Philip Gayle -- http://www.philipgayle.com/)
Girls Against Boys
You Can't Fight What You Can't See
Girls Against Boys, with their fabulous choice for a name, have always been genuinely loved or utterly hated by the critics. The band's 1998 release Freakonica, which followed their critically praised album House of GVSB, nearly destroyed the band, with hardly a single positive review -- personally, it pained me to listen to it more than once.
With their 2002 release, You Can't Fight What You Can't See, Girls Against Boys are attempting to win back the hearts of music lovers with their blend of fuzzed-out guitar rock, double bass, and abundance of samplers. Well, boys, try a little less hard next time.
The band has been described as sexy and seductive, and while there is something mysterious and strangely alluring about them, it certainly isn't the former or the latter. I did catch my foot tapping on more than one occasion while listening to their disc, but it certainly wasn't because of singer Scott McCloud's mechanical and exasperatingly raw vocals. It's almost as if he never heard of melody. The band is tight; I'll give them that. The music is admirable, and they've got some basslines and drumbeats that really hooked me, but considering that they've been playing together for over a decade, their level of musicianship is not surprising.
What's surprising is how McCloud can go from song to song without ever changing his sound. His voice is almost hypnotic. It sends you into a catatonic state where everything is one lingering song and where the album seems to never end. But when the album does end, it ends with a song that actually sounds different from the others! It baffles me that Girls Against Boys wait until the end of You Can't Fight What You Can't See before they finally find an appealing sound -- vocally, that is, because musically they had it all along. McCloud can sing, he does have melody; apparently he just waits until "Let It Breathe" before he shows it off. Why the band decided to showcase McCloud's vocals on one song on the end of the album is beyond me.
I don't get what Girls Against Boys are trying to do. But maybe that's the point. I'm not supposed to get it. (NK)
(Jade Tree Records -- 2310 Kennwynn Rd., Wilmington, DE. 19810; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.jadetree.com/; Girls Against Boys -- http://www.gvsb.com/)
The Gloria Record
Okay, so any emo kid worth his or her ironic T-shirt is undoubtedly already aware of The Gloria Record's distinguished pedigree, but for the benefit of the uninitiated: the band arose from the ashes of the Great High Kahuna of just about all Texan "emo" bands, Mineral, who rose to mild heights of indie-rock fame with the release of 1995's excellent The Power of Failing and then cemented their place in the pantheon of impassioned guitar rock in 1997 by releasing the brilliant EndSerenading and promptly calling it quits. Not to worry, however, because all four Mineral members started up new bands almost immediately, with Scott-David McCarver and Gabe Wiley moving on to form Pop Unknown (and have since gone their own separate ways with Kissing Chaos and Pretty the Quick Black Eyes) and vocalist/guitarist Chris Simpson and bassist Jeremy Gomez forging ahead as The Gloria Record. They played (and still play) shows rarely, instead hiding away in the studio and recording, putting out a handful of 7-inches, their first self-titled EP, and the A Lull in Traffic EP over the course of about three years. They did pretty well, making some decent, if unsurprisingly emo-tinged, rock and never quite shedding the mantle of "Mineral Mk. II."
All that said, let me make one thing very clear: Mineral is dead. Over. Finished. Hell, for that matter, the "old" Gloria Record is dead, or at least transmuted beyond recognition. Gone are the howling anthems to teen angst, the walls of angry guitar; in their place sits, well, something new. On Start Here, band members Simpson, Gomez, Brian Hubbard (guitar), Ben Houtman (keyboards/organ), and Brian Malone (drums) bury the roaring "rawk" beneath layers of swirling, ethereal keyboards, delicate, Radiohead-ish guitar lines, thundering, rock-solid drums, and above it all, Simpsons' incredible voice. In short, they've pulled to the forefront the absolute best parts of what they've done before...and does it work? Hell, yes.
From the forceful intro drums of the title track and the relatively quiet, jangly "I Was Born in Omaha" through to the beautiful piano of "Ascension Dream" and "The Overpass" and the awesome Radiohead-esque swell of "My Funeral Party" and "Salvation Army," Start Here is simply one of the most consistently good albums of 2002; it easily makes my own personal top five. And just so you don't think the band's totally gone off in Yes/Pink Floyd land, just futzing around with keyboards and "soundscapes" and all that crap, there's still full-on rock to be found here, on tracks like the careening, Eastern-sounding "Good Morning, Providence" and the star-struck ode to movie-watching, "Cinema Air" (probably my favorite song on the album).
I guess the title track makes the point the best, at least when it comes to the future of the band: "Start here / move forward / you'll figure it all out eventually." Come to think of it, that pretty much serves as instruction to the audience, too -- forget the past and open your eyes to the present, because it's looking incredible. (JH)
(The Arena Rock Recording Co. -- 242 Wythe Ave., Studio 6, Brooklyn, NY. 11211; email@example.com; http://www.arenarockrecordingco.com/; The Gloria Record -- http://www.thegloriarecord.com/)
GoGoGo Airheart is a rather odd, but quite interesting, band from San Diego. With the standard tools of the trade, e.g. guitars, bass, vocals, drums, and some synth, piano or organ here and there, they have come up with an unique amalgamation of disparate influences that reminds me of some sort of unholy combination of Bay Area neo-no wave, New York trashy garage-punk, and a dose or two of King Tubby. At first, the album seems like a compilation mix from some town's music scene of the not-so-distant past or future, but soon enough the GoGoGo Airheart aesthetic emerges. Sometimes weird, but not for its own sake; often noisy, but not intended to annoy. Herky-jerky rhythms and pawn shop tunings one minute, art school disco the next. Vocals like a sleep-deprived David Byrne in a reeducation camp. All of a sudden a track like "Last Goodbye" will appear, displaying a longing melancholy quality at the same time it evokes Bowie and dub reggae. "Move Along" has some nice reverb guitar work and bass vamps. There's some good stuff here, but often it seems designed to appear like it was all an accident...or maybe it was. Either way, this is a band to pay attention to. Perhaps they will refine their sound in any one of various different directions, or maybe they'll just remain a bunch of gloriously mixed up kids. (CP)
(Gold Standard Laboratories -- P.O. Box 178262, San Diego, CA. 92177; http://www.goldstandardlabs.com/; GoGoGo Airheart -- http://www.gogogoairheart.com/)
The standard drill upon dismissing a record like Golden's Apollo Stars, and I am dismissing it, is to suggest that at least the band sounds as if it'd give you your money's worth onstage. That half measure not only fails to address why someone should give the album even a cursory spin, but it seems in this case to be inaccurate. Despite splashing around in a mild array of groove-oriented styles, mostly funk but also some jam-band noodling and Afrobeat (I'll defer to Robert Christgau if you demand more specifics on that one), they leave out one crucial ingredient for a kickass groove band, which is a bassist worth his or her salt. The bottom end throughout Apollo Stars is utterly undistinguished, even taking into consideration the closing "Nikki," which mistakenly presumes that the second half of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young's "Carry On" is the part to steal. But even though more interesting basslines certainly would have helped, it's unlikely it could have done much; Golden neglect to give any song more than one idea, and what they do come up with gets repeated until it's leached of its possibility and then repeated a bunch more times for good measure (the instrumental "Henry Earl Ansell" wants to be a "Sleepwalk" for the new millennium but lacks an equally compelling melody or any variation thereof). They touch on slow James Gang-styled metal funk ("The Other Side of the Sun") and steal part of "The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll" ("Ma Petite Est Mariée") before they're done, but not before I am. (MH)
(National Record Label/Thrill Jockey Records -- P.O. Box 08038, Chicago, IL. 60608; http://www.thrilljockey.com/)
Symptoms of a Leveling Spirit
Good Riddance are one of those true punk bands that unleash their aggression through their microphones and electric guitars, and rather than singing and joking about bodily functions and secretions like the pop-punk bands we see on TV, they sing about political issues and things that matter. Straightedge and straight-up punk rock, Good Riddance have kept punk in its true form.
I've never been a big fan of punk in general, but one thing about the genre that I've always appreciated is how more than half the songs clock in around the two-minute-mark. So when reviewing a punk CD, if it's absolutely horrible, you know you won't be wasting much of your time.
Despite its lack of extraordinary compositions, Good Riddance's newest, Symptoms of a Leveling Spirit, is a punk rock CD that any punk fan would enjoy listening to. As I said, I'm not a huge punk fan myself, so this album was a tolerable listen and only had me stuck in front of my stereo for just over 32 minutes. Time, I thought, which would have been better spent listening to something else, but time not completely wasted.
Rough, but strangely sweet and melodic vocals from singer Russ Rankin will find their way into your head whether you want them there or not. The songs are nothing astonishing, but the fast guitars, burly drumbeats, crunchy bass, and sheer unpredictability will keep listeners on their feet. If you like punk, I probably don't need to tell you to check out Good Riddance. If you haven't checked them out, grab Symptoms of a Leveling Spirit...if you don't dig it, you've only wasted 32 minutes of your day. (NK)
(Fat Wreck Chords -- P.O. Box 193690, San Francisco, CA. 94119; http://www.fatwreck.com/; Good Riddance -- http://www.good-riddance.com/)
On the Inside
Jared Grabb's On the Inside is mostly an acoustic affair; the title track focuses mainly on acoustic guitar and saxophone, and Jared's voice is strong, sounding like a pissed-off, Irish Jonathan Richman. What his voice lacks in beauty, though, it makes up for in passion. Jared's voice is like a mid-priced guitar -- functional and nice-sounding under the right conditions. His songs are sensitive, moving from quiet, solo finger-picking to a raucous full band, and I found myself tapping my toe along with a number of songs. I think this album works its magic slowly and quietly, never asking for your attention but slowly drawing you in, like the kid at the coffeehouse where at first you clap to be polite, and then realize that you're actually enjoying the concert. It's no surprise that Jared has opened for bands like Owen, The White Octave and Lesser Birds of Paradise.
My favorite part of this album, actually, is the artwork. Each panel on the booklet is a different watercolor of an object off-center -- in one, a shoe, in others, a pair of glasses, a book and a glass of soda. These images are a lot like Jared's songs; each is a picture slightly out of frame. (KM)
(Thinker Thought Records -- 1002 Devonshire Road, Washington, IL. 61571; http://www.thinkerthoughtwrong.com/; Jared Grabb -- http://www.jaredgrabb.com/)
Guided By Voices
Universal Truths and Cycles
The angle Matador is trying to play with this latest GBV long-player is that it's a return to lo-fi form after a couple of more "studio"-type releases. The reality is that while it indeed has less of that annoying major label production sheen affixed and has a few tracks clock in at less than 1:30, the sound is still much more polished than on their early lo-fi outings. Unrelated to this issue, and more important with regard to your listening pleasure, the songs are mostly admirably strong but ultimately less consistently compelling than certain other GBV albums I could name. But as with even the least well-regarded GBV albums, there are a couple standout rocking tracks destined for whatever future greatest hits compilation (GBV 1?) that your kids will be listening to (if there is a God, that is), including "Back to the Lake," "Everywhere with Helicopter," and "Eureka Signs." Oddly, these tracks are stuck in the middle of the album... For whatever reason, I find myself being alternately somewhat entertained or somewhat annoyed by a large number of the other tracks -- with most GBV albums, the ratio of the former to the latter generally improves upon additional listens, so perhaps only time will tell the real universal truths of this album. (CP)
(Matador Records -- 625 Broadway, New York, NY. 10012; http://www.matadorrecords.com/; Guided By Voices -- http://www.gbv.com/)