Based primarily around a minimally distorted electric guitar or two, with the occasional drumbeat thrown in every few songs, Andrea Maxand's Angel Hat sounds not a little like Call The Doctor-era Sleater-Kinney as sung by Welcome Home-era Aimee Mann. Those albums were snapshots of the artists in the moments right before they hit their stride, and Maxand's album throws off a few hints that she'll follow suit and start swinging next time. "Whine And Shine" is particularly promising; my unfortunate habit of mentally adding absent instruments (drums in this case) to the mix in order to reconcile it with traditional pop arrangement fails to throw the recording that actually exists into a negative light the way it usually does. As it turns out, the song, in which a fully reverbed Maxand keens, Mountain Goats-like, about the rut that's killing her, is just fine the way it is. The rest of Angel Hat isn't quite as memorable or confident, but it's not bad in its way, even if it shows more promise than accomplishment. (MH)
(Montesano Records -- P.O. Box 20692, Seattle, WA. 98102; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.montesano.net/; Andrea Maxand -- http://www.andreamaxand.com/)
Mid Carson July
I'm sure Mid Carson July are a pretty rocking live band. That much is clear from the energy displayed on Wessel. What I can't get past, however, is the "sameness" that permeates the record. To my ears, this sounds just like every other emo-punk-melodic-core-whatever band, from Mock Orange to Hot Water Music to The Alkaline Trio, but a more generic version, as if all the luminaries of this genre were thrown into a machine, ground up together, reduced to their rudimentary essences, and formed into Mid Carson July.
You've got your shared vocalist duties, your single note runs, stops and starts, the hint at metal and hardcore idiosyncrasies without the full-on rocking...it's all there, and it's not bad, necessarily, just all too familiar. If you're really, really, REALLY into this music (i.e., you're the kind of person that would go to the Warped Tour every single year regardless of the lineup, or you buy music solely because of the label it's released on), then you'd probably dig this. I need a bit more convincing, myself. (MHo)
(Fueled By Ramen Records -- P.O. Box 12563, Gainesville, FL. 32604; http://www.fueledbyramen.com/; Mid Carson July -- http://members.tripod.com/~mcfnj/)
Demos For Stella
Friends of Mild 7
Songs We Learned In Texas
Mild 7's Demos For Stella and the tribute disc Songs We Learned In Texas make me feel like a woman. A specific woman, in fact: Lisa Schwartzbaum, movie critic for Entertainment Weekly. A few years ago, director Barry Levinson took umbrage with some comments that she made while panning his now-forgotten sci-fi flick Sphere, internalized them and chose to respond in the form of his next film, the now-forgotten coming-of-age flick Liberty Heights. While I can't claim to have had quite that impact on Mild 7, my...let's just say "discouragement" of their Unfiltered was enough for member Seth Hurwitz to email me with a plea to listen to the duo's latest releases with an open mind. It's not as cool as inspiring a movie (or being effectively written into one, as was the case of the 1998 Godzilla, which featured a pudgy and ineffective Mayor Ebert and his unpleasant bald aide Gene), but, hey, you've gotta start somewhere.
Still, this sounded like either a setup at best or masochism at worst, since what you have here is a musician asking a critic who hated his last album to review his new one (which leaves the weird possibility that he's a bigger fan of me as a reviewer than I am of him as a performer). I can say without contradiction, though, that Hurwitz is a genuinely nice guy; he wasn't interested in picking a fight (though God knows that Space City Rock could use the publicity of a public feud), just a bit bummed out by my review, and our exchange even expanded beyond the initial topic (to the point where we discovered that we both attended the same Jewish day camp in Maryland at more or less the same time). But if I find Mild 7 any more palatable now than I did before, you'd need an accurate measuring device to detect it.
What's most problematic is the impression that Hurwitz and co-conspirator Andrew Porter are more committed to the concept of Mild 7 than they are to that concept's trappings, which would be the songs and performances. It's tempting to blame the fact that they're a mostly acoustic duo, but Lord knows that Tall Dwarfs and the Mountain Goats have gone further with just a bit more and much, much less, respectively, than what Hurwitz and Porter have to give on Demos For Stella. For one thing, the music itself provides almost no momentum, serving almost entirely as backdrop for the lyrics rather than standing on their own, and melodies are almost nonexistent. That throws the presumptive focus of any Mild 7 song onto the words, and they try to have a field day, centering songs around conceits such as alien abduction, six-fingered girls and the utopia promised by Ramones songs. Unfortunately, they're concerned with the rhymes themselves but not what they signify, so you sense their satisfaction in each individual line without getting any sort of indication as to why any of those details are important beyond showing you how clever Mild 7 are. That leaves a huge gaping hole in songs like "The Redondo Beach Song" (which starts out "I met her in Redondo just like Jean-Paul Belmondo" and just gets worse from there) where the point should be.
I'd be lying, however, if I said that it didn't sound like Hurwitz and Porter were occasionally putting a bit more thought and effort into their project (and I'd be egotistical to assume that my earlier review was in any way responsible), because Stella does indeed improve on Unfiltered at times. The opening "Greenland," for instance, is nicely restrained, adding tension by referring to but not explaining the past ("I'll go with you wherever you go / But not to Greenland / I'm not going back there again"), while "Neighbors" is a subtly disquieting look at the way your conception of community can be revealed as a sham in a single unfortunate instant. But moments like that seem less like improvements than anomalies, and Hurwitz and Porter quickly revert to old habits like their atrocious cover of "I Ran." I mean, I'm more sympathetic towards A Flock Of Seagulls than probably anybody you'll ever meet, but Mild 7's version is just terrible, with one guitar out of tune and the other barely hitting the beat.
So we've seen that Mild 7 themselves often can't be bothered with their material; what happens when folks who actually care about the songs have a go? The answer is somewhere on Songs We Learned In Texas, but the problem is that it should be everywhere. A tribute album put together by those being covered (something that always bugs me in its control-freak self-aggrandizement), Songs We Learned promises to throw real bands at Mild 7 songs, but most of the participants are generally faceless indie pop acts that are pretty far down the lo-fi ladder themselves. That makes for a remarkably consistent tone throughout the record, but the performances seldom accomplish more than what the bare minimum should have been when Mild 7 recorded these songs in the first place.
That's still an improvement over the original albums, though, and the best of the lot go one step further and don't try to hammer the jokes home, which is just as well, since they're not particularly funny anyway. The straightforward version of "Greenland" by Seamus&thePockets that opens up the disc is quite nice, even if it kills some of the song's impact by eliminating the final line of the chorus. Christa Forster's "Microscopic Organisms" is even better, as musically nervy as parts of Exile In Guyville, although that only serves to underscore the lyrical problems (it's bad enough that the girl in the song is "fresh as a daisy in a bomb crater," but it quickly becomes clear that that's only there to set up the rhyme). And the Glen Nevous Retraction's complete recasting of "Not My Good Eye" should satisfy those who loved the Replacements' "Answering Machine" but wished it wasn't laden with all that, you know, poignancy and depth.
Most of Songs We Learned is redundant, though. As I've mentioned, these are lyric-driven songs and they're performed as such, which leaves Mild 7's weaknesses front and center. Nobody takes advantage of the opportunity to really beef up any of these songs, and there's yet more evidence that Hurwitz and Porter lack the ability or desire to edit when we get two versions each of "Russian Love," "UFoze" and "Just A Boy." Obviously, the judicious thing to do would have been for them to pick one of each (or, in the case of "Just A Boy," neither) and break the bad news to three acts that their songs wouldn't make the cut. They left them on, though, possibly out of goodwill and gratitude to the people who like their music. That makes them great guys, but it doesn't mean you have to listen to them. (MH)
(Little Gray Productions/One Take Recordings -- 5706 Woodcrest Avenue, Baltimore, MD. 21215; Mild 7 -- http://www.mild7.net/)
Mind Like Water
The Hourglass Syndrome
I usually don't particularly like this kind of electronic, industrial, arty rock sound, but the lyrics really grabbed my attention, and I ended up enjoying this CD. What could be more thought-provoking than stuff like "Bring down the architecture/Bright red blood on brand new leather," from the track "Let Me Bleed"? Or "Darkstar/Painting a reflection on the car double parked in the front yard," from the track "Darkstar"? It's not clear which of these apparently talented guys in Mind Like Water wrote the lyrics, but whoever he is, he's a true poet.
From a purely musical standpoint, this band is right on target, with unique rhythms and melodies brought beautifully together with precise production. Even though it's not my favorite type of music, I definitely would put this one on my listen list. (CPl)
(Fork In Hand Records -- P.O. Box 230023, Boston, MA. 02123; email@example.com; http://www.forkinhand.com/; Mindlikewater -- http://www.mindlikewater.org/)
Well, just about everyone in Houston, Texas, has heard or at least heard of Moses Guest. And rightfully so. Yes, for crying out loud, I guess you could call them a jam band. Get over it, already. What is the big deal with that, anyway? Some folks have blasted this kind of music for some reason -- hey, don't listen if you don't like it. Key-Ryst, you are beginning to sound like my Dad. The intolerance amongst alleged music lovers is anathema. But I digress. O.K. here we go.
This is some mellow shit here. Wow, very groove-laden and happening. I heard early Duane, Dickey and Greg, hints of Lowell George, and Robbie and Levon. Mighty damn good company, if you know what I mean. If you don't, then you are in for an aural treat of sweeping depth, complexity, integrity, and compassion. Yup, this isn't head-banger stuff, nor is it for the teenybopper looking for hook-laden pop. This is a more mature, complex music. There are some "roots" aspects to it, some honky-tonk, some country-flavored tidbits, some swamp boogie. Hell, just listen to the damn CDs...
You will find Moses Guest very listenable and entertaining, and they will stand up to not only the test of time but will also transcend genres. This is not the band's first effort; far from it. They have evolved to this point, and who knows where they are headed? A few studio friends were used in this recording to augment the standard four-person unit that exists now.
Mandolin, fiddle, dobro, cello, pedal steel -- all add to the mix. Their musical additions are very sweet and full-bodied, giving the CDs a very polished and "produced" sound. Don't get me wrong here. I'm all for a well-produced disc, and this is certainly one. The whole package is first-rate. From songs to graphics to production, it all is a quality effort, demonstrating a full frontal assault by folks who are determined to be pros. Live, this music takes on a more biting intensity, with far sharper corners and more punches to the gut. That stuff frequently doesn't translate well to studio CDs, so the band has apparently decided to go for underplaying it on the discs and it works very well. Oooooh, it is sweet. First-rate musicianship, compositions, and performances. In 20 years this will still be a great CD. How many can say that? (BW)
(Aufheben Records -- http://www.mosesgoods.com/; Moses Guest -- http://www.mosesguest.com/)
My Education is a band from Austin, Texas, featuring members of Stars of the Lid, among other groups. Their instrumentation includes a couple guitars, drums, bass, keys, and a violin. They play an interesting hybrid of spacey rock that at times is delicately beautiful, other times more out and out rockin', but always purely instrumental. The first track, "Concentration Waltz", starts out in delicately beautiful mode, but soon starts to build and build, à la Godspeed You Black Emperor, with crescendo of fenzied textures, before becoming sparse once again. The second track, "Lesson 3", blends pretty guitar arpeggios with wistful piano lines. Next up, "Nightrider Meets the Waterfall", is more on the rockin' side, combining powerful bass lines with wah-wah guitar, plus blasts of guitar texture. "Deep Cut" is back to the melancholy arpeggios and delayed wistfulness formula. Good, but could use a bit more life. The final cut, "Crime Story", reminds me of something from 80's guitar alt-rock, but I can't quite place what, with its sad semi-distorted delayed guitar lines and violin work. Good stuff. It takes something strong to retain one's interest in the crowded field of instrumental indie rock, but I think My Education makes the cut. There is, of course, always room to be more compelling, and I hope they take up that challenge in the future. (CP)