Right from the start, right when Jack Hayter stumbles in out of the Christmastime fog, Practical Wireless seems doomed. It shouldn't work. "Blind Man's Fog," the first song here, is pretty representative of most of the tracks on the Hefner/Spongefinger guitarist's first solo effort, and it's a staggering, shambolic bit of folk-pop that sounds like nothing more than The Pogues having a drunken jam session with New Zealand pop lunatic Chris Knox. Fun, yeah, and Hayter sounds like he'd be damn entertaining to have a drink with, but the "loose" nature of the recording nearly sends the whole tune off the rails; like I said, it shouldn't work. And yet...
"Misfortune's Big Statue" runs along similar lines, a somehow very "British"-sounding piece of quirky blues, and so does "Bilderberg," which starts out as bare-bones guitars and vocals but slowly melts into symphonic grandeur. Even the slower, more melancholy tracks, like the stark "The Seduction of Nancy" and the ragged, Sparklehorse-esque "Mary Honey," sway and meander about, always feeling like they're on the verge of collapsing completely. "Au Lion D'Or" throws caution to the winds entirely, with lyrics all in French and Nick Drake-style folkiness that melts into bizarre pseudo-disco-pop before disintegrating, as does the poetic "A Boxer's Dead Wife," which is nearly a tone-poem about love and boxing, punctuated by an occasional melody. There's a lot of poetry here, actually, although it's not really of the highbrow variety, dwelling instead on mundane stuff like love, cigarettes, and bicycling. Hayter tends towards wry, self-deprecating humor, and his weary-but-still-awake, smoke-scarred voice lends a warm familiarity to everything.
Along with the aforementioned "Mary Honey," "Misfortune's Big Statue," and "The Seduction of Nancy," one of the highlights here is a cover of The Only Ones classic "Another Girl Another Planet," which Hayter turns into a somber, heartfelt, Son Volt-ish country song (it would appear that he's pretty handy with a steel guitar). I'd almost go so far as to say this is the best song on the album, which either says something about the sheer genius of Only Ones bandleader Peter Perret or Hayter's own songwriting, I can't decide which. Either way, Hayter takes the song and ably makes it his own, filtering the wild, defiantly youthful pop of the original through the voice of an older, more mature, maybe even wiser man, and it's heart-stoppingly beautiful.
In the liner notes, Hayter credits Hefner frontman Darren Hayman (who also produced the album) with prodding him into writing and recording his own songs, and as a result there's somewhat of a devil-may-care aspect to the whole mess. Hayter throws out his little ditties with a disarming ease, seemingly shrugging and smiling as if to say, "hell, who cares?," and that ease is infectious. Even the songs I didn't initially care much for, like the somewhat dull walking blues of "Walking," keep coming back to me now, hours after listening. These sometimes ramshackle, disjointed songs still manage to be endearing and friendly, despite a few misguided instrumental breaks and lyrical missteps (that "eyes like pissholes in the snow" line really needs to go away).
Practical Wireless is no wild roller-coaster ride, to be sure; instead, it's like a lazy, comfortable, low-key weekend spent with a good friend you haven't seen in a few years, just trading stories, drinking, and laying around in whatever patches of sunlight you can find. Who wants to ride on a roller-coaster all the time, anyway? (JH)
(Absolutely Kosher Records -- 1412 10th Street, Berkeley, CA. 94710-1512; http://www.absolutelykosher.com/; Jack Hayter -- http://www.jackovision.com/)
...died in the woods
This is some trippy stuff. What sound like samples, out-of-tune guitars, loops, radio or TV noise, etc.; anything goes here. A friend calls this "upbeat elevator music," and I don't think she means that in a negative way. It has a mood straight out of the '70s -- tripping, seeing purple monkeys, watching your hand in front of your face for hours, humping legs. I love it. Instrumental mood music for the dopers. So grab some munchies and put on this CD. (BW)
(State Bird Records -- -- 7408 Dixie Hwy. Florence, KY. 41042; http://www.commonwealthaudio.com/)
Pray For Death
Blah blah blah growl. Blah blah scream I hate you, I'll kick your ass, bring it on, blah growl chugga chugga. Blah chugga chugga Cookie Monster mosh part. Growl. Chugga. GROWL. Chugga chugga. GROWLLLLLSCREAAAAM. You get the idea. If you like metallic hardcore, then you've heard this all before, and done better. Seriously, in a world of Dillingers, Candirias, and even labelmates Minus, if you're going to play music like this, you better not fuck around. Too many bands have already trod this path, and the tracks of creativity have worn really, really thin. I don't know...if you look like one of the boneheads featured in the cover art, you'll probably be well-enough entertained by Pray For Death, but it just didn't do it for me. Next. (MHo)
(Victory Records -- 346 N. Justine, Suite 504, Chicago, IL. 60607; http://www.victoryrecords.com/)