Never Stood A Chance
Like any longtime Houstonian, I'm suspicious of anything that comes out of Austin, be it legislation, beer, or overrated bands. Why? Because nothing that happens inside Austin's city limits should mean a damn thing to anybody outside of them, and it wouldn't matter if the Austin folk knew this (they don't) because, lotus-eating lot that they are, they wouldn't care, anyway. So this record, although it's by an Austin quintet that lists a farfisa organ (they use it for good, not evil) in the credits, comes as a positive delight to my ears.
Masonic (so-called, presumably for the three Masons, Kevin, John, and Brian in the band, which also includes Jason Westerbrook on bass and Jennifer Christen on vocals) is all about organic songcraft in the American indie idiom, cousins of Nothing Painted Blue and other jangly bands from the turn of the '90s who ultimately have their roots in New Wave. Listen to this record and you'll hear echoes of Blondie, the Go-Gos ("New Song"), early XTC, and mid-period Cure, which you'll hear not only in the driving and blissful "Brand New Day" -- the chiming synth hook of "In Between Days" even greets the listener in the first few seconds of the opener, "Say Goodbye," before it shifts into a crisp, loud-band-in-small-room rocker. The best tracks, like "Satellite Tonight," "Friday Night Song," and "Chopper" are bursting with confidence and verve, topped off by the charming, supple voice of Christen, with plays around with and vaults beyond the deadpan-indie-rock-chick Nico thing. The album sweetly closes with the rolling "Way Down Avenue," with surging, passionate chorus straight out of early REM, with Christen's lost-love laments capped off by the lines "Let's give it one more try / Now I know I'm dreaming / Now I know I'm done," borne on a triumphant tide of Pavement-like woolly guitar freakout. Let's hope they stick around. (MA)
(Tight Spot Records -- P.O. Box 49543, Austin, TX. 78765; http://www.tightspotrecords.com/; Masonic -- http://www.masonictheband.com/)
The Future's Always Perfect
With the off-kilter mixed-gender harmonies and playful pop drive of The Future's Always Perfect, the Minders suggest what might happen if Chris Knox joined Mates of State. Martyn Leaper's pinched, vaguely British delivery in songs like "Tearaway" and "Go Wave Your Wand" sounds in equal parts like Knox and Lou Barlow, while Rebecca Cole's slight but appealing voice occasionally recalls a blank-eyed Claudia Gonson. The individual tunes, which come across like the work of a mellow, mid-fi New Pornographers, are nifty enough, but The Future's Always Perfect suffers from a curious lack of momentum, with each song existing on its own without really flowing into or connecting with any of the others. Worse yet, it sort of tapers off well before the end (somewhere around the odd-time-signatured "28X," which sounds like it could have been recorded in 1981, or possibly by Elastica), which is a serious problem for an album that doesn't even break the half-hour mark. (MH)
(Future Farmer Recordings -- P.O. Box 225128, San Francisco, CA. 94122; http://www.futurefarmer.com/; The Minders -- http://www.theminders.com/)
My Quiet Life
The meanest, nicest and most descriptive phrases that could be applied to My Quiet Life would all involve the name Sebadoh. That's as in "This jerk's just ripping off Sebadoh," or "Minmae's tuneful pop compares favorably to the work of Sebadoh," or "This record kind of sounds like Sebadoh." But genealogy is immaterial, as lo-fi pop has become so ubiquitous since Lou Barlow's golden years as to make the phrase "bedroom pop" (now so much more than a combination of two unrelated words) the calling card of a nationwide genre. Sean Brooks's Minmae is equal parts, well, that, and kraut-rock-style experimentation; "Autumn Festival" and "Southpaw Strikes Twice" could fairly easily pass for the work of Amon Duul II.
Sadly, My Quiet Life is the work neither of a genius nor an idiot. Brooks has good taste and good instincts -- witness the chiming pop of "The Bastard" -- but off-brand experimentation is sometimes difficult to stomach simply because of what it is. Listeners inevitably ask, "why is this important?", and if no legitimate music-historical answer is forthcoming, they're likely to simply turn it off and go back to something that's either pleasing or obviously groundbreaking. The best experimental music fits into both of those categories. Brooks has more to learn about self-editing and not putting the cart before the horse as far as releasing records that are more means than ends before he gets there, but his patience, oddness, and tolerance for musical rawness give me hope that he will. Gawd, that fiddle's ("Bluebird") grating! This song's so great I think I wanna kill the violin player. (DM)
(BlackBean & Placenta -- P.O. Box 1476, Frazier Park, CA. 93225; http://www.blackbean.tk/; Minmae -- http://mywebpages.comcast.net/joshkempa/)
Having heard most of Jesus Christ Bobby (Minus's previous outing), I expected more of the same crazy-assed-throwing-a-fit hardcore gems on Halldor Laxness, but that wasn't in the cards. Instead, over the last three years Minus has mutated into a band that sounds like The Stooges (and, to a certain extent, every lame-assed "garage-rock" band that's been ripping Iggy & Co. off lately) mixed with the stylings of Glassjaw, Helmet, Faith No More, and the Deftones. That may seem like a lot of bands, but consider this: when I first spun the disc, I was jamming to all the different songs, riffs, and tempos that the album had to offer...and then I looked down and realized that I was still on the opening track ("Boys Of Winter"). The music isn't as "manic" as their previous efforts, but the songs are still dynamic, just in a different sort of way. The lyrics are the only occasional lame aspect of the whole thing (the most vivid example being on "Cocaine"), but when you take into account these Icelandic guys have names like Bjarni and Krummi, I guess you can forgive them for not mastering the subtleties of the English language. At any rate, they still fare better than some of those Southern rappers. (MHo)
(Victory Records -- 346 N. Justine, Suite 504, Chicago, IL. 60607; http://www.victoryrecords.com/; Minus -- http://www.minusonline.com/)
Are We Really Happy With Who We Are Right Now?
The title poses an interesting question. If it's Moneen asking, I would think the answer would be something along the lines of "eh...I'm in an awkward phase right now." At best Moneen invoke Rival Schools ("To Say Something That Means Nothing To Anyone At All"), and at worst they sound like a bunch of pimply teenage geeks trying (quite unsuccessfully) to cover songs off of the Get Up Kids' Four Minute Mile. To the band's credit, there's so much energy on this album that it sounds as if it could have been a live recording done during the apex of a caffeine and sugar bender -- but unfortunately sometimes the energy is all there is. Sure, the songs may be longer than what's considered "normal" in this genre (and so are the song titles, for that matter), but if the band doesn't back up all that pomp (as do, say, The Appleseed Cast), then it's just empty posturing. It's a pity -- Moneen cite Hum and Failure as influences...too bad more of that didn't come out here. (MHo)
(Vagrant Records -- 2118 Wilshire Blvd. #361, Santa Monica, CA. 90403; http://www.vagrant.com/; Moneen -- http://www.moneen.com/)
If there is one thing I absolutely love, it's guitars with a boatload of reverb on them. Anyone who knows me will likely agree -- I love the reverb. And throughout MYTWILIGHTPILOT's 2003 EP 555, there is a lot of reverb on the guitar, so that's points in my book. Though sparingly used, when called upon, the reverb-soaked guitar kicks some rock out, which is generally a good thing provided it's appropriately used, and I think it's a hallmark of a lot of Houston's best psych music. The band also prominently features keyboards, which is often something I have more of a problem with. It's not that I don't like keyboards; it's just that, diplomatically speaking, there are a lot of bands that don't really know how best to utilize the keyboards in their music. Fortunately, this is not a problem here -- I was particularly happy to hear some really effective piano in the mix as well, especially during the first song, "Their Sleeping Endeavors."
The rhythm section works well, with the bassist weaving around the guitar and keyboards, sometimes filling out the sound with chords -- something I'm partial to -- and the drummer alternately holding down the slow somber rhythm and creating expansive sounding backdrops for everyone else to lay on. There are also the passionate-yet-sedated vocals that drift throughout, bringing in the volume when it serves the songs' occasional swelling points, but also creating a focal point for the more psych-pop aspects of the music. Though things are really somber throughout, mood-wise, everyone in the band contributes to the dense, layered sound that makes the arrangements equally interesting, and when things do rise to the inevitable swells, that approach is what keeps it interesting on through to the end of the song. Not that sonically expansive psych laden with dark atmosphere always requires nice arrangements to work, but it certainly helps. (CE)
(Feel Records -- P.O. Box 1221, Madison Square Station, New York, NY. 10159; http://www.feelrecords.com/)