More Better Different
The packaging of the CD is your first clue that artist and former Japan bassist, Mick Karn, has certainly gone his own way -- it's covered with artwork that is comprised of many layers of colors and shapes that you wouldn't expect together. More Better Different follows as an eclectic mix of instrumentals and spoken word, all combined with Karn's very present, ever-funky bass work. His playing reminds the listener somewhat of Craig Armstrong but Mick's music seems to have more flow and the ability to maintain your attention while not demanding it. It's also, at least on this release, darker and heavier in overall feel. The titles of the songs give clues as to what the combination of sounds may include or the feeling they represent; "Pulsating Puddles" incorporates the sounds of dripping water and some drawn-out and distorted beats, giving the listener a realistic feeling of water's ebb and flow. "The End Gag" is placed mid-way through the CD instead of at the end, which just makes perfect sense, somehow; I wouldn't have expected it to be anywhere else. "Never Thought" incorporates spoken word, the voice so mellow and so aligned with the underlying music that at first it's hard to grasp that they are words being spoken and not just random human sounds.
"The Show" has a more grandiose presence, as it builds with the use of organ, funky bass work and piano. This song and its components are a departure from the other more tranquil songs on the CD; it has a tension that's tangible. Instrumentals are not normally my thing, but I've really enjoyed this CD and its quirky-yet-solid stance. It's interesting enough to draw you in but not so random and multi-layered that it leaves you feeling overwhelmed. (JR)
(Invisible Hands Records -- 15 Chalk Farm Road, London, NW1 8AG, England; http://www.invisiblehands.co.uk/; Mick Karn -- http://www.fetafunk.com/)
Their website claims "Our sound is somewhere between Guided by Voices [they wish], Jesus Lizard, the Stooges, and Syd Barrett's Pink Floyd," but that can't obscure the fact that this is yet another guitar-rock combo from Austin. But before we get to the actual record, could we investigate just why Austin feels dispensed to think of itself as the greatest music town in the world? Here's a poser for you: name one great rock band of world-historical importance to ever emerge directly from within the city limits of that town. Stevie? Nope, he's blues -- doesn't count. Butthole Surfers? Okay, maybe, but their salad days were before Slacker came out. Anyone else? No. Plenty of worthies abound (dear God, whatever happened to the guys from Shoulders?), but the argument could be made that Flossmoor, Illinois, birthplace of Styx, is more of a significant rock and roll town than Austin. Austin is a great place to see people from other places make music (and the only reasons I still might care about the place are limited to the Midgetmen, Waterloo Records, Ian McLagen, and very few others), but as a hotbed of musical talent in itself, no.
The reason I make this point is because records from Austin pile up our desks like so many poker chips, and I can't help but think if these guys were stuck in, say, Tucson or Barstow or Lincoln, Nebraska, this Keg Vultures record wouldn't have been made in the first place in the absence of an enabling environment like Austin's, where pretty much everybody thinks they're worthy of putting out a record. There are things to like here, of course, but only when the band slows down into an echoey strut, such as on "Promises" (with some lovely multitracked vocals) and "Midnight," or takes a swipe at REM-ness with "Rummy." And with tracks like "Daisy Chains," they cash in on the claim made in their press material on early Floyd territory. The rest of it, however, is occasionally grating anonymous bar-band-y piffle with incompetently recorded and sung vocals. "Lo-fi," folks, does not mean "unlistenable," or "has no idea how to coordinate strumming patterns" (as on the opener, "Hung Out To Dry"), and a couple of these tracks, such as "Preachin' to the Choir" and "Hard Life," approach Spinal Tap levels of absurdity. Does this band just have a well-developed sense of irony? Not enough of one. I actually liked the hidden audio verité track at the end with the spooky electronic noises, wildlife sounds, and goofy British accents, but it drove everyone else out of my house, even though it was raining outside. Here's hoping they learn how to edit themselves more closely. (MA)
(Propeller Records -- P.O. Box 3010, Austin, TX. 78764; http://www.propellerrecords.com/)
Weird how wrong you can be. No, I don't mean the band, but the hype -- every single thing I've read about the Killers pegs them as Britrock-nouveau, and holds up singer Brandon Flowers proud proclamation of his love for Oasis as proof. Oasis? Nope. There's a British influence here, but it's Bowie and LeBon, not the Brothers Gallagher. Like fellow rockers Interpol and Muse, Flowers and company reach further back in the British musical timeline for the influences that build their debut album, Hot Fuss, melding together glam-rock guitars and theatrics with the insouciance and pop sensibility of Duran Duran and their contemporaries (check out "Midnight Show" if you don't believe me). And to my surprise, the result of the amalgamation comes damn close to some of their forebears' most glorious moments, in the process creating something very new-sounding and enthralling.
It's hard to believe it works, when you look at it from the outside. The Killers take the aforementioned heroes of British pop-rock, graft on futuristic sci-fi electronics (see the Gary Numan-ish vocoder on "Smile Like You Mean It"), and drag 'em all out onto the dancefloor for a sweaty, frantic workout. Take "All These Things That I've Done," for example; the song starts like an outtake from the Velvet Goldmine soundtrack, all pomp and romantic glam, but quickly transmutes into a driving, pleading rocker and finally explodes into a gospel raveup with the repeated chorus of "I've got soul / but I'm not a soldier." I'm left sitting shaking my head, amazed that it falls together and awed that the band can pull it off. Hot Fuss balances the different sides of the musical equation perfectly, never riding any one influence into the ground but playing each off the others -- just when I think the verses are getting a little too pretentious, along comes a triumphant rock chorus, charging in guitars blazing to rescue the track and turn it around.
The whole thing has kind of a seamy, seedy feel to it, buttressed by songs like the brooding "Jenny Was a Friend of Mine," which is a dark, regretful tale of murder (although whether or not the song's narrator is the killer is unclear), and the bumping, grinding electro-rock of "Somebody Told Me," which lures the listener in with hints of sex and transsexuality and then gets them booty-shaking all over the room. That said, though, there's also an underlying romanticism, as exhibited on the poppy, wistful "Change Your Mind" and the jealous imaginings of a jilted lover on the excellent "Mr. Brightside" (which reminds me oddly of Underworld's "Born Slippy"). The dark and light sides of the band's personality seem to be at odds throughout the album.
It makes a bizarre kind of sense to learn that the four Killers (Flowers on vocals and synthesizer, Dave Keuning on guitar, Mark Stoermer on bass, and Ronnie Vannucci on drums) hail from Las Vegas, a city third in sordid-ness only to LA and NYC. With that birthplace in mind, this melding of rock and synths, glam and electronics, the jaded, hipster-heavy U.K. and the gleaming, sleazy heart of America seems pretty much right on. Forget the Oasis comparisons -- I'll gladly take the Killers for what they are instead. (JH)
(Island Records -- 825 Eight Ave., New York, NY. 10019; http://www.islandrecords.com/; The Killers -- http://www.thekillers.co.uk/)