Pain, a fun-loving band made up of eight happy-go-lucky kids, is capable of adding a little spunk in your life -- if you're into that pre-teen kind of punk, that is. If not, well, then they're just another band that's fun for a few minutes and annoying shortly thereafter.
With a discography that dates back to a first release in 1994, the band's been making music for a long time, although over the past decade it hasn't progressed as much as one would expect. I reviewed Pain's 1997 release Wonderful Beef, a while back, and it was a fun, eclectic album, but I must say that I expected more from Jabberjaw.
The formula is the same on both albums: the songs are happy, the vocals are soft at times, punctuated by the occasional punk-rock scream, the horns are beefy, and the lyrics are immature. Overall, the band is tight, and the songs are catchy in an elementary school sort of way, but the novelty doesn't last. The problem is that it's an overused formula. How many songs can you sing in exactly the same way before you get bored? It only took me four songs before I was ready to throw in the Jabberjaw towel.
"Jabberjaw," the first song on the six-track disc, is catchy; the third track, "The Comeback," is pleasant to listen to; the fifth little ditty, "Chris Gets Up On It!," is just plain annoying; and by the time I'm at the last song, "The Man Upstairs," I'm just glad the disc is over. Every song melds together into one long epic because of the way the vocalist chooses to sing/speak his lyrics every single time. It was pleasurable on Wonderful Beef, but four years later it's time for a change. Rarely is there any variation in how the vocalist delivers his lyrics, but when he does decide to give a good punk-rock scream, it works admirably. He should think about changing his style a little more often. Or perhaps changing genres. I'd prefer hearing his vocals accompanied by music more like that of Built to Spill or Weezer. He needs to give up this Zebrahead thing he's trying to emulate.
Pain is fun to listen to for a short period of time, but it isn't necessarily a band I would recommend to others -- unless, of course, I'm talking to a 12-year-old boy. I bet Pain can really get the kids a-movin'. (NK)
(Springman Records -- P.O. Box 2043, Cupertino, CA. 95015-2043; http://www.springmanrecords.com/; Pain -- http://www.thepainpage.com/)
The Paper Chase
God Bless Your Black Heart
I know I shouldn't fall into the trap of believing that a song somebody's written has to be absolutely true and real (I mean, Johnny Cash never went to Folsom, and yet he still wrote about it, right?), but it's difficult not to be somewhat afraid of the Paper Chase after listening to their new full-length, God Bless Your Black Heart. Songwriter and frontman John Congleton (who also plays guitars, organs, and synths and does the samples and programming) sounds like one fucked-up little bunny, and if he's as strange and death-obssessed as his lyrics seem to suggest, I think I'd watch my step around him if we ever met.
Of course, the music is partly to blame. I have to say that I haven't heard anything this sonically disturbing since stumbling across Barkmarket and Motherhead Bug back in the '90s; it's genuinely frightening, dark and overwhelming and insane all at once. God Bless somehow manages a shotgun wedding between the crazed symphonic yearnings of Conor Oberst (who himself borrowed them from Roger Waters, I know) and the claustrophobic, edge-of-a-knife darkness of Trent Reznor and his follower CEX. Some of the angular, jagged, dissonant guitar parts make me think of the Archers of Loaf, but the feeling here is far, far darker and creepier than anything the Archers ever came up with -- indie-rock though the Paper Chase might be on some level, I'd say that they're closer kin to Mr. Bungle or Skeleton Key than Superchunk (and I suspect that they'd agree). Tons and tons of strings and piano, as well as samples of somebody throwing up, what sound like interviews with serial killers, and snippets of church sermons, add to lunatic carnival atmosphere (see "Your Pretty Little Head," for a major example).
That's not to say this is all just grinding and morbid, mind you -- there are some truly beautiful parts to the album, particularly when the strings drop the horror-flick seesawing and soar like angels over the plodding, rumbling rhythms. There's also Congleton's voice, which is darn expressive and can even be pretty at times; the duet in the opening track, "Said the Spider to the Fly," for example, rescues the song from a unstoppable stomping, crashing dissonance that threatens to bring the music crashing down.
There're some other truly incredible songs on here, as well (maybe the word "movements" might be more appropriate, but we'll get to that), particularly the disjointed death-funk-rock of "Ready, Willing, Cain and Able," the threatening, Cop Shoot Cop-ish "One Day He Went Out for Milk and Never Came Home," and the quieter, more thoughtful "Now, We Just Slowly Circle the Draining Fish Bowl." It's hard to pick out specific tracks from the entire sweeping landscape, though, because it's just that -- it's a grand, intertwined mess, where songs reference one another, samples appear and reappear, and the themes of death, dying, and birth echo throughout. It's all one big piece, and saying Song X is the best song on the album is about like calling your favorite part of Beethoven's 9th Symphony a "song." Like that surprisingly gripping crime novel you bought on a whim at the airport for that long flight, this one really has to be viewed/heard all at once, and taken as a whole, God Bless becomes a meditation of sorts on death, culminating in the release of the narrator/killer/mourner from his earthly bonds. (I think -- I get the feeling there's a story lurking here, but I'm afraid I haven't been able to dig through the lyrics to figure out what the heck it is.)
The one downside to God Bless is that, well, it's exhausting. Each time I finish listening to the album, I feel drained -- which is a little odd, but makes sense when you consider the work that must've gone into all this. The sheer weight of the sound created here, built layer upon layer of samples, vocals, and instruments, is a bit overwhelming, enough that I probably won't be listening to this CD real often. Each time I do, though, it'll definitely be an event. (JH)
(Kill Rock Stars -- 120 NE State Ave, PMB 418, Olympia, WA. 98501; http://www.killrockstars.com/; The Paper Chase -- http://www.thepaperchaseband.com/)
I really liked this CD. Too bad some asshole crackhead decided to bust in a window of my truck and abscond with it (along with 200 other CDs and some other crap) a few weeks after it fell into my hands. I haven't been able to replace it as of yet. With that in mind, one might be inclined to ask: "Well then, how are you writing a review?" Simple. For the short time I had Park's No Signal in my possession, you could quite often find it in my CD player. I really dug Park's take on the poppy-emotional-indie-rock archetype, which (as I recall) comes across as a combination of Armor For Sleep and Midtown, with maybe a hint of Brandtson thrown in the mix for good measure. I do remember the album's first two tracks being my favorite ("The Ghost You Are" and "Trivet"), but I would usually pop it in and listen to the whole thing straight through. Yeah. I really miss this one; thanks a lot, you junkie asshole. (MHo)
(Lobster Records -- P.O. Box 1473, Santa Barbara, CA. 93102; http://www.lobsterrecords.com/; Park -- http://www.parkmusic.com/)
Britta Phillips and Dean Wareham
I like the Velvet Underground as much as the next music lover. And I understand the influence Lou Reed and company had on countless bands in the past twenty or so years. Hearing an album like Sonic Souvenirs makes me want to delve into the entire VU back catalogue and listen for cribbed lyrics and lifted licks. It's not so much that Phillips and Wareham have made a copycat album, but that with Luna and Galaxie 500 they never sounded like they were specifically trying to recreate another band's sound. To me, Sonic Souvenirs sounds like they were auditioning for a Reed/Nico sound-alike contest.
This EP of reinterpretations by Sonic Boom (of Spaceman 3 fame) of songs from Philips/Wareham's L'Avventura is not bad by any stretch. Phillps and Wareham are quite capable of writing great and soulful pop tunes (he was in Galaxie 500, for God's sake), and these understated and spacey pop songs are perfect for fans of bands like Mazzy Star, Luna (naturally), and Portishead. The songs are smooth and peaceful and downbeat without being boring.
"Ginger Snaps (And Sugar Winks)" is absolute rubbish, however. With its Cher-style synth vocals, the song will grate on your ears before the first verse even ends. (DAC)
(Jetset Records -- P.O. Box 20519, New York, NY. 10009; http://www.jetsetrecords.com/; Britta Phillips and Dean Wareham -- http://www.deanandbritta.com/)
Poor Luther's Bones
That the World May Sing Far Away Music, Honky
There's this club in Washington, DC., called The Black Cat. It has dark walls, low lighting, and black and white checkered tiles on the floor. You enter the dance club area through double doors after climbing metal stairs. Common are the studded belts and rubber bracelets of the '80s but everyone dresses however they want, really. It's slightly seedy overall, with loud but great music; by the time the night is through, with all the dancing and all the drinking, it feels vaguely like you've stepped into Alice in Wonderland. You've had a great time and heard some good music, but everything seems a bit off kilter. Naturally, you immediately want to tell people all about the experience you've had.
That the World May Sing Far Away Music, Honky, by Poor Luther's Bones, reminds me of that club and that feeling. Poor Luther's Bones is a group from Berks County, Pennsylvania, although if I hadn't read that they were from the States, I definitely wouldn't have guessed. Their whole vibe says "London punk-pop" to me -- just before it switches over to trance-y, darker tunes like "Night Garden." They've been compared to The Flaming Lips, and on some of the tracks ("Why," for example), I can see where that comparison stems from. It's hard, however, for me to compare them to one group or one sound. On this album they run the gamut: surf punk on "La La Land"; Brit-pop on "Walking Time Bomb"; and even ska-like brass on "Primitive Man." By far the quirkiest track has to be "Orangatango"; I'm not even sure how to describe this song -- "fun," I guess, would be the best word, because every time I hear it I can't help but laugh. The vocals are very guttural, clipped, and strong. I get the visual of a very grumpy kid singing the words, complete with foot-stomping, trying very hard to be serious. Add to that heavy acoustic, flamenco-style guitar, high-hat, and lots of brass, and the CD culminates in a frenzy of instruments and then just sort of stops short. Although this is only my first exposure to the band, that ending seems appropriate. (JR)
(self-released; Poor Luther's Bones -- http://www.poorluthersbones.com/
One of the things I love about rock music is how a band can become a genre unto themselves. Such is the case with Birmingham, England's Pram. Once lumped in with the post-rockers, they've continued to pursue their own idiosyncratic vision over the course of six albums, unperturbed by buzz or the currents of scenes, leaving other more formulaic bands to wither and die on the dried vines of conformity and staleness. What other band has a singer like Rosie Cuckston, who can evoke worlds with her warm, yet not traditionally skilled, voice? What other band can incorporate dozens of different instruments, including toy piano, theremin, and who knows what else, into a sonic fabric without it sounding like a gimmick or an exercise? In fact, such textures have become a necessary part of the Pram sound. Pram creates mysterious fairy tale worlds with their music, making evocative soundtracks that still manage to be songs.
The artwork for Dark Island suggests a spooky flipside to the bright colors and exotic sounds of the Tiki craze of the 1950s, and this is reinforced by the music itself. Or maybe that's just the interpretation I'm reading into it. Reading the lyrics of songs such as "Distant Islands" seems to indicate that an alternate, more existential metaphor is at work: "Words make remote objects of us / Distant islands in an ocean of sound / Words can make strangers of lovers / Disconnected by meaning they've found."
If I have any complaints with this album, it's that in pursuing its dreamy ways, Dark Island at times becomes a bit too sedate. Many of the songs have a quite languid tempo, dangerously near plodding in a couple instances, and there are a greater number of instrumentals than usual. But all that's merely to caution that one should ready oneself in the proper state of mind in order to experience all that Pram has to offer. Major props go to Merge Records for ensuring that a unique band like Pram has an American home. (CP)
(Merge Records -- P.O. Box 1235, Chapel Hill, NC. 27514; http://www.mergerecords.com/)
The '92 vs. '02 Collection
I must admit that the first time I heard this was on a mediocre sound system. Though it sounded adept and polished, it sounded too polished and too "slick". It was almost as if it was meant to be pick-up music at some urban yupster bar, with tipsy design majors scoping each other out.
Another try on a system with some fancy speakers reveals nuances, beats, and gorgeous sounds, all of which were lost on inferior equipment. "Desks.Pencils.Bottles" begins like a cover version of some old late '70s hip-hop tune but quickly morphs into something quite multilayered and a bit schizy. Underneath it all, the vocal popping and clicking keeps metronomic time. "Love You Bring" wraps it up as a glitch-y downtempo tune. The female vocals sounds like they were dubbed from another song and spliced in, making an effective reference to actual "singing."
I've seen Prefuse 73/Scott Herren and the word "hip-hop" associated with each other more often than not, but RJD2 and Kruder and Dorfmeister fans will find much to enjoy as well. And drunk design majors, too. (AP)
(Warp Records -- http://www.warprecords.com/; Prefuse 73 -- http://www.prefuse73.com/)
It's Not The Heat, It's The Humanity
When I reviewed Puny Human's previous LP, Revenge Is Easy, I made mention of the fact that the band had a certain level of experimental-ness that might be interesting to hear them expand upon on later albums. On It's Not The Heat, It's The Humanity, though, that ain't happening. Puny Human has pretty much jettisoned the samples and little touches of weirdness that permeated Revenge and instead have streamlined their attack into that of a punishing, fuzzed-out juggernaut. Producer J. Yuenger (formerly of White Zombie) might have had something to do with this -- he has certainly made the band sound a lot bigger and tighter (as he did with Fu Manchu on The Action Is Go). The final product is something that I actually enjoyed more than their previous album, despite my earlier thoughts on the band. Fans of Clutch, Fu Manchu, and Monster Magnet will be grooving along to these ass-shaking slabs of rock in no time. Just make sure you dig on the CD art's crazy '70s exploitation-flick motif. (MHo)
(Small Stone Records -- P.O. Box 02007, Detroit, MI. 48202; http://www.smallstone.com/; Puny Human -- http://www.punyhuman.com/)