I hate this album. Seriously. Since the first time I listened to it, anything else I attempt to listen to pales in comparison, and I have to switch back. It's becoming annoying. I blew a $100 gift certificate on iTunes in January but have yet to even make it through two songs on any of those albums before turning it off and putting Tody's album back on. And since I listen to music pretty much constantly throughout the day, it's a real testament to the brilliance of this album.
Castillo is a Houston musician, and his album is as near to perfection as one could strive for. Much of the music is akin to early Ryan Adams, but Castillo doesn't stick to one genre. A lot of the album rocks like Tom Petty, and the songwriting (except perhaps for the immature-yet-honest "Politics") is excellent. His songs follow the ever-popular theme of love and loss, but that's something to which we all can relate, at least. Castillo and company -- he was assisted in the studio by drummer Paul Valdez, bassists Steve Brown and Ryan Biddle, keyboardists Eddie Hobozal and Cameron Dezen, and background vocalist Mando Saenz -- work together to create honest and heartfelt songs.
"This Is Love," "Independence Day," and "Don't Leave The Country" are a few of the album's high points, but "I'm Gonna Change" and "Brainwashed" are also undeniably addictive. Listeners will find Castillo's heartfelt songwriting and musicianship a forceful combination.
Produced by Castillo at Houston's Sugar Hill Studios with engineer Steve Christianson, the album sounds clean but not overly polished. Albums like Castillo's will help the Houston music scene get the attention it richly deserves -- hopefully more musicians will take the time and money necessary to craft an album this good. I cannot recommend it enough. (DAC)
(Chula Records; Tody Castillo -- http://www.todycastillo.com/)
Stories About Gods & Heroes
Is this a playful, lighthearted industrial record or a gut-wrenching hurdy-gurdy E.P.?
On Stories About Gods & Heroes, Doug Cheatwood doesn't always sing, and he doesn't exactly rap, although a lot of the time he speaks with the voice affectations of Biz Markie. He employs visual lyric patterns that seem well-crafted (like Beck), but which don't hold a linear narrative. He can always turn a phrase, but he never wraps your mind around an issue. I get the feeling that the songs are about love, and since love doesn't always make sense, that's his excuse. It makes you wonder if these obtuse lyrics will provide inspiration upon repeated listenings, or will the promise be broken?
I picture one man with a few dozen instruments strapped to his neck, belt, and back. A harmonica, for sure, but also found sounds, tribal drums that seem to have been recorded from a mile away, and a symphony of bells, whistles, and buzzers that would make Trent Reznor seem a minimalist. If Dr. Dre and Bob Dylan made a record? Awkward, symphonic, with hip-hop elements, and yet, folky. Hmm...
I could almost recommend Doug Cheatwood's E.P. for the memorable drum circle antics alone, or for the I-guess-they're-intellectual lyrics he throws over a symphony of foundsounds like the ones you'd hear when you're skipping right past a KTRU noise show on the radio dial. Textured, with an emphasis on sound effects and imagery, but for me, not enough lyrical focus to be so poetic. (CL)
(self-released; Doug Cheatwood -- http://www.dougcheatwood.com/
End of Love
It's the weirdest thing. Clem Snide's End of Love has, against all odds, been the hardest damn CD to critique that I've seen in quite a while. It's not that I think it's bad, per se, or even that it's good -- bear with me, here -- but that it's both, just at different times.
What the hell am I talking about? Okay, let me put it this way: when I listen to the title track off the album, "End of Love," which is an awesome, shambling, rootsy-sounding track with gorgeously fuzzed guitars and vocals that remind me of The Weakerthans' John Sampson, I'm blown away. When I hear "Tiny European Cars," with its odd premise (I like the image of Minis being fueled by Spanish wine) and delicate, plinky sing-song-y-ness, I love it. When I listen to "Collapse," I find myself waiting to hear those noisy, distorted guitars scrabble and claw away in the background like chaos waiting to boil to the surface. When I put on jangly, jaunty "Fill Me With Your Light," I want to get out of the office and stroll through the city in the sunshine, smiling at everybody and not giving a damn. When I try to listen to End of Love as a whole, on the other hand, I tune out after only a few songs.
Part of it's due to the fact that the band essentially front-loaded the album -- the best songs, hands down, are the first five or so, and the band takes some pretty major hits later on. "Jews for Jesus Blues," an outright, softly-done country song about, well, Jews who love Jesus (I guess?), is nice enough, but it's really kind of a "nothing" song that doesn't stick once it's over. Further on, the samba-ish "Something Beautiful" doesn't even really work, coming off like a half-assed impersonation of a really bad Cake song, and "God Answers Back" is a sweet, gentle ballroom-dancing track which, like "Jews for Jesus," is also unfortunately pretty forgettable.
The lone bright spot in the second half of the album, really, is "Made For TV Movie," a quiet, melancholy folk song that relates the travails of Lucille Ball to those of all of us, and what does it for me there is less the music than it is the bumbling chorus duet with somebody who sounds like she must be songwriter/bandleader Eef Barzelay's daughter (niece?). The awkwardness of their off-timed "la la la"'s is so earnestly sweet it makes me like the song more than I otherwise would. There's also "When We Become," which is an understated, meandering country-folk song with some nice female backing vocals, but even that's not much to write home about. The best songs on End of Love are all at the beginning.
Another reason for the slow tune-out I get when I try to listen to this whole thing at once is because of the overall sound of the album. To put it bluntly, End of Love's a bit of a downer; the better songs, to me, are the rockers, the faster, more uptempo (and often more countryish) tracks. For the most part, End of Love is true to its title lyrically: it's a somber, melancholy meditation on the death of a relationship (or is it all relationships?). And that's fine, as it goes, but it makes it hard to listen to. When things get slower, the melancholy shroud Barzelay drags along behind his lyrics just gets to be too damn heavy to penetrate. He's got a knack for fine first lines (see "The Sound of German Hip-Hop," for example), but ultimately, I couldn't tell you what most of the lyrics in the latter part of the album are about, because by then I just can't focus on 'em.
It's a hard conclusion to come to, because I've liked a lot of what I've heard from Clem Snide, because "End of Love" is brilliantly ragged and majestic, like all the best Son Volt songs (and seriously deserves a listen, even if half of the rest of the album doesn't, necessarily), and because I do enjoy Barzelay's lyricism and snarky, hipster-ish take on things (even if the refrain of album closer "Weird" seems like it could be aimed pretty easily at Barzelay himself: "You're not as weird as you'd like me to think"). Taken as a whole, though, while End of Love is a decent enough effort, it's not a great one. If Clem Snide could've sustained the momentum from those first five tracks throughout, this'd be a pretty incredible album. Unfortunately, while I'll be plunking those tracks onto the iPod to "shuffle" at my leisure -- and a couple of 'em make this almost worth the price of admission -- I'm not going to bother with the rest. (JH)
(spinART Records -- P.O. Box 1798, New York, NY. 10156-1798; http://www.spinartrecords.com/; Clem Snide -- http://www.clemsnide.com/)