Band of Horses
Everything All the Time
Band of Horses' debut Sub Pop release, Everything All the Time, is nothing short of beautiful. Since the only thing I knew of the band before this (outside of their label and that members Ben Bridwell and Matt Brooke were also in semi-shoegazer band Carissa's Weird) was they toured with Iron and Wine, I was pleasantly surprised when the music hit me. There's none of the standard alt. country acoustic guitars and laid-back vocals -- Bridwell's voice has the flavoring of Neil Young or My Morning Jacket, and his highs and lows are intertwined with soaring guitars coming through Fender amps. There's a definite sadness and beauty with each of the songs; even the more upbeat songs seem to haunt. At first listen, I was hooked on the echoey vocals and the far-from-standard music. You have no idea what the next change will be, let alone where the next track will lead you. This album found its way straight to my iPod -- I've even keep the CD in my car just in case I forget my iPod at the house. This is a definite buy for alt. country fans, and for indie folks, as well.
the magic is over
This is the Long Beach sound. Not afraid to mix up genres, styles, tempos, concepts, while maintaining an identifiable "sound" all their own? Bargain Music are a fun trio with good guest musicians and well-produced, mixed tunes that beg comparisons to those other Long Beach bands that shall remain unnamed (okay, okay, so I'm talking about Sublime). Certainly no cut edges here, just fun, catchy songs that have the spilled beer and sweat skidding across the dance floor.
Best of Active Days
I was prepared to give Best of Active Days a reasonably positive review after an initial, inattentive listen. There're some nice chunky-sounding bits in the first song that brought the Fall to mind, and other bits here and there that reminded me of the early-'90s indie-rock era I'm perpetually nostalgic for (even if I think about Pitchblende, the Raymond Brake, or Thinking Fellers Union Local 282 more often than I actually listen to them). The sound was a bit all over the place, the tunes didn't quite hook me, but they definitely rated to the level of "band I'd make a point of showing up for early if they were opening for someone," which is more of an honor to me than it may sound like to you. All in all, it seemed like Driving Themes showed pretty solid potential for a first album.
The only catch, as I discovered flipping through the press notes, is that it's their fourth. And on a repeated listen, all I could hear was the faults -- they don't have a consistent sound, they crib from Pavement way too often, the lyrics aren't that great, the vocal charisma isn't there, etc. They may still have some greatness yet to reveal themselves -- after all, in the era of CD-as-demo-tape, four albums may represent as much work on songwriting as a lot of bands used to have put in before their first album -- but if I were a betting man, I'd be taking my money off the table. Still, if you're nostalgic for the early '90s, check this one out if you find it in a bargain bin -- maybe it'll click for you the way it didn't for me.
Mysterious Waves is an album by Blackloud, which is a one-man recording project by (you guessed it) James Blackloud. The record's a mixture of drum machines and psychedelia with a whimsical feel, similar to old Flaming Lips. It's mostly danceable, but the slower tempos and the lo-fi production place the groove in that more theoretical post-punk sense rather than the techno sense. On some of the songs, Blackloud uses lots of processed sounds instead of extra instruments, but the core of the sound is the bass, the drum machine, and his vocals.
He's good at coming up with different ways to keep you entertained. His warmly affected vocals give you a sense that he doesn't take any of it too seriously, which makes it more fun to listen to. "VHF" is probably the best and most entertaining song here -- there are lots of keyboard wiggles, bouncy bass lines, vocals poking fun at themselves, and dorky drum machine parts. And even on the songs that sound almost industrial, like "Outtake," the vocals help take the edge off the song.
Unfortunately, however, there isn't always much going on behind the fun. "VHF" comes together, but most of the songs aren't quite as interesting. The melody in "Outtake" is somewhat irritating, and the phrasing doesn't help, either, even with the call-and-response vocals. "Powder Burn" has a good dance-y beat behind it, but the melody doesn't meet the challenge -- it's not real interesting. It's not bad, but it's not great.
Blackloud does have some interesting ideas, like playing a punk rock song entirely on the bass on "Outtake," the odd meters on the folky "Paper Sailboat," or the dance groove on "Powder Burn." But most of the time he fails to combine a good idea with a catchy melody.
From the Bleachers
The Boils and the Runs, and it's only my first day -- oi!
Two punk rock CDs could not be much more different than The Boils' From the Bleachers and The Runs' Wet Sounds. The two CDs reflect the opposing poles of strong ethos and pathos that make the trajectory of the music we listen to so dynamic. While The Runs churn out the traditional blend of Misfits, Ramones, and The Adolescents in a juvenile, ribald attempt to vent their sexual, societal, and psychological frustrations, The Boils grind those frustrations into a powerful, gritty, 25-song attack that leaves you wanting more.
I'm not saying that The Runs are bad for punk rock -- in fact, their style brings in the masses. The title of the album, Wet Sounds, pretty much gives away everything: they're a traditional punk band with a scummy sense of humor about life, liberty, and all the angst that comes out of punk-y disenfranchisement. And there's really something in this album for everyone who has ever liked any punk over the years. Drummer Shawn Kees bangs out catchy tunes like "My Girlfriend's an Australopithecine" in a style coming straight out of the Orange County, CA, scene of the 1980s. Meanwhile, morbid irony bleeds through vocalist/guitarist James Dunbar's songs, like "Blood Feast (A Love Song)" or "Bought and Sold," where he does his best Mike Ness impression and sneers his way through anti-capitalist lyrics. The problem with the CD isn't the lack of heart, nor is it a lack of talent; the fault lays in a lack of direction -- a lack of taste. The guys in the band seem to lack strength and individuality, and instead of risking a laugh on them, they go for the cheap laugh, the easy sound, and a style lacking in originality.
The Boils are a different story altogether. Although their roots lie deep within the oi! punk of yore, their latest CD, From the Bleachers, presents a unique style that feeds the genre as a whole and brings out the best in faith, compassion for one's fellow man, and friendship (not to mention that they lay down one wicked rock-steady beat). While The Runs are that guy at the bar fucked up out of his wits and breaking objects unnecessarily, The Boils are that guy slapping you on the back, buying you shots, and saying "this one's for the troops." Unstoppable battle ballads like "Into the Enemy" and "A Far Cry From Extinction" highlight the group's moon-stomping attack-mode ethos, which is turned up throughout the album as the band rebukes those who seek glamor and subjugation.
The album's opening track begins with singer Greg Boil showing off his tattoos of the iron eagle and the liberty bell, and you think, "Oh, no! Is this going to be that kind of oi?" The album's lyrics, however, stay faithful to a pragmatic conceptualization of American fraternity and freedom, in the face of a kind of Orwellian takeover staged by business leaders and politicians who wage war for economic resources and the profit of the wicked. At the same time, the band's economic use of solos and punk pretension exemplifies oi!, while their skinhead reggae really kicks. In the end, these guys are just searching for a little freedom in the sun with lass and lager in hand. The Runs, on the other hand, want the same, but are just a little too f-ed up to go and get it. I guess the lesson is that if you like The Runs, you'd better cheer up before that guy from The Boils steals your girlfriend and your beer.
On first listen, the four San Clemente guys in Bril (vocalist/guitarist Dave Starr, guitarist/etc. Kris Winrich, bassist/percussionist Scott Nelson, and drummer Kelly Winrich) make me want to shake my head and consign them to the mental dustbin where I tend to throw most "Adult Alternative"-themed rock these days. With Airless Alarm, the band has distilled down their love of all things Brit-rock (think Radiohead, in particular, minus the fangs -- they even paraphrase "High and Dry" on album closer "Sold Yourself to Luxury") into a slab of AA-ready pop-rock that's inoffensive enough to be played at your mom's birthday party or your local college kegger without anybody getting up to change discs. (Heck, given that the band apparently named themselves after the fabled Brill Building in NYC, the songwriting home of folks like Jerry Leiber, Burt Bacharach, Paul Anka, and Neil Diamond, they may not even mind the AA tag.)
At the same time, though, Airless Alarm's not without its charms. Bril's sound combines a lot of the things I like about Coldplay, Travis, or even Achtung Baby-era U2, and they do it with an adulatory fervor that I can't help but admire. The arena-sized guitars shimmer and shine, practically demanding that they be blasted out of ten-foot-high stacks of amps on a festival stage somewhere, the vocals plead and swoop sweetly (with a bit of falsetto that puts all of this year's American Idol wannabes to shame, actually), and the drums hammer and stagger right where they need to. There're a few songs on here that jump out, like the defiant "Faster" ("Every time you run / I'm faster"), the darker, more sharp-edged "Lush," and the soaring, insistently yearning pop-rock of "Far Away," but mostly Airless Alarm is just a pleasant-sounding blur, sailing by and leaving me nodding my head but not sure why or what the hell I've been listening to. On the good side, while there aren't many immediate handholds to grab onto, there aren't any blatant fuckups or cringe-worthy moments that catch my ear, either, and that's far from the norm with stuff like this.
Bril's not breaking any new ground here -- they're happily treading in the footsteps that've been laid out for them over the past couple of decades. But what the hell; there's a place for that in music, too, isn't there? Not everybody needs to be Sonic Youth, pushing the boundaries of what may or may not be considered "rock." If everybody who played music did it for the sheer inventiveness of it, I can safely say that I myself would have a hard time staying interested -- on some level, it's got to be about enjoying yourself. I'd submit that guys like these who just want to play music like their idols are just as integral to the musical universe. I may not be blown away by 'em just yet, but I hope they stick around.
This Is How I Recover
The bio says Mary Timony's an influence, and that's fair enough, but what about Cat Power? I wonder whether the publicists left that name off the list because it would have been too easy, too obvious. "Carol gets that all the time," they must have thought. Named or unnamed, however, the influence of Chan Marshall on this record is hard to ignore, from the lean, angular post-punk riffs and guitar lines to the bluesy weary-girl vocals.
This Is How I Recover is a bar of bitter chocolate for ex-suitors and naysayers, and that is why I'm slowly enjoying a bar of Ghirardelli's 100% Cocoa as I listen to this record and write this review. I recommend you do the same when you tune in to this collision of clanging, sometimes dissonant guitars. No one could ever accuse Bui of taking the saccharine route with her vocals, and indeed there is something raw and unchecked in her voice on nearly every track, particularly on "The Beauty Myth," "Hell on Banknotes," and the title track.
But I like it when Bui hints at vulnerability, like on "Checked For Bruises," when she sings about "Giv[ing] until my hips are sore." Ouch. I'd also like to hear more of this on "I Don't Call Him By Name," which features a standout but too-short soaring vocal chorus that fades too quickly back into the guitars.
Ex-Boyfriends play standard loud, tight post-punk music. The band is a power trio, with everyone contributing vocals, and the songs on this record, Dear John, deal with gay-specific topics as well as more general subjects. Their sound, appropriately enough, is in the Hüsker Dü mold (they even write songs in the styles of both Bob Mould and Grant Hart), although their songs are more anthemic then either Hüsker Dü or Sugar ever were.
In the Bob vein, there are a few decent tracks, but they let lyrics weaken the songs. On the good ones, like "Him and Me" and "Well, William," they get the balance right, but for the most part, the lyrics just get in the way. The singer likes repeating syllables for extra effect, and the effect is grating. It's particularly bad on "Willingly" and "Relationship," which are a lot more annoying than they would otherwise be. "Willingly" suffers from other problems, as well -- the band added way too many multi-tracked vocal tricks to a melody that's bad to begin with and can't support them. They should have spent less time adding studio stuff and more time working on the song itself.
On the Grant side, their sense of humor isn't quite as good as their sense of gravity. "Ollie" is supposed to be a fun song about playing games at school, but it's just irritating. They try to turn the song into an epic, with bridges and breakdowns and raveups, but the fancy stuff doesn't work. "Stop, Drop, Rock 'n Roll" is supposed to be about the joys of rocking out, but they keep stopping, the same way as they did on "Ollie." If you're singing a song about how we should just "rock out instead," then why is the song so involved? Why don't you just rock out?
There's potential on Dear John, but ultimately it's more annoying than inspiring. With a little more polishing (or maybe less?), they should get more mileage out of their songs.
The Goldstars are a garage-rock group from Chicago that plays music that's pretty much straight out of the '60s -- there's little here that would be out of place on Nuggets. The band's a supergroup (a Chicago one, anyway), to boot, that includes Skipper and Goodtime from the New Duncan Imperials on organ and drums, Sal from The Krinkles on bass, and Dag Juhlin from The Slugs on guitar, and they're very tight in that slightly sloppy way that's perfect for garage rock. On Purple Girlfriend, they enjoy themselves immensely, and they don't seem lose any of their energy in the studio (which is always good).
The album starts off with "DMV," a goofy song where the narrator compares his girlfriend's icy stare to waiting in line at the DMV. Sal, who sings this one, sings the chorus with gusto: "You looked at me like the DMV!" It's sometimes hard to tell exactly what he's singing, but even without enunciating, you get the gist of what he's saying. The Goldstars play the song terse and short and with lots of energy (actually, everything on the record has lots of energy). Goodtime's drumming, with his nervous-sounding drum fills, adds the right sort of tension.
"Fire" is another catchy song, this one sung by Juhlin, and its anti-conformist theme makes it very '60s-ish -- "You've got a fire, baby, and I ain't gonna put you out!" goes the chorus. The main guitar riff is just different enough to give the song a more contemporary feel but not so much that it's out of place. A nice, short guitar solo in the middle brings the song around at just the right moment. If there's one thing these guys know, it's how not to overplay.
Also in true '60s fashion, they think of their album in vinyl terms. They put instrumentals at what would have been the end of each side of an LP. "Purple Girlfriend" wraps up the first side, and it's a song worthy of being the title track, a showcase for guitarist Juhlin -- three pretty and rifftastic minutes of fun. The album ends with a cover of "Comin' Home Baby," (fortunately) transformed from its Mel Tormé version into a soul instrumental featuring Skipper on organ.
The Goldstars should be pleased with themselves on Purple Girlfriend. If it weren't as good, they'd have an excuse, since you don't normally expect that much from supergroups -- they rarely have time to develop a real personality. But the Goldstars don't let themselves get away with anything, and the album shines for it. They could all turn this into their main project -- they're better than a lot of the full-time bands out there.
Yer Living Grave
With Yer Living Grave, these workaholic New York punks deliver their fifth release in less than as many years, a pace of recording matched by very few other contemporary artists besides Deerhoof. Japanther's (Ian Vaneck and Matt Reilly) press materials claim that the band has meanwhile played more than eight hundred shows in the course of at least 19 tours. As of now, the reward of so much hard work appears to be nothing more than the opportunity for more of the same. Fortunately, Vaneck and Reilly thus far show no signs of becoming jaded or unhappy with their place in the music world.
So much less, they share a mood of almost singsong playfulness with another two-man band, Lightning Bolt, Japanther cannot simply astound the listener in the same way, nor do they seem to want to. What they are able give is a sense of the danger of rock music that is often difficult to find. This is not, however, "danger" in the sense of the creepiness of Deerhunter or the Get Hustle, but more of a sense of being cut loose from the moorings of whatever passes for a normal life these days. In that way, and in its endearingly low fidelity, Yer Living Grave reminds one of the freewheeling garage-rock of the Black Lips.
Furthermore, the Black Lips come to mind because, unlike two-piece indie bands like Lightning Bolt or Death From Above or Hella, Japanther are engaged not in noise-jamming but in songwriting (not that that is a necessarily superior activity), despite the samples and, well, noise that suggest otherwise. This endeavor is not always successful, but on Yer Living Grave it yields at least the admirable "The Furrs is Gone," a legitimate rock anthem reimagined by stoned teenagers. Its loping garage-funk and goofy irreverence are concentrations of elements that mark the album as a whole, and Japanther's music in general, and probably their whole outlook on life. Ultimately, it is bands like Japanther that remind us of what we thought was so great about rock and roll in the first place.
The Lawrence Arms
I can't get over this CD. Oh! Calcutta! is the latest creation from Brendan, Chris, and Neil of The Lawrence Arms. You might remember them from such underground punk acts as The Broadways and Slapstick, but this time they have certainly outdone their past ensembles in terms of sonic density and emotional intensity. This album exceeds all prior attempts by The Lawrence Arms in viciousness, combining contempt for the modern world with outcast irony and agony to create a new cult classic replete with impressive one-liners and aggressive musical cohesion.
With Oh! Calcutta!, The Lawrence Arms' improved recording prowess smooths out some of the rough edges that had limited the power of their message in the past. Neil Hennessy's drums and Brendan Kelly's bass pound out a complex rhythmic attack with aggressive force, accentuating Chris McCaughan's fiery, harsh guitar playing. Meanwhile, lyrics about hollow debauchery and scorn penetrate as Brendan and Chris alternate between shrill screaming and low-pitched howling, once again exhibiting the dynamism of one of punk's foremost duos.
Indeed, the album as a whole represents a kind of uncontrollable dialectic. It is a clash between the complementary disasters of self-abuse and depression at the cost of society. Songs such as "Cut It Up" and "Like a Record Player" highlight the torment that these artists feel at the hands of their own indulgence, while other songs, including "Recovering the Opposable Thumb," beckon others to escape societal control via the same decadence. In the pits of despair and decadence of a kind of wasted world brought out in the album lie a couple of lyrical gems that make this perhaps the crew's best project so far. The group has always killed with great one-liners, but with classics like, "I'm lonely like a lazy weekend," and "Our history creeps fast through the gutters," Oh! Calcutta! includes lyrics that anybody can really sink their teeth into, giving the album the meat it needs to maintain credibility throughout the punk rock world. Even though this album does not strike me as deep enough to transcend the dark desires of the wasting world, I think that its attempt to circumscribe its excitement and freedom could someday earn it true cult classic status.
My Morning Jacket
It Still Moves
Unfortunately, I feel like we're kind of behind the ball on this one, and I guess in a way we are, because My Morning Jacket has blown up a bit since we got these discs. These days, you can pick up any issue of whatever "alternative" rock mag you prefer and see at least one MMJ mention. The band is playing Coachella this year, as well as opening up for Pearl Jam on the first leg of that band's tour. Of course, with all that forward-motion in the industry, you have your usual cries of "sellout" or "I liked them better when they sounded more like (insert obscure hipster reference here)." Do I feel that way? Eh...not so much. But honestly, I'm not here to review the newest stuff, so here's a bit of a look backwards.
It Still Moves would probably be MMJ's "breakout" album -- the cuts on it definitely provided the momentum for the big push that the band is experiencing at the moment. I've heard "Mahgeetah," "Golden," and "One Big Holiday" on the radio, in bars, in stores in the mall, etc. -- all as recently as the last couple of weeks. What really surprises me is that something that gets that much market saturation is actually something that I like. A lot. The tracks on It Still Moves retain the classic MMJ sound: slightly twangy songs, drenched in reverb, with a hint of old-school soul and R&B bubbling just underneath the surface to make you shake that ass. Some of the songs are full-on rockers (the aforementioned radio-play ones are good examples of that), and some are mellow, airy jams ("I Will Sing You Songs," "Steam Engine"). If you're a fan of the Old 97s, Wilco -- hell, even the New Amsterdams -- I think you'd dig the hell out of this album.
Acoustic Citsuoca was probably intended to fill the gap between My Morning Jacket LPs (like every other major label EP release), but I must say that I really like the conceit behind the EP itself. Acoustic Citsuoca was recorded at a small Halloween Night 2004 performance in Massachussetts, ostensibly for a close friend of the band and a few hundred of his closest friends. Makes me feel all warm and autumn-ish inside (although as I've lived in Houston for most of my life, I confess to not really knowing what that season feels like). It feels as if the band were playing a small show in Haddonfield, Illinois...just before that Myers boy came home and heads began to roll. But I digress. As you can probably guess from the title, all of the songs are played "unplugged," but they still retain a certain turbulent energy that makes the entire EP thoroughly enjoyable. "Golden" translates extremely well -- the best of the bunch, I think -- becoming almost sublime here in its stripped-down form. My only complaint is that there are only five tracks on the EP. Maybe with their new-found fame My Morning Jacket will be invited onto Unplugged, and we'll get a full album out of it. If Acoustic Citsuoca is any indication, it would be pretty damned good.
So, even if you're not a fan of the Jacket's recent more soul-leaning material, you should check out It Still Moves and Acoustic Citsuoca. Sure, you may end up just liking their "older stuff," but who knows? You might find yourself with more context for the new material, too. Either way, it's a win for the listener.
Actum Procul EP
Before I start this review I just want to get some things out of the way. I chose this album because I was sure it was going to be awful. First of all, there was an unnecessary umlaut in the name. This fact alone would have been enough to make fun of, but the umlaut was over a non-existent Latinesque word. "Dai" is not a Latin word; "Opus Dei" is a very common Latin phrase meaning "work of God." I get the feeling that "Opus Dei" was already taken, so one of the guys in the band turned to the other and said, "Just turn the 'e' into an 'a', dude. And put some dots over it for street cred!" Latin does not use umlauts. Trust me, I know -- I took two years of Latin in high school. Not once did I put two dots over any word, not even when I translated Iron Maiden's "Somewhere In Time" into Latin for a project (and if anything
deserves to have umlauts, it's an Iron Maiden song). That being said, I grudgingly enjoyed this album; I even got a couple of the songs stuck in my head. But then again, last week I had the theme from Disney's GummiBears
cartoon stuck in my head. (Here it is if you want to hear it: http://jen.fluxcapacitor.net/cse/gummi/GummiBears.wav
. No need to thank me.)
All the songs on this 5-track EP had a similar progressive hard rock flavor to them -- think Mars Volta or Tool Lite --except for the last track. Musically, they were very enjoyable and had some nice hooks. The lead singer, however, must stop Cookie Monstering when bits of the song fall out of his range. This tendency may have more to do with the fact that this is a live EP than with the normal sound of Opus Däi's songs, though, since a quick sample of the songs off of their full-length studio album doesn't have him doing the Cookie Monster growl.
The fifth song off the album is probably my favorite, a neat little acoustic number called "Best Regards" in which the lead singer actually sings through the entire song and does quite well at that. All in all, the album is good enough to make the "my iPod only has 500 MB left on it, should I leave this off?" cut, but may be inferior to their studio sound.
In a society where crunk is the style of a song and American Idols reign supreme, one can't help but wonder how far rock needs to progress in order to maintain its relevance. For those who've been keeping score, the game's not going well. Hip-hop infuses our slang and our style, flavors our dancing, and is nearly synonymous with marketing schemes (has anyone not seen Snoop in a phone ad?). Plus, nearly anything subversive can pass for rock -- just put on some leather or visit Hot Topic. Gone are the days of piss and bravado, startling ideas, and decadent ways. Today rock is merely a stone on the floor, recycled prog clunkers, flaccid Matchbox 20, or the lame Kiss reunion tour. Put simply, little that is modern stands for rock these days, does something new and does it alone.
Enter Placebo, three brooding romantics with some shit on their minds. With their first studio release in three years, Meds finds Placebo in the unlikeliest of places: the bona fide rock record. Here is a batch of songs served up raw, without the fixings. Cast off are the pretenses and heavy synthesizers; every sound on the album is scaled back to the basics. From the use of piano to heavyweight mixer Flood (of U2 and Smashing Pumpkins fame), Placebo departs from the familiar territory showcased on 2003's ultra-successful Sleeping with Ghosts, and instead lay themselves bare, finding a new sound in the process that may just be what rock's been missing. As frontman Brian Molko put it in a recent interview with the band's label, "We allowed space for the songwriting to shine through rather than show up how clever we were... We were going for simplicity rather than elaboration."
But the album does more than simply rock. On Meds, Placebo takes us to the core of the human condition, where we learn of sordid lives played out to a beat. The songs, like the characters, are naked and open. Like the topless model cowering in the album insert, they are vulnerable to our judgment, and perhaps even taunt it. Meds tells stories of life at a slant -- alienated loners and love gone sickly awry. Drugs are the cure and sex is salvation, but only until the lights flicker on.
Fierce guitars, pulsating rhythms, and a tight production (thanks to Goldfrapp producer Dimitri Tikovoi) lend Meds a vicious yet polished feel. Most notably, though, the album finds Molko self-assured in every role he assumes. Whether playing a battered lover, in the haunting ballad "Pierrot the Clown," or a cringing addict, in "In the Cold Light of Morning," Molko has the tenacity and skill to breathe life into his harrowing songs. The album is not all lows, however. Expect "One of a Kind," with its catchy percussion, to become the anthem of subversive kids everywhere and "Song to Say Goodbye" the theme for Dr. Philís guests.
Should Placebo choose to stay on this path, ripping out their hearts to the pulse of guitars, they'll take rock in the direction in which it needs to go. Regardless of where this quixotic and steadily brilliant band eventually finds itself, however, this is one dose of Meds you won't want to miss.
Quintron & Miss Pussycat
Swamp Tech/Electric Swamp
On Monday, August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans. The ensuing natural disaster, combined with yet another demonstration by the Bush Administration of its massive incompetence (and criminally negligent attitude toward those deemed electorally unnecessary), created a human tragedy on a scale not seen in this country in at least a generation. One of the hardest-hit areas of the city was the Ninth Ward, home to thousands of poor blacks, as well as to our current protagonists, Mr. Quintron & Miss Pussycat, and their Spellcaster Lodge. If Dubya really does hate black people, I can't imagine his attitude toward white Drum Buddy/puppet-wielding weirdos can be much better. It probably wasn't the kind of "Ninth Ward Breakdown" Quintron had in mind on one of the duo's previous albums. At any rate, the spirit of N'awlins can apparently not be fully suppressed even by events such as these -- the music goes on.
Which brings us to the present album/DVD release, Swamp Tech/Electric Swamp. It was a bit jarring to notice no reference to the hurricane in the music or the liner notes, but that's because Q & MP were about to embark on a tour in support of the disc just before the tragedy struck. So what we have here is the last artifact of that scene from those devil-may-care pre-Katrina days of living nearly under the sea. And a damn fine artifact it is. I hadn't really heard the last few Quintron albums, so I don't know if this is the product of a continuing evolution or more of a break with the past, but I was struck both by the improved sound quality of the recording (even though it was apparently mostly recorded live to two-track stereo), as compared to my memories of previous releases, and by the accessibility of the songs. There's still a certain junk-shop weirdo factor involved at all times, but most of the songs are quite danceable and not particularly noisy or abrasive. They're catchy to the point that after a few too many listens on "Repeat," I had to turn Swamp Tech (I'll get to the Electric Swamp part in a minute) off to preserve what's left of my sanity.
The first track is an upbeat organ/synth boogie about shoplifting, with nice backing vocals by Miss Pussycat. "Fly Like a Rat" features Miss P on shouty lead vocals, while "Swamp Buggy Baddass" is one of those catchy tunes that gets on my nerves after a few too many listens. Another organ jam is followed by the short charming instrumental "Tea Time." The next track, "French Quarter Faggot," makes ill-advised use of the word "faggot" to denote (according to the liner notes) a "...weird person. I think it is cool to be a faggot and if some stupid people are calling you that anyway then it must be something good." Perhaps, but the puzzling aspect is that the song's lyrics seem to be making fun of the person anyway; e.g., "I like the sound of electro-clash." This is followed by, no joke, a Quintronified cover of Kiss's "God of Thunder." The next track, though, "Chatterbox," is probably my favorite on the album. As the liner notes indicate, the following track, "Dream Captains," is basically a power ballad, quite a surprise. The final album track has some more shouty Miss P vocals and is followed by a couple of unlisted clean tracks with Quintron's pottymouth bleeped out.
The DVD portion of the program, Electric Swamp, features Miss Pussycat's puppet world, with a storyline about Formosan termites getting ripped on Cajun sno-cones and the hijinks that ensue. Several Quintron tracks from the album make appearances, such as "Swamp Buggy Baddass" at a termite rave, and "Dream Captains," with non-puppet footage of Quintron as the head Dream Captain, plus several lovely lasses eating a chocolate cake version of the Quintronics Drum Buddy in reverse.
All in all, a fine set from Quintron & Miss Pussycat. Of course, for the true in-person puppetry/one-man-band experience, check them out live if you can.
I'm finding lately that I've got a tendency to want to dismiss the little two-song demos/samplers that occasionally appear here on my desk. "What's the point?" I'll catch myself asking. "Fuck, I can't be bothered to listen to this -- what the hell am I going to learn about this band in two measly songs?"
Fact is, though, that's just me being lazy. When I take a step back, it occurs to me that I've bought a ton of albums based solely on the strength of one well-written, brilliant gem of a song: Rosie Thomas, Armor For Sleep, Wolfie, The Black Keys, Asian Dub Foundation, Underworld; the list could go on for pages. Sometimes a song or two is all it takes, and then you're hooked, caught, now and (possibly, anyway) forever.
(This is, incidentally, the general idea behind the "single." Since most songs that make it to the radio in these parts well and truly suck, however, I'd hazard a guess that all those record execs cranking out single after single have shrugged off that "well-written, brilliant gem" bit I mentioned above in favor of a "these people will listen to the sound of wet carpet molding if we tell them it's good" philosophy. To each their own.)
So that brings me to the self-titled, two-song EP/demo from Houston's own Radio Pioneer. I didn't get it sent to me, mind you, but actually went right up to Dwayne Cathey, the band's lead guitarist, after a show and asked if they had any CDs. And yet, even with that, it still took me a damn long time to get around to this disc. Which is a shame, because it's damn good. I should mention that I wasn't entirely sure what to expect, even knowing the band's pedigree -- The Tie That Binds, Guns of August, The John Sparrow, and probably two dozen bands I never got a chance to check out -- but the Radio Pioneer guys certainly didn't disappoint.
The first of the two tracks, "Wrong From Right," melds Mission of Burma-esque guitar lines with emo/screamo loud-soft dynamics and balances delicately-picked guitars with feet-off-the-floor hardcore fury, and while the lyrics are kind of dull for my tastes, the music more than makes up for 'em. The shining star of the disc, though, is "We Both Suffer," which aims for the middle ground between Burning Airlines and Braid and plows right through it at full speed, eschewing the screamo in favor of a more post-punk, DC indie-rock kind of a sound. It burns in all the right places but slows down and shifts gears exactly where it needs to, and that's a rare thing. (Oh, and weirdly enough, what the track really reminds me of is sadly-departed H-town compatriots Panic In Detroit...)
At any rate, it seems that I need to thank Radio Pioneer for getting me out of my cranky-old-man-ish "Two songs? Feh..." stage and reminding me that sometimes that's all you really need to hear.
The Way to Bitter Lake
Not without potential, I suppose, but in my book the whole sparse wispy female vocals over even sparser music needs some je ne sais quoi to lift it, and The Way to Bitter Lake just has a whole lot of quoi: almost comically repetitive minimal riffs, uninteresting lyrics, dispassionate vocal delivery, and one of the most estranged relations to rhythmic timekeeping I've ever heard. And yet with all that in the anti, there's something that keeps me thinking that down the road that Spider might mature into something quite powerful -- maybe it's a couple more ambitious lengthy songs, or even just the song title "Don't Be Afraid, I've just come to say Goodbye, 'The Ballad of Clementine Jones'", which is either an inscrutably brilliant formal conceit of a song title (look at the use of capitalization! the quotes! is the singer saying goodbye to the song?) or just a cluster of phrases and punctuation gone sour. So if I hear people talking about Spider a couple years down the road in hushed tones, I'll believe it, or at least give her another try. In the meantime, though, in a universe where my Cat Power CDs work, I can't imagine I'll ever be playing this again.
Okay, I'm a bit less panicked now. When I first threw Without Feathers, the sophomore effort from Montreal-dwelling indie-rockers the Stills into the CD player, I had this horrible feeling that the Alzheimer's had finally begun to kick in. I mean, my memory's not great on the best of days, and it's gotten worse as I've gotten older -- I've gone from being That Guy Who Can Quote Simpsons Episodes All Day Long to That Guy Who Can't Remember What Floor He Parked His Car On in the Parking Garage -- but seriously, this was scary. The album started, and as it rolled along I was getting more and more worried, wondering how in the hell it was that none of it sounded at all familiar to me. Surely I remembered some of Logic Will Break Your Heart, the band's 2003 full-length? It'd been a while since the last listen, sure, but not that long, right? But nope, this was pretty damn foreign. Either I'd completely forgotten what the Stills sounded like, or something deeper and more far-reaching was going on.
Thankfully, it turned out to be the latter. The reason nothing on Without Feathers rang any bells is because, well, it sounds like a completely different band. The Stills who gave us the Strokes-ish urban rock of "Lola Stars and Stripes" and the Killers-a-year-early shimmer of "Love and Death" have meandered off over the horizon and come back totally changed men. Gone are the disco-ish beats, the jagged guitars, the New Wave-ish distance -- it's been replaced by something warmer, more down-to-earth, more friendly, somehow. I'm guessing the shift is partly due to the departure of guitarist Greg Paquet, which allowed drummer Dave Hamelin to jump to the guitars and really flex his songwriting muscle. Last time out all the songs were credited to the band as a whole, but on this disc Hamelin's definitely taken the reins (if he didn't have it before anyway; who knows?), writing or co-writing all but three songs, while the band's shuffled in "new" keyboardist Liam O'Neil and replacement drummer Colin Brooks of Sea Ray. Really, the only things that've stayed static in the intervening years since Logic Will Break Your Heart are Tim Fletcher's haunting, half-smiling vocals and Oliver Crowe's stately bass.
Sonically, it feels like the Stills have taken a step further back along the rock timeline than a lot of their New-New Wave peers (although the band never really fit into that whole Interpol/Franz Ferdinand scene, to my mind), back to the earth-toned haze of '70s roots-rock. There're hints of Neil Young, The Band, Bruce Springsteen (see the Danny Federici-esque piano throughout), and even the less-prog bits of Supertramp all over the place, and two of the best tracks on here, "It Takes Time" and the smiling-but-threatening "Destroyer," jump beyond even that to the glory days of Motown, incorporating some gorgeous horns and driving R&B beats for a cool groove with a sharp dollop of indie-kid sweetness dripped on top. There's only one lonely throwback to the Logic Will Break Your Heart days, "Baby Blues," and the band manages to inject some humanity into the sleek sheen even there, thanks partly to the delicate sneer of Emily Haines (Metric, Broken Social Scene). Beyond that one track, though, Without Feathers an organic, chaotic affair, from the gentle opener "In the Beginning," which manages to truck along nonchalantly despite being about an unwieldy subject like, um, the creation of the universe, through "Helicopters," which brings to mind late-period Superchunk, to the jaunty mess of "Oh Shoplifter," which sounds like the Stills are playing the contents of a junk shop in the background. Where Logic was clean, Feathers is rough around the edges and scruffy -- and stranger still, it doesn't seem to mind.
Of course, such a drastic change is bound to throw off a fair chunk of the folks who swooned over Logic Will Break Your Heart just a few years back, and that's unfortunate, because there's a lot here to love. There aren't as many out-and-out hooks as on Logic, it's true, but there's the building, Death Cab-gone-theatrical churn of "The Mountain," the beautifully sparse relationship elegy of "She's Walking Out," the aforementioned "It Takes Time" and "Destroyer," and even the melancholy Pink Floyd-ish piano pop of "In the End." Without Feathers is a slow burner of an album, maybe, but it's also a much more mature, fully realized pile of songs than the Stills' previous stuff. I still love Logic, certainly, but I'm very glad I was able to take the time to let Without Feathers sink in, as well.
Below the Branches
Take a dash of the Beach Boys, the warmth of a sunset, a sprinkle of Velvet Underground, and a slab of the Beatles, and you might have something close to Kelley Stoltz's ambitious sophomore effort, Below the Branches. It is altogether new, altogether old, and everything you wouldn't expect from the Renaissance man who recorded the entire album and played every instrument on it, from harpsichord to wind chime, solo.
To call Stoltz eclectic would be an understatement. Borrowing from the best of '60s garage rock, '70s rhythm and blues, and the organic sentimentality of singer-songwriters like Nick Drake and Jeff Buckley, Stoltz creates music that's as stunning in its visceral imagery as it is in its sultry feedback. Piano-driven standouts like "Words" and "The Sun Comes Through" open the ears with beats and anxious melodies but take measured turns for the unexpected. They fade into nature to make one's mind wander as their form gets obscured beneath blankets of trees. Suddenly, the listener is greeted by birds, insects galore, and falling leaves. Then the music returns, as fresh as before, but the scene is surreal -- a virtual trip. Stoltz also tries this magic on "Birdies Singing," but this time around the birds chirp throughout; it's a groovy backdrop to a pulsing beat.
Below reveals Stoltz as a mixer of sorts; he loves to pair things that others keep separate. Melody and feedback, the forest and the beach, it's all meshed together in a distinctive fashion. Tracks like "Ever thought of coming back," with its honey-sweet harmonies, are packaged together with Nirvana-like feedback, while "The Rabbit who Hugged the World" is reminiscent of the '60s at its surfer-boy best. Though the lyrics can be drippy and at times too unreal, the music stills allows these songs to shine. It's a hell of an album to find your self in, but getting lost in it is so much better.
The Primos EP
"FUCK CORPORATE FAKERS. SUPPORT TRUE INDIE MUSIC." So blasts the slogan on the press materials of Mexico City quartet Sub-Division. "Watch for the crazy kids of Sub-Division as they make their way up the CMJ charts, just being added this week, and already closing in on the top 20 spot." So reads the text of the press materials of Mexico City quartet Sub-Division. This young band has something yet to learn about how self-representation can obstruct one's purpose. It's to be hoped that they learn it. Though this six-track EP has only three actual songs, the balance being given to unnecessary remixes (including two of the same song), it promises a much greater wealth later on. What this band is doing could be described as punk rock if it weren't so spooky and ethereal, or industrial goth if it weren't stripped-down and (supposedly) largely live, but mostly it's deceptively efficient and darkly intriguing. Though two of the three songs ("Express" and "Leave Me") are seemingly marred by the thudding monotony of an industrial dance beat, both are much shorter their openings suggest -- "Leave Me" is barely two minutes -- and only around long enough to make a musical point and get out of the way. Furthermore, they are complemented by the weirdly pretty "Promise," which seems to disappear when it has hardly begun, even at a full three minutes. Meanwhile, the heavy delay on Amira Baltezar's vocals makes them ineffably disturbing, as if she were a translucent spectre instead of a rock singer. The combination is simple enough to be easily comprehensible yet strange enough to be interesting. If Sub-Division has enough ideas to fill out their music without bloating it with repetition, they may yet discover that people buy music not for its politics but for its aesthetic appeal.
Young For Eternity
Sometimes the hype works, even if it's not necessarily the way it was meant to. I'd heard so damn much about the Subways' debut, Young For Eternity, before I ever actually heard it that realistically, any hopes I had for the band were ridiculously overblown and bound to be smashed into tiny little pieces as soon as I hit the "Play" button.
And yeah, that's pretty much what happened. What I'd hoped for was some good, solid, balls-to-the-wall rawk, a Brit version of Australia's equally youthful Vines and an antidote to all the shiny, super-processed retro-rock coming out of American speakers lately. On the first few listens, I was sorely disappointed -- there were some decent songs, sure, but it wasn't bowl-you-over brilliant. I shrugged, tossed it onto the pile, and moved on.
Later, though, I kept coming back to Young For Eternity, drawn back to the raucous fire of "Rock & Roll Queen," the grimy, grinding rawk of "City Pavement," and the magnificent roar of "Somewhere," a track that marries the Smashing Pumpkins with Hendrix-y trippiness and closes the album with the coolest barrage of pummeling guitars and "Na-na-na" vocals imaginable. The disc, naturally, grew on me in a big way. And in the end, I got what I wanted, although I didn't really know it at the time. As bandmates Billy Lunn (guitars/vocals), Charlotte Cooper (bass/vocals), and Josh Morgan (drums) plowed on through one roaring blast of amped-up guitar rock after another, I caught myself wanting to stop and listen more closely -- and not to fun, fast, headbanging stuff like the title track, but to the quieter, more restrained tracks. I wanted to go back to stuff like the drifting, druggy "Lines Of Light," a song that plays like the Verve's Richard Ashcroft on a really Floydian trip, and album opener "I Want To Hear What You Have Got To Say," which, while it's still undoubtedly loud and raw, is also nicely contemplative and confused (and reminds me strangely at points of fellow Brits New Model Army).
Then I listen back to the warily sweet "Mary" a third or fourth time, wondering once again who the heck this Mary person is to let kids just hang out in her unfurnished flat, and when the thumping drums and plaintive yelp come crashing in, it hits me: the song is a picture-perfect reinvention of those surprisingly dark, disturbing pop-rock tunes from the '60s that talked about car crashes, death, and the end of love. When Lunn hits the chorus in "Mary," there're echoes of Del Shannon's "Runaway," in particular, so much so that I keep waiting for the guy to break into the "I been walkin' in the rain..." bit. Looking a little deeper into the rest of Young for Eternity, there're splashes of '50s/'60s pop-rock all over the place, from the Phil Spector-esque repeated chorus in "Rock & Roll Queen" to the more soul-sounding "Oh Yeah" (the chord progression of which brings to mind "Radar Love"). I know these kids probably claim Nirvana and Oasis as influences a lot more readily than they would, say, Buddy Holly, but I'll be damned if they don't sound to me like they're channeling the essence of music that was made at least 30 years before they were born.
All of this makes a lot of sense, really, when you think about it. From its title onwards, Young For Eternity is a celebration of sorts of youth, and so were all those old songs by people like Dion and Frankie Valli. What's more, neither those old songs nor the Subways are dumbed down to make things kid-friendly, but rather present the trials and tribulations of being young from the point of view of somebody who's actually living through 'em. We have a tendency in our society to treat our young as overdramatic slackers who don't know or experience anything, whether it's loss or heartbreak or addiction or whatever else.
And that kind of thing comes near to a dangerous mass delusion, if you ask me. Face it: right now, your kids are going through all the things you did, and not all of those things are pretty or nice or safe. Sometimes the car is going too fast when it rounds the curve and plunges over the cliff, and sometimes that weird lady who lets kids hang around her flat is actually their connection (okay, so that's probably only my interpretation, but you get my point). All that stuff exists, and it's idiotic to pretend it doesn't and expect young people to just sit down, be happy, and listen to nothing but cheery, vapid pop.
Anyway, my Andy Rooney-esque rant aside, the other nice thing about the Subways' sound is that even when it's raw and distorted and angry-sounding, there's a kind of tender core beneath. Take "With You," for example: the song is a furious blast of jagged rock, but the lyrics themselves are a damn sweet-hearted ode to a just-out-of-reach object of desire. Ditto for "Rock & Roll Queen" or the Supergrass-meets-Franz Ferdinand "Holiday," where seemingly mindless blasts of full-on rock fury disguise the lovelorn teenage yearnings written out in the words. Is it deep, meaningful, all that crap? Nah, not really, but it is heartfelt, and that's pretty crucial. Taken as a whole, Young For Eternity is an impressive collection of what are essentially dead-simple, timeless pop songs, dressed up in noise and fire. Forget the hype; I'll gladly take what's actually in there.
If I had to sit down and come up with the single biggest shift in the music industry over the past decade or so, it wouldn't be the portable MP3 player, online filesharing, MySpace, podcasting, or any of the other real visible technological/cultural jumps we've witnessed since the mid-1990s. It's something simpler and more basic, really: the breaking down of barriers between "live" and "electronic" instrumentation. There was a time not that long ago when rock was only rock when there was a drummer, a couple of guitarists, and a singer all standing on stage. At the same time, you were fairly unlikely to go to a rave and see the DJ step out from behind the turntables to play complex Spanish guitar passages -- there were essentially two different worlds, and the gap between wasn't bridged very frequently.
Now, of course, rappers like Atmosphere and The Roots tour with "live" drummers and backing bands, pop divas mutate and manipulate their voices beyond recognition using studio effects, and rock bands are just as likely to have a sampler onstage with them as they are a slew of distortion pedals. Where people like Beck, The Beta Band, Broken Social Scene, and even Sublime and, yes, Korn would once have been seen as anything but the norm, they and innovative bands like them have instead become gatekeepers, showing the rest of the musical world that "hey, look what you can do when you get over your fears..."
And personally, I think that's fucking brilliant. The Rules of Music have always been arbitrary, whatever the context -- "Thou shalt have a verse, then a chorus, then another verse," like it's the unerring formula for a good song -- but the one about guitars, drums, and the rest being "real" instruments, as opposed to samplers and drum machines has always seemed particularly shortsighted to me. It shouldn't be about the tools but about what you do with them. So if Björn of (hypothetical) Norwegian death metal heroes Degorgitated Ulcer wants to trigger overlapping samples of Mongolian herdsmen singing overtones during a guitar solo, heck, he should do it. Does it sound good/cool/interesting? Great, then do it.
I'm especially grateful for the toppling of the Live-vs-Electronic Wall because of bands like Talkdemonic, whose Beat Romantic manages to combine the most beautiful aspects of classical music (strings, which for me beat the heck out of most other instruments) with subtle, DNTEL-esque beats, thick, fudgy-sounding synths/organs, and atmospheric electronics. It's instrumental music that mashes up whatever sounds it needs to make things work, from whatever source, and spits them out as something new -- a decade back, this album would've broken all the rules.
The disc starts off sweet and orchestral with "Veraison," which brings Lisa Molinaro's viola swooping in to provide what sounds an introductory piece to a play about death and rebirth (or something). Then "Mountaintops in Caves" kicks in, with gentle, soft beats and fuzzy curtains of synth noise floating beneath quietly plucked strings. The track after, "Dusty Fluorescent/Wooden Shelves," veers off into the opposite direction, with tumultuous, frantic live drumming and murky banjo (courtesy of Kevin O'Connor, the other half of the Talkdemonic duo).
The stellar, affecting "Junesong," however, is where the band manages to truly meld their two sides together, using somber organs, programmed and live military-sounding drums, synths, strings, and repetitive banjo lines to craft a sound that is at once urgent and elegaic. "Cascade Locks" picks up the baton from there and runs with it, transmuting atmospheric elements into a thumping, head-nodding bliss-out that practically begs for hallucinogenic substances or slow-motion video of birds in flight, one of the two. On later tracks, O'Connor and Molinaro venture even further afield, with the skittering, paranoiac drums of "Manhattan '81," the beautiful string movements of "Bering" that slowly transmute into grating, disturbing noise, the droplet-like keys of "Axe & Red Sweater," and the cheesy "waterfall" video game sounds and wartime(?) samples of the genuinely bizarre yet still involving "Mountain Cats." With each track, it feels like they're stretching their legs a bit more and grabbing hold of new musical territory.
The "songs" are all fairly short, less like movie soundtracks and more like little glimpses of some other place you can't quite see or pieces of one gigantic über-soundtrack -- each piece leads into one another, sometimes directly, but no single piece is itself longer than about three-and-a-half minutes. And right now that feels like a welcome change from the massive soundscapes of folks like Ulrich Schnauss or Explosions in the Sky, both of whom I love, definitely, but who can get a bit long-winded at times. If anything, in fact, I found myself wishing the songs on Beat Romantic were longer, extended out to trance-inducing lengths. Instead, I ended up having to hit the "Back" button repeatedly while listening to one track or another so I could get a real sense of where it was going and what it was doing.
And besides, by then I just wanted to hear them all again.
Jazz music -- these days, if you don't like it, you at least know about it. It exists today in various forms, of course, including "light," "modern," and "electronic"... yes, that's right, "electronic." "Electronic jazz" describes a style in which the music is created entirely using synthesizers and other electronic instruments, and Eric Terdjman's Rebirth is a wonderful example of the subgenre.
Of French ethnicity and living in Israel, Terdjman repeatedly proves that one does not need a horn, an upright bass, and a drum kit to keep the spirit of cool alive. His album consists of tunes that, to the ignorant listener, might as well come from an acoustic jazz band. On the contrary, however, he's produced these songs with little more than a keyboard and mixed them on a computer all by himself. With songs like "Sunset," "No Future," "Cyber," and the title track, Terdjman delivers an album that is equal parts engaging, head nod-inducing, and relaxing.
Whether you're a jazz afficionado, a casual fan, or a complete neophyte, I'd heartily recommend Rebirth. While it's good music first and foremost, it's also reassuring to know that the essence of jazz can be perpetuated using today's electronic media tools.
Holy fucking shit, this is bizarre. I'm sitting here listening to what sounds like mid-century swing-jazz as interpreted by a band made up of Koopas and little mustachioed Italian guys, and I'm not immediately clawing the headphones out of my ears. Which is crazy, because the music, with the vintage Nintendo keyboards, breathily sweet female vocals (all in Japanese, naturally, although some of the song titles are in English) should be, generally speaking, utterly maddening to me. Thankfully, the disc is blink-your-eyes-and-miss-it short, or I have a feeling I'd be stabbing myself in the eyes with a ballpoint pen. As it it, there's just enough to leave a slightly intoxicating taste in your mouth (er, ears) without the sugary sweetness doing any permanent damage.
And yes, you're reading the above correctly -- YMCK's Family Music was completely and totally constructed using the sounds of old video game consoles, particularly those ancient 8-bit Nintendo machines. The band apparently rewires (I'm guessing) the old consoles into their keyboards and then uses 'em to create some surprisingly intricate '50s-style jazz, with a serious nod towards ragtime and the Big Band era. "POW*POW," in particular, sounds to my ears like it could be a Cole Porter song, transposed to the mid-'80s and used as the backdrop for one of the Mario Bros. series of games.
Then there's "SOCOPOGOGO," which, with its badly-digitized samba rhythms, makes me think of "Girl From Ipanema"; "Synchronicity," which pretty much announces itself as pop-jazz from the outer reaches of space; and "Tetrominon - From Russia with Blocks," which is a funkier, more "modern"-sounding bit of swirling, fluttering J-pop (and is dedicated -- yep, you guessed it -- to the intensely addictive Tetris game that pretty much started the GameBoy craze). "Yellow, Magenta, Cyan and Black" runs along the same lines, a J-pop-ish, crush-like ode to the wonders of the CMYK (YMCK in Japan, I take it?) palette. Finally, the album closes with "Your Quest Is Over," which sure sounds like a lounged-up version of the music you used to get when you completed Legend of Zelda; it goes a bit long, but it still brings back fond memories of hours logged in front of a TV, controller in hand.
Taken all together, I don't really know what to make of this. I can't say I'll be listening to it often -- heck, I may never listen to it again in its entirety -- but at the same time, I don't have the urge to frisbee it across the office or microwave it or do something else destructive and childish. Despite my expectations, I find myself not hating this but rather admiring it in a weird way. Maybe it's the innocent joy of it that disarms me somewhat -- while this sure sounds like a joke to me, I think the three members of YMCK (vocalist Midori Kurihara and keyboardists Tomoyuki Nakamura and Takeshi Yokemura) are passionately, intensely serious about this. Maybe somehow, that makes it okay...or maybe it's because they're actually decent songwriters, musically (no clue about the lyrics, beyond the chorus of "Yellow, Magenta, Cyan and Black"), and capable of turning an idea this weird into something strangely catchy.
Is Family Music for everybody, then? Got me, there. Possibly not, unless you're already a fan of either the J-pop "genre" or utterly obsessed with old-school Nintendo games. Come to think of it, though, I may need to get a copy for my anime-fanatic/game-addicted little brother...