The Dresden Dolls
It all begins with a tinny, toy piano melody that seems to indicate that we're entering some old, dusty dollhouse in someone's forgotten attic, populated by the porcelain dolls that are strewn through the liner artwork, who alternate between innocently angelic and eerily demonic, with cracks in their glass and cloudy eyed glares that warn against entering this collage of splintered personality. Holding court in this house are Brian Viglione and Amanda Palmer, the Dresden Dolls, whose name simultaneously conjures up tempting Weimar cabaret decadence and the ensuing fiery disaster. Decked out in stark white makeup and burlesque couture they are a visually arresting band, but they are anything but window dressing. The Dolls have already made lasting impressions on legions of audiences who have experienced their formidable live show. Even without a full length, they play to sold out crowds that most developing bands would kill for. The Dolls honed their skills on stage and when it came time to make the leap to record they did it on their own terms and on their own label, no less. On stage, the pair are mesmerizing, Palmer's face wrapping around every word and giving them a liveliness held aloft by Viglione's booming retorts. Beneath the foundation and consignment shop assemblage lies a vicious combination of talent, ideas, and dramatic flair that imbues The Dresden Dolls with a rising tension that ultimately grasps a hold of a satisfying denouement. The Dolls break open with the incindeary "Girl Anachronism" which revels in its doom and gloom stomp, Palmer's piano serving as percussion as much as Viglione's drums. The song cuts deeply as Palmer spits out the chronicle of someone just out of phase with reality, haunted by instability and just screaming to make you understand what she's going through. On "Missed Me," Palmer plays the part of a coquettish little girl turned femme fatale with remarkable presence and poise. She paints a deeply vivid portrait of the ill-informed dalliance with her dark, manipulative side seeping out in every batted eyelash and cooing come on to the mister who should have known better. Her piano unfurls a seductive tango melody that pops like swinging hips in a slinky, alluring strut. With the fury comes sighing introspection and self-examination, and tracks like "The Perfect Fit" delve into the psyche that emits the frenetic static electric energy that buzzes off the band. "Bad Habit" is tantamount to a mission statement, roaring that "sappy songs about sex and cheating / bland accounts of two lovers meeting / make me want to give mankind a beating." The Dolls' Brechtian theatrics don't hem them in, however. They excel at dark, moody slivers of song but at the core is still an irresistible knack at writing compelling music and the words to back it up. "The Jeep Song," for example, is a comparatively straightforward song about the anguish of being reminded of a lost lover, with clever lyrics and positively bright backup "ba da ba ba" singing. On the album's closer "Truce," Palmer plaintively declares, "I am the ground zero." Listening to The Dresden Dolls it's easy to interpret that lyric in a way she most likely did not intend it. Through the craft and style exuded by this album, it feels as if she and Viglione are destined to be the epicenter of a shock that will rattle the musically entrenched; to serve as a black leather gloved slap to the face, challenging the willing to step up and attempt to surmount their devastating fusion of thoughtful conception and flawless execution. - Michael Patrick Brady
Landing, "Passages Through"
There's something absolutely beautiful about an album that can draw together eight songs into a cohesive expereince without sounding bland, repetitive, or just outright dull. Landing has done just that: the eight songs alternate between wandering washes of guitar melody, acoustic plucking, undulating hums, and simple balladry. The artwork and the album title incite a sense of mystery: Passages Through what, exactly? And those eyes bring to mind the symbol found on the back of the one-dollar bill that, for some, represents something mystical. While the music itself isn't exactly dark or tense, it does evoke a sense of the spiritual and unknown. This is especially true for the instrumental passages that tend to have a hypnotic effect on me everytime I hear them. Guitars hum, strings rattle, and music somehow excites itself into existence out of nothing. I'd have been completely happy with these inner explorations alone, but Landing is careful not to stay in one place for too long. There are some heart-breaking melodies to be found everywhere on this recording. Aaron and Adrienne Snow's vocals interrupt the soundscape of music at just the right times and then fall into and become one with the cascading sounds; it's easy to tell that the music resonates from within the musicians and that they can make their bodies part of the sound just as much as the instruments. But these songs don't just move along like an indistinct glacial flow. Oh no, these songs resound with feeling. There's not a moment between "Wings of Light" and "Tell Myself" that feels too cold or too removed from the terrestrial. Put simply, every second is a perfect balance of awe and earthliness. Passages Through spans the spectrum from melancholy and woe to excitement and anticipation. It is a mystical album but it is also familiar and tangibly warm. This is an album that, after it's finished, I immediately press the play button again: the sounds are so enchanting and enigmatic that they demand my total attention but they also provoke a dazzling and somehow transcendent trance. Landing stands out and above a lot of other bands with this release: they're obviously both songwriters and magicians. - Lucas Schleicher
Low's obsession with death and killing is overwhelming at times. With a title like Murderer I was afraid that Low's newest 10" single would be another dose of the sickly-sweet macabre world of pretty songs about murder and mayhem that tend to permeate their work more and more. The title track does indeed reference murder, but in such a lush and direct way that I can't help but love it. The warped drones and clean guitar strumming that make up the basis of "Murderer" frame lines like "You may need a murderer/Someone to do your dirty work," and in the wrong hands, these lines would be trite and unconvincing. Somehow though, Low manage to pull off the tone of a modern murder ballad without sketching a story so grim that it can't stand up to repeated listens. The rising climax comes halfway through the simple arrangement and lets the song lull back to sleep with a variation on the first verse. Following "Murderer," Low open things up a bit with the "la la la's" and distant synths of "Silver Rider." The band's recent material has mixed up the instrumentation and production techniques from the relatively steady diet of sterling guitar, brushed drums, and bass from their earlier works and here, the varied accompaniment works well. Without the well-worn voices in the mix, "Silver Rider" sounds like it could almost be an experiment from an old Area record, and it lends the single a definite middle point. The b-side is occupied entirely by the 8:16 epic "From Your Place On Sunset," a sparse and distanced reflection of the best tracks from albums like Long Division. The imagery is stark and vivid as always, set against a background of multi-tracked guitars and time-keeping drums that seem to grind forward just short of coming to a complete stop at any moment. As the distortion ramps up and the vocals trail out into washes of "la la la la," I am reminded of the jounrey into Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness where language becomes murky, descriptions grow more and more ambiguous, and a tiny boat is pulled further and further into the unknown. When Low hit the mark (as they do here), they are on par with writers like Conrad in creating a narrative for the dissolving subconscious. Get a copy of this before they are all gone. - Matthew Jeanes
mojave 3, "spoon and rafter"
While plenty of Slowdive fans were quick to accept Mojave 3, I was not sold. My problems with their sound wasn't so much that I was expecting something along the lines of the drifting bliss of Slowdive, but the direction they tookpicking and choosing elements from American country music like pedal steel guitar and harmonicaseemed rather half-hearted and out of place with faint vocals and bell sounds. Songs on the debut were weak in my opinion, almost like a discount Mazzy Star, but over the course of three albums I kept listening, things got better, but nothing bowled me over. Until now. The 9+ minute epic, "Bluebird of Happiness" begins this year's release and is powerful enough to make everything else in the world cease to matter. Simplistic and elegant, it opens gently and half-way through lets loose a bombastic spine chilling anthem. The group hasn't shifted gears or anything: pedal steel guitars still sit alongside acoustic guitars, chiming glockenspiel, piano, occasional harmonica, and Neil Halstead's reserved vocals. The lineup hasn't changed and still features three original Slowdive members and production by Seefeel/Scala/Locust's Mark Van Hoen. The songs just sound stronger, bolder, and more creatively arranged than before. Even the rhythms of a song like "Battle of the Brokenhearts," with its jangly hoedown pace which usually has me cringing, fantastically pan out to a stunning drum-less million-dollar piano, moog, and glockenspiel melody. Sure, some borderline annoying country riffs still permeate through a few tracks but the songs are strong and captivating enough to sound like they belong this time around. - Jon Whitney
23 Skidoo, "The Culling is Coming"
LTM is making brainwashed nerd wet dreams come true once again with the reissue of this, a pivotal point in 23 Skidoo's career, disliked by critics and nearly buried by the group themselves. Each side of the original LP was 23 minutes in length. The first, known as "A Summer Rite," was recorded at the first WOMAD festival in July of 1982 (and features David Tibet on Tibetan trumpet), the second was recorded in October of 1982 at the Darrington Music College using Gamelan instruments and later mixed down to form the album side known as "A Winter Ritual." For the CD release, the sides were switched and side two is now known as "Part 1" (tracks 1-5) and side two is now known as "Part 2." A far cry from the loud bass and thunderous dance productions of 23 Skidoo's most famous works, "A Winter Ritual" is almost equally as trance-inducing with its usage of Gamelan gongs and bell sounds. It's no surprise that with the engrossing circle of Genesis P-Orridge (who did production on another record) and David Tibet, that it's strikingly remeniscent of parts of Psychic TV's Themes 1 (a.k.a. Cold Dark Matter), recorded with Tibet and others and issued with Force the Hand of Chance. "Part 2" is more abrasive, with tape loops and various other percussive noises and effects, carefully mixed together in a mishmosh of sound that is far from stagnant, weaving through various parts and phrases, ending on the blissful "Healing (For the Strong)," which appeared in a remixed version (as "Healing/Fanfare") on Crepuscule's Operation Twilight compilation, 23 Skidoo's The Gospel Comes to New Guinea collection, and sounds like it was sampled heavily ten years later for Coil's "Nasa Arab." The disc closes with a bonus unreleased track, the monsterous and fantastic 27-minute long "Move Back Bite Harder," noted as "Part 3: An Autumn Journey." Longer than each side of the record, this bit was also recorded live in 1982 on a tour which also featured Cabaret Voltaire and Tuxedomoon. Assembled entirely from tape loops of noises, sampled radio transmissions, and the Turnbull brothers' screamings, this was part of a recording made by Crepuscule of the tour, but has never seen the light of day. Unpredictable and captivating, it makes for an excellent addition to the rest of the sought after music contained. - Jon Whitney
One thing to get straight right out of the gate: there should be no corellation drawn between the title of Beulah's new record the name of the woman accused of breaking up the Beatles and the fact that several of the members went through divorces before and possibly even during its recording. Nor should it be considered a tell-tale sign that the end may be near for one of the few Elephant 6 bands left. In fact, it may have no relation to the music inside at all, which is without a doubt the finest batch of songs the band has ever unleashed. Beulah's not gone "more mature" or "grown up" but just less free-form, sloppy, and damned indie rock. Gone are the post-mod singalong choruses and blaring horns, but still here are the wall of sound arrangements and vocal harmonies. Miles Kurosky is just as skeptical as ever, only now his fears are genuine, not goofily ironic. "A Man Like Me" is this record's "I Am Trying to Break Your Heart" in that it's a confident beginning with otherworldly touches about the end of the connection between two people. The notch gets turned up on the next track, "Landslide Baby," which Kurosky says is the woman's answer to the first track. It's poppy, quirky even, but it calls out the man for what he is. "You're Only King Once" (Y O K O... hmmm...) continues the sober Jarvis Cocker-like self-examination, as though finally reality has set in. There are bills to be paid, mouths to feed, houses to own, and legacies to think about. Almost a country tinge enters every now and then, just to give that extra heartache, and lines like "I just want you happy" and "I never meant to clip your pretty wings" let you know it's not for show. The confidence returns every once in a while in the music, but still gets eclipsed by the gravity of the subject matter. This is a record about losing what you care about most, and realizing it's because if you really cared about it the most you would have shown it more care. Maybe there is a hidden meaning in that title after all. - Rob Devlin
Larvae, "Monster Music"
Usuallly I find it challenging to discover releases from talented artists among these piles of promotional and advance CDs. Often I'll spare a mediocre album (especially from a new artist) from the hostile wit often found in my reviews by simply leaving it be. So imagine my surprise when I inserted Larvae's debut EP Monster Music into my stereo. Influenced by and sampling from Japanese monster flicks, the opening track "Mothra" is a industrial-strength drum n bass beast. Aggressive, dark, and catchy, it eventually morphs into distorted hardcore techno that degrades into white hot sizzling cacophony. Reminding of bass-fiend Mick Harris' Quoit project, as well as his Shortcut To Connect album with Mick Harvey, "Ghidrah" liberally applies warbly low frequency pulses to skittering junglist loops, increasing the energy around the 3 minute mark with NON-like air raid sirens and noise textures. Stepping away from the dancefloor, the final two songs on this four track teaser EP shows off the duo's affinity for dark dub and, for lack of a better word, illbient music. The head-nodding grooves of "Mecha" give the track a cinematic quality and should appeal to fans of Techno Animal and other experimental urban beatmakers. Mothboy and The Dustmite's remix of "Mothra" crunches and grinds as a slow pace, with the same Japanese movie samples taken down in tempo and heavily effected. It is both eerie and icy, winding down into a cold dark ambience. I am guilty of playing this 21 minute release several times over the past month or so, and with their debut full-length Fashion Victim due out on Ad Noiseam, I highly urge fans of Mick Harris, Justin Broderick, and Kevin Martin to grab this EP before it sells out. - Gary Suarez
the black eyed snakes, "rise up!"
The Black Eyed snakes got our attention a few years back with their debut: a quaint but forceful tribute to the Delta Blues from a polite quartet fronted by Chicken Bone George, whose years of repression, living under a different guise and keeping the volume down has made him yearn to break free. The second full-length release is even more commanding as it's louder, noisier, and far more aggressive. Rise Up! wastes no time and no space as it opens with the one note intro, then blast, of the album's title track. Without a second to spare, the group barrels through another after another in the onslaught of wall-shaking guitars, loud drums and percussion, and a screaming voice, distorted almost completely beyond recognition. In the years this outfit has been playing and recording, their sound has become notably tighter and rougher at the same time, and with a variety of songs ranging from under the one minute mark to over eight minutes, it's far from predictable. Rise Up is dirty, sexy, and edgy enough to hold the attention for the 40 minute duration. Accompanying the 11 original tunes (and one Swans cover) are two videos. "Rise Up!" is a different version than what's available at the band's web site, with tons of aggressive stock footage of wars, bombs, and fights, while "Good Woman Blues" is a hilarious conceptual video of the group getting violently wrestled in the ring by a powerful woman. - Jon Whitney
"Feedback to the Future"
Shoegazing is a genre name that I've always found extremely interesting. When you think about it, it is difficult to believe that a collection of musicians reputed to be frozen by downcast eyes could perpetrate music so full of lush, expansive landscapes and gregarious melodies. It seems like such a fearful, reticent posture particularly in the face of music that seems so open and free. Feedback to the Future is a slice of that dissonance, the very title being contradictory for this look back. Billing itself as a compilation of eleven shoegazing songs from those heady days of 1990 to 1992, Feedback serves as a brief dip into the bands of the period. The opening track immerses immediately with a bright open chord that develops into a fuzzy riff beneath the major scale melody of Revolver's "Heaven Sent an Angel." It's a bouncy, buoyant song that's an excellent opening shot of early morning light. It reminds me that listening to dream pop can be like mainlining sunshine, if that were at all possible. Blind Mr. Jones' "Small Caravan" and Slowdive's "Catch the Breeze" take a less exuberant path than the opener, but are no less full of shifting textures and beautiful passages. The latter song floats delicately, rising and falling in swells of guitar and intertwining vocals that radiate through the polished cacophony. Ride's "Like a Daydream" bursts forth in a rush, with a pulsing chug that blooms into the overlapping melodic hooks and vocals that find themselves deep in your brain for days after hearing them. Representing the United States on this British dominated compilation is Boston's Drop Nineteens who appear with the song "Winona." The track does not have some of the hallmarks of shoegazing on the other side of the Atlantic, like the crescendo of guitar washes, but it does retain the sense of melody and song craft that makes each song on this compilation relentlessly catchy. Feedback to the Future is a good introduction to some (but certainly not all, a notable exception being My Bloody Valentine) of the bands that made this style popular. It's not a perfect document, but hopefully it will encourage the curious to go about filling in all the blanks on their own. - Michael Patrick Brady
AKATOMBO, "TRACE ELEMENTS"
The city groans and grinds on and on. Even in the most tranquil escapes the roar of traffic is ever present. Maybe for many trapped in the repetition of 9 to 5 it gets blanked out with familiarity. However, travel to the other side of the world to an alien culture and the ears might prick up. Paul Kirk, a Scotsman relocated to Tokyo, became fascinated by the urban drone, flux and shuffle all around him. As Akatombo, he reconfigures the heart of that busy city atmosphere into a dislocated merry-go-round ride that is occasionally ominous but usually beat happy. Informed by hip hop, but in no way beholden to it, Akatombo finds the drone at the heart of the city and makes it sing. Mobile phones wail, radios tune in and out, babbling voices appear and vanish into the crowd. This is like a wind blowing a dense smog into fascinating new shapes, a mind grooving on the endless noise of fast paced city life. Like labelmates Silo, Akatombo manages to sound at once human and machine, catching the future as it flies. Some comparisons would be King Coffey's Drain, Muslimgauze and even Faust, the diversity of whom should give some idea of the originality here. This is a hell of an addictive listen and is easily the best album I've heard from a new artist this year. Gulping oxygen beyond a sea of Mogwai impersonators, Akatombo pushes the 'post-rock' envelope into positive new shapes. If enough people were clued up to this it could raise the stakes like that first Tortoise album did. - Graeme Rowland
Deep beneath the ocean is a world of mystery, wonder, darkness, and danger. Even if it weren't for the cover art of this German duo's brilliant new album, there is unmistakably no other place in the universe that has influenced the sounds and movement of what is represented within. These drones are not passive in the least. The depth and volume are all encompassing, and moving slowly but steadily like an ancient and lonely large whale through the graveyards of shipwrecks, at the very beginning of the food chain in which all living creatures depend. Recorded live in the studio without overdubs, the first two parts are based on live performances the band was touring around with in 2001, the first being a dark blue rumble, heavy on the low end and marked by patient melodic movement, the second with swirling guitar strums and leads like the sun coming through in bended bands of beams: flickering, reflected, and refracted. The intangible overwhelming feeling of weight and pressure is unavoidable and inescapable, like being frozen in a dream, unable to move, but calm and comforting all the same. Around the half-way mark, it dips back into the darker regions as pitch and pace slow down deeper and deeper and deeper and deeper yet into the cold, black unknown. The third part was recorded as an afterthought, and is described as a new ending. Its brightness and chugging backwards-sounding guitars brilliantly accent the feel that it is a journey which is reaching its end. At this point, it feels that the central figure in the journey seems to be a vessyl of some sort, and the 16-minute Part 3 is thematic of a glorious resurfacing, reintroduction to the bright light of day, and returning to solid ground. But, as the brightness comes, so does an ominous sense that all might not be right. The world looks different than before, the places are familiar but everything's seemed to have changed. The credits may roll but this is certainly not the end. - Jon Whitney
Ove-Naxx, "Bullets From Habikino City H.C."
From DJ/Rupture's imprint, Soot Records, comes this curious, short album by a Japanese band that seems to be a half-step ahead of the curve of a new microgenre. Not that we need any new microgenres, but in listening to tracks like the album opener, "Wasabi Violence", it's clear that Ove-Naxx are tapping into a multitude of things that are currently inspiring heaps of home-made cdrs and mp3 tracks, and that they are taking those influences to a new level. The rhythms of Bullets From Habikino City are primarily those of fractured jungle breakbeats, off-time dubwise delays and and quick, haphazard editing. They give most tracks the feeling of channels being surfed just long enough to steal a quick bite from each. But what Ove-Naxx accomplish is more than simple juxtaposition or collage. They take inspiration from sounds as diverse as classical strings, splatter-core guitar riffs, ragga MCs and video game music and merge them together not into a commentary or recontexturalization of the cultural heritage of those sounds, but into something raw and new. They seem wholly unconcerned with where the samples are from and what baggage they may bring with them from their sources, and they give every sound an equal voice in a symphony of cut up media obliteration. When the diced up orchestral parts begin, you know they are sampled and wait to see what Ove-Naxx might say about the conventions of centuries old western classical music. Instead, they take away the context of classical music and purposely don't replace it with another so that the sounds become simple tembres to be manipulated like the sound bites, drum hits, and other detritus that the tracks are built from. Bullets From Habikino City is a record that could only have been made in the data-rich, fast-access media quagmire of the post-information age, and it's a warning about the way minds raised on video games, instant messaging, and endless streams of irony may approach our shared cultural heritage. From this point forward, everything recorded more than a week ago is a relic, the past is not so much a foundation as it is pure raw material for building, and Ove-Naxx are scanning and cutting up the airwaves with a new kind of punk abandon. They aren't giving the establishment the finger as much as they are just disregarding it altogether. The production of this, their first record, is notably lo-fi and "bedroomish" which is fitting for the way in which the tracks seem to have been composed. It would certainly be interesting to see what this blender concoction would sound like were it engineered to the specs of top flight producer. However, as it stands, Bullets From Habikino City is one of the first documents of what may be a whole new wave of releases to come. This is digital montage without the weight of essays to justify its methods; a sort of punk rock sound art for those who'd like to enter the new melinnium with a noisy, obnoxious bang.- Matthew Jeanes
Dan Bern, "Fleeting Days"
The funny, aloof, quirky Dan Bern is dead, and has been replaced by a mature, kindred spirit-type songwriter with his heart firmly on his sleeve on Fleeting Days, and he's all the better for it. Well, not really, as the flippant tongue still wags a bit here and there, but for the most part Bern does seem to be keeping it away from his cheek and going straight for Serious-singer/songwriter-ville. Luckily, once again he's brought along the right backing band in the IJBC (the International Jewish Banking Conspiracy) to flesh out these songs, as the arrangements are tight, solid, and never seem like too much. Bern seems more confident in the bandleader role than he's ever been, and as his music and lyrics take on a more mature feel the subject matter invariably goes where I'd expect: relationships. Dan's always had a feel for this ground (see "Rome" off his debut for the quintessential "why'd you leave me?" ditty), but his pleas are more heartfelt, more gripping here. On the first track, "Baby Bye Bye:" "I turn off the phone so if you don't call it's all right/and maybe I won't listen to nothing tonight," after the dissolution of his affair with a fellow music fan. I'm pretty sure everyone's been there, and I know I have. On "Chain Around My Neck," he sings "Don't ask you to believe me now, I don't deserve your trust... Next time that I see you let's pretend it's our first date," and you don't despise him. There's a truth here, which is probably the one thing that seemed absent in all of his previous records. I liked the funny Dan Bern, but at the end of the day I couldn't really believe he was as absurd as he sounded. On Fleeting Days I believe every word, and it puts Bern solidly on the map of Americana. - Rob Devlin
Wevie de Crepon, "The Age Old Age of Old Age"
With this new mini-album, Wevie de Crepon follows Kai Althoff's Workshop as the newest pleasant surprise from the Sonig label. The Mouse on Mars-owned imprint has consistently combated IDM's sterile spectre with highly original electronic music, often of a pop sensibility, but Wevie, like Workshop before them, throw even established Sonig innovators for a loop. Wevie de Crepon, previously recording as Wevie Stonder for Skam records, have made an absurd, sample-ful comedy record set to a (jarringly) diverse bed of electronic song-craft. Comparisons to Negativland come easily, but Wevie's obtuse, thoroughly apolitical content puts them somewhere else entirely. The songs' two-minute pop bursts also separate them from Negativland's sprawling cut-up orgies; most tracks on The Age Old Age of Old Age feature a grounding beat with one lengthy sample laid on top, acting almost as a vocal to the jubilant backing music. The result is that the most absurd of sampled material (like British pseudo-crime drama dialogue, or David Lynch digressing about a duck's eyeball) meshes seamlessly with music that would by itself be marketable to the IDM crowd. These backing tracks range from full on drill n'bass hoe-downs and Too Pure-ish bliss-out sections, to bouncy, kitsch-laden grooves recalling Stock, Hausen & Walkman. A keen appreciation of kitsch is essential to the enjoyment of this music, for no level of pristine production (certainly present here) is enough to prevent the average listener from muttering "the hell is this, then" at least once. One is warned, after all, by the atrocious cover art; Wevie de Crepon is not for everyone. The Age Old Age of Old Age runs most "serious" electronic music through a hilarious cycle of degeneration that will be unsettling for those hesitant to give up their respective ghosts. Perhaps this music contains a political agenda after all, one promoting self-criticism, patience, and most of all, a sense of humor. - Andrew Culler
The Fire Theft
Sometimes it's all about figuring out what ingredient doesn't work, apparently. When Sunny Day Real Estate split in 1995 and then reformed in 1997 without original bassist Nate Mendel, some thought that frictions were still present that may have caused the split, preventing Mendel from returning to the fold. Then in 2001, just when the band seemed to be branching out into new territory, the band split again, leaving many scratching their heads: why split up at the height of your popularity, reform, then split up again right when all seemed to be in place? According to recent interviews with band members, it was original guitarist Dan Hoerner who caused some of the troubles, making it very difficult to work with him. So, when vocalist/guitarist Jeremy Enigk and drummer William Goldsmith wanted to record some new material, they decided to go it alone, only to have Mendel accept the invitation this time. Obviously, the name would have to change, as there was little mileage left in it, so they chose The Fire Theft and headed to the studio with Brad Wood. The result is a little bit SDRE and a whole lot breaking new ground, with myriad synthesizers (courtesy of Wood) and new noises making their way onto the record. Through it all, Enigk's voice is the anchor as it always has been, and the record is a bold new beginning and another chance at success. "Faces in Disguise" off SDRE's The Rising Tide is a good frame of reference for this record, as the sound seems to take that track's atmospheric approach and build on it. "Uncle Mountain" is as impressive an album opener as I've heard this year, starting off muted and quiet then lunging for the death blow halfway through. Elsewhere, "It's Over" and "Waste Time" show off classic Enigk wails and familiar guitar crunches fans will adore. It's a powerful debut, full of promise, and a redemption from the ashes of the past. Fire theft, indeed. - Rob Devlin
SOUND, "SCREAMING ZENITH"
Sound are the duo of Eric Lumbleau (of Vas Deferens Organization) and Joel Zoch. Their first release for Beta-Lactam Ring is the Screaming Zenith double LP beautifully packaged in a deluxe gatefold sleeve adorned with grotesquely distorted pornography. This is the first clue of the twisted sonic perversions waiting inside. The second clue is the dadaist song titles, full of goofy alliteration and lysergic wordplay. Sound's sound is a quivering gelatin of sinister whimsy: Aphex-style beat sequencing rubs shoulders with Numan-esque keyboards, fuzzy Western guitars, creepy voice loops and sudden, terrifying plunges into ring-modulated, echo-chambered oblivion. "Resplendant [sic] Vistas of Viscous Treacle" creates a burbling horror-movie landscape of dilapidated video arcades filled with ominous cocaine cowboys. It's a weird trip that takes in Ennio Morricone, Black Light District-era Coil and Fields of the Nephilim and comes out the other side sounding like, well, Sound. The production is influenced by the sonic inventions of Steven Stapleton, but Sound have an abiding fetish for early-80's darkwave and goth, so they are equally as adept at invoking Tubeway Army as they are Nurse With Wound. "The Tickly Pistons" utilizes dark, Wagnerian strings, reminiscent of Death in June's Nazi sound-loops on Take Care and Control. A wacky chorus of squiggles, squeaks and squishes coelesce into a Mouse on Mars-ish breakbeat on "The Taffy Rapids", even as the song's tempo is alternately sped-up, stretched, delayed and perverted beyond all recognition. These songs gradually build up layers of noise and reverberations until they become giant, cacophonous "walls of sound" that are as indebted to Phil Spector the producer as they are to Phil Spector the gun-toting killer. "Cock-eyed Hydra" replicates Thighpaulsandra's synthesizer squalls from Coil's "Amethyst Deceivers", adding a cheesy goth-prog majesty all its own. Layers of Wendy Carlos/Gary Numan moogs take prominence in "Amorphous Procession Through Paralyzed Gelatin", sounding not unlike Switched On Bach being played at the bottom of a peat bog. "Gambol and Caper Through Discombobulation's Lustre" is a nostalgic vintage synth concoction that borders on the territory occupied by Boards of Canada. However, Sound's nostalgia is more Goblin and OMD than Charles and Ray Eames. Parts of Screaming Zenith plunge the listener into murky frog-filled swamps and dark rainforests with pygmies shooting psychedelic darts, not entirely dissimilar from the super-hallucinogenic astral byways previously mapped by The Orb. There are hidden perils and contagious diseases lurking in the arteries of Sound. "Dulcet Flux" is a case in point, a massive beat splashing into vibrating pools of radioactive goo that realign into fanciful melodies as layers of caustic sitar sizzle the frontal lobe. "Corrosions of Ambrosial Veneer" meets Venetian Snares for a tangent into dark drum n' bass that is inexplicably matched with carnival calliopes and animal sound-effects. The title track finishes the record with a tribal trance jam a la Boredoms, complete with mindbending hyperspeed guitars. Sound's syrupy quagmire of goopy aural pleasures is just what the witch doctor ordered. If my mouth had not grown over with ectoplasmic jelly, I would be yelling "Oo, ee, oo, ah, ah, ting, tang, walla walla bing bang!" - Jonathan Dean
East River Pipe, "Garbageheads on Endless Stun"
The essence of 'doing it yourself' is to avoid any hints of compromise, watering down, or loss of vision so that you may release a work that is totally and completely pure. It's a personal expression that is something to be proud of. Unfortunately, it seems that along the road to self-actualization some people eschew both quality control and thoughtful planning. East River Pipe consists entirely of F.M. Cornog and his Tascam 388 mini-studio, so it is safe to say that Garbageheads on Endless Stun, his most recent album is entirely his. I'm somewhat confounded by this release, however. It appears as though this singer/songwriter has very little to say over the course of forty four minutes, mindlessly linking phrases and songs together with no sense of concept or cohesion. Mind you, it's not done in a clever way, it's done in a way that resembles a late night songbreaking session where the singer is just making words up to fill in space before they write the real lyrics. "Arrival Pad #19" drops a fuzzy clap beat along with a stuttering bass line that sets the track off on the right foot. Cornog further deepens the song with synthesized string arrangements that carry his singing through the first verse. Things lose their way at the song's midpoint however, as he begins to speak his lyrics in the style of an airport terminal public announcement, and then letting the song just drift off along with any number of promising ideas that presented themselves in the piece's brief duration. The song certainly could have stood to have a few more verses, and the tossed off feel that this abandonment cements into the album rears it's head again and again. "Streetwalkin' Jean" is a banal ode to a nineteen year old prostitute that takes a weak stab at poignancy in its final verse of painfully purple prose. It appears as if Cornog is looking to pen a song meant to draw some sort of feelings out but is either unwilling or unable to delve into anything more than perfunctory word association. "No self esteem / but eyes that still gleam." We'll just take your word for it. Though the album suffers from a perpetually slow motion tempo, much of the music that backs the needless words comes across very well. There are enough pretty melodies and synth chorales to make it moderately interesting, but it would be nice to have seen them expanded, developed, explored, and not just thrown out on a whim and left to whither under the weight of Cornog's lyrical filler. For what should in theory be an individual showing off their own thoughts and musical desires, Garbageheads on Endless Stun feels like a desultory mess. - Michael Patrick Brady
DJ Olive, "Bodega"
When the mid-90s ushered in the Illbient movement (self-defined by Asphodel's Incursions in Illbient compilation, the music press made it sound like Brooklyn's broken beat ambassadors like DJ Olive, Lloop, Sub Dub, and Byzar were heading for 'the next big thing' material. Soon after the Illbient sound made it out of New York and into chill out rooms and hip playlists around the world, it fell painfully silent with a handful of meandering releases that overstayed their welcome. DJ Olive, part of the seminal Illbient group WE, has only just now released his debut solo effort and it may be a little late, but it's the sort of album the early WE, DJ Spooky, and company's work promised. Bodega is heavy on the urban dub and cuts together a world of sounds with the all-inclusive collage aesthetic that made the old days on Asphodel exciting. The deeply textured found sound recordings of the city and stylistic experimentation that populated early WE material is replaced here with the execution of a solidly and continuously mixed party record for people who's idea of a party is somewhat more cerebral and subdued than, say, Andrew WK's. That's not to say that the beats on Bodega can't inspire some hip shaking and merry-making, but the album seems more focused on being a mellow trip through an ecclectic record collection than anything else. Of course, the samples have all been distilled down through the filter of dub to become something else, which is something that seems to set dj/artists apart from simply good djs. I had lost hope that the Illbient crowd had been able to sustain the creative flow under the weight of catchy genre labels and referential name-dropping, but if DJ Olive's latest is any indication, there are still some vital beats coming out of Brooklyn that need your attention.- Matthew Jeanes
Crackletone, "Journey to the Sea of Sparks"
Jim Sutherland has quite a background as a composer of television and film scores. Crackletone is his somewhat minimalist, somewhat spooky, and somehow intriguing vehicle for composing drone-based pieces. I say that the pieces are drone-based, but that really isn't fair: there are a lot of different sounds used throughout the rather awkwardly named album: what might be the sounds of a heart beating are combined with nauseating organ spills, a little too cleanly produced digital bleeps and bloops, and truly effective moans bubbling over with drifting winds and interstellar interference. The result of combining haunting and intriguing sounds with overused and bland ones makes for a see-saw experience. At times the sounds really produce a sense of horror but then they are interrupted by sounds that remind me that the horrific stuff can't possibly be real. In other words, what seems gritty, dirty, and real is revealed as fake because of sci-fi noises that remind me of blaster sounds used in so many video games. The first track, "Crackletone," is a thirty-minute composition that manages to stay entrancing and believable despite some of the rather silly sounds used in it. "Fondle Park" is nearly unlistenable. In fact, I only listened to it once and that was only because I felt I had to so that I could be honest about the album as a whole. "Journey to the Sea of Sparks" is probably the best piece on the album, where a majority of those digital and clean sounds have been eliminated in favor of a rather stunning combination of distorted grandfather clocks, evil hissing, and a truly strange melody that appears half-way through and then disappears into the void of space the rest of the sounds create. Maybe it's the sound of a storm as heard by someone on LSD or maybe its just the rumblings of a space-monsters hungry stomach. In either case, it's entertaining. I can't wholly reccomend this release, but I can't deny that I enjoy a good portion of it when I give it a spin; it's just that I don't often feel compelled to listen to it. - Lucas Schleicher
CERTAINLY, SIR "MUGIC"
Does overproduced Weezer-lite rock-pop with Notwist-by-numbers laptop beats and effete vocals sound like the music you've been waiting to hear all your life? Well, the wait is over now that Certainly, Sir have graced the world with the hipster atrocity of their new album Mugic. The title of the album seems to have been inspired by a night of reckless Pabst Blue Ribbon consumption and pot smoking: "Hey dude, let's name the record Mugic, because it's like 'music' plus 'magic.' That would be so deck!" It's this same kind of misguided impulse that led the band to write songs with excruciatingly sophomoric titles like "My Bad" and "The Vacant Lot of My Heart." I know virtually nothing about the history of this Boston group, and I'd prefer to keep it that way. I'm more than willing to bet that the members of Certainly, Sir have been spotted at various nightspots wearing faded jeans, nylon trucker caps and studded belts. Certainly, Sir's sub-par sound has clearly been influenced by the laptop-pop of groups like Postal Service and Yoshimi-era Flaming Lips. Unfortunately, they seem unable even to properly plagiarize. The 11 power-pop songs on Mugic are banal to the point of negation, making even the tepid Give Up album by Postal Service seem like a masterpiece in comparison. Not only does the band's music fail to contribute anything new or unique to the medium, it actually seems to microscopically detract from the entire history of music merely by its existence. Records as dull and unlikable as Mugic seem to indicate that it has officially become far too easy to record and release an album these days. The opening track "Sweet Time" sets up the dreadful sound with its shiny guitar, cookie-cutter Powerbook beats and "Don't You Want Me"-style male/female tradeoff vocals. However, this is miles away from the pop mastery of the Human League, with embarrassingly overwrought lyrics like "Turn off the TV/Come out from in the open/Get beneath a tree/Safe and warm, that's me." Later, on "Hello," the vocalist assures "No sweat, girl, I checked, we're still alive." These lyrics would be better suited to some high-profile emo-punk band with a name like Sunny Day Monument or Burning Coalition (thanks to The Emo Band Name Generator). On "My Bad," the lead singer makes a heartrending confession: "When I said my heart would crack - I take it back/Apparently it won't/My Bad." These trust-fund babies are hoping that anorexic girls wearing headbands, ironic t-shirts and unnecessary eyeglasses will find their brand of soul-baring irresistible enough to warrant the occasional hand-job backstage. Certainly, Sir should sign to a major label quickly, as I don't think the current MTV generation can go another second without the aggressively mediocre, homogenized crapfest offered by Mugic. - Jonathan Dean
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