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Xela, "Tangled Wool"

This is a great pop record that doesn't want to be a pop record.

City Centre Offices
Xela has crafted what is for me, the year's first magnificent pop album. "Softness of Senses" opens the record with an absolutely sublime strumming guitar riff that leads into some simple guitar melodies, whisps of synth and deep bass notes. It's a perfect start to an album that has quickly become one of my favorites in recent memory. Well, it's almost perfect. By the time I was halfway through the beautifully melancholy "You Are In The Stars" I started to wonder what was missing. It's an absolutely intoxicating record of superb melodies, textbook pop song structures, and just the right amount of tweaked back-end to throw the whole mix into another world, but by the time I got to track five, "Through Crimson Clouds," the experience was feeling incomplete. It was like one of the channels of the stereo mix was just missing: a huge gaping whole in the middle of one of the best pop records I've heard in a long, long time. And then it hit me. In John Xela's quest to make the perfect pop record (dedicated to Monika), he forgot to get anyone to sing on it! To be fair, there's a repeating phrase drenched in reverb on "Drawing Pictures of Girls," but that's not enough to do the rest of these arrangements justice. These songs are so tight, I can hear the words that should be there in my head every time I give it a spin, but try as I might, I can't find the vocals because there aren't any. I'm not one who's stuck on vocal-driven music; most of what I listen to is instrumental in fact. But with a record of this depth—the kind of record 4AD used to put out when anyone gave a damn, the kind of record that gets jaded ex-pop music fans to put down the laptop glitch and listen to something that belongs on a mixtape of love songs—there's just got to be someone singing on it. These songs demand a voice, and not just the tonally-challenged voice I add when I'm listening in the car. John Xela, if you are reading this, go find yourself a singer. Toni Haliday isn't doing much these days, is she? Surely there's some way to reconcile this because a finer pop record isn't bound to come around this year, but this one isn't finished.

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The Eye: Video of the Day

Ted Leo

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Review of the Day

The Anniversary/Superdrag Tour CD EP
A few months ago I reviewed the Superdrag tour EP "Greetings From Tennessee", and I commented on how little I liked the release because it seemed like the songwriting had slipped. It seemed only die-hard fans could appreciate the EP, as the mixes were not great, and the songs weren't the hard-hitting strength one would expect from Superdrag. Well, Superdrag released this split tour EP with The Anniversary shortly after "Greetings", and two of their tracks were also on that release, so I held off. Until I heard recently that the band had rerecorded those tracks and mixed them themselves specifically for this release. In fact, all tracks were recorded just for this release, and although I'd never heard The Anniversary, I took a chance. I'm glad I did. Not only are the Superdrag tracks much better here, The Anniversary are happily a band I am pleased to recommend. They are a bit complex, The Anniversary. Shuffling styles and identities on the fly, the only constant being the powerful vocal harmonies, The Anniversary have the sound of a band that's never happy with one direction, and that's just fine. Hastily written and recorded, as the liner notes announce, these tracks are psychedelic power pop, speaking of redemption and strength in numbers. There's even a humorous moment on the second track, 'Anais', where an aborted start is ridiculed by all involved. Funny stuff. As for the Superdrag tracks, they definitely redeem themselves and reclaim the tracks, as they are much more powerful and, for lack of a better term, crunchy here. You can tell that they wanted to get the power of these songs across better, and that John Davis wail is back, I'm pleased to announce. And you can hear all of the instruments well, which is always a plus. The double-tracked vocals on 'Take Your Spectre Away', originally a track the band was working on for their sophomore album, are a nice touch, as they just drive the band to a complete frenzy towards the end of the track. There's one new one here, 'I Guess It's American,' and it's classic Superdrag: poppy, angry guitar, and Davis singing about what's wrong with this system. "If you ever pull that shit again/Never see you the same way again," says Davis, right before proclaiming "I guess it's American/it's embarrassin'." Indeed. Here, though, The Anniversary and Superdrag prove that real American rock is still anything but, and it's worth it to give these tracks a listen. - 

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