Archive for May, 2013

Cloud Boatcloud boat photo

Book of Hours

Apollo Records

2013

This brand new, debut CD, Book of Hours by Cloud Boat, a London-based duo made up of Sam Ricketts and Tom Clarke is another on the list of greats of 2013. This fantasy musical voyage takes one on a surreal journey to the outer limits of the mind and space. Their music often brings about comparisons with fellow musician, Englishman and childhood friend of Ricketts and Clarke, James Blake, who, at only 25 has the aural stamina of one years older. The dreamy textures and ethereal gusts of wind that Cloud Boat concoct are so unique and so needed in this age of “Emo” and other derivative pop bands. It’s one thing to be derivative if you have something new to add or build on, but to play music like so-and-so or whatsizname is kind of a non-starter. Now, others may disagree and say Cloud Boat are derivative, that sort of ambient dreamscape sound has been done by Eno and the like, still, whether it’s their own new interpretation of this or not, Cloud Boat (as well as James Blake) are faraway from their peers in the, at least, American indie scene; their sound is definitely quite English in their approach: they aren’t interested in jingle-jangle pop or loud, raucous guitar hooks and drum kicks, which does sort of make a separate path for them.

I want to take a moment, though, and deconstruct some of the myths that surround this whole idea of original/derivative in music – especially today’s new music.  All the sacred bands/artists that date back to the 60s (Velvet Underground, King Crimson, Can, Brian Eno, Faust and more) are cited by many bands that have come and gone in the past 30 years.  But as great as those bands are, you can dig a bit deeper and find out that those guys too had influences, they didn’t just appear out of thin air or come down the mountain with this brave new sound.  One t hing that bands like the Velvets and Eno and Robert Fripp, Can, et al, have taught us was that it’s the way you take your influences and instead of imitating them, you use the attitudes exuded and the textures and atmospherics induced and take those as starting points, but it takes vision and talent to put it to pleasurable listening experiences.

One of Book of Hours’ strengths is its quality of sound; its brilliance.  For a debut album, Book of Hours showcases a rich tapestry of fantastic journeys and I’m hoping that this is just the beginning in a line of cinematica to come from these two craftsmen.  The disc starts out with a strong tune – “Lions on the Beach” a beat-heavy wave of pulsing electricity. Further in, the album gets more quiet, as the slow gondola pushes away from the mainland of reality, but nonetheless resonates with a very atmospheric sort of balm to it.  They’re a sort of psychological band in that they have this inherent somatic  voice to their music.  You somehow integrate this Jungian sensibility into your mind through listening.  Very sensual, very avant-garde in the truest sense of the term.  Cloud Boat’s stuff hits you on different levels:  you get this hypnagogic input into your id that is apt to work its way into your imagination and your very dream work-ups; it also works consciously, as a salve for damaged synapses, a glue to put broken, shattered nerves back together again or to smooth out frayed nerves.

Their very name – Cloud Boat – is an apt one, the soundscapes on Book of Hours is indeed a conveyance to ethereal pleasure pillows, hovering about like some magic carpet.

Song number four is a really haunting and spare tune: “Drean”, only two and a half minutes, it’s a fantasy, daydream meditation. Then, right after comes the very dry “Amber Road” – even more haunting in its nightmarish soundscape with all the markings of coming off as incidental music from a great underground film; the end comes with about 15 seconds of an acoustic guitar, making a sort of coda to an otherwise otherworldly rapture. “You Find Me” is another strange, but beautiful number. With a sparse undercurrent of music, the singing is a modulated vocal, a deep, warped but melancholy meandering that eventually burns out after just under two minutes.

I could go on and analyze every song on here, but then that is what you’re supposed to do – buy the album and find out for yourself the magic on here. Incantations to raze demons and incite inchoate dreams. The album is a lovely, fantastic waking, lucid dreamwork that recalls ambient greats like Brian Eno and his ilk. It’s a veritable Music for Films with vocal parts.

Speaking of dreams and nightmares, Book of Sounds does start out with a bang, sort of, the aforementioned “Lions on the Beach” which then sinks into the ambient-vocal sounds that the following tunes embrace. This method recalls the act of getting into bed, hitting the pillow and waiting for sleep to wash over oneself. Once it does, however, that’s where the balance of the album goes: into a hypnopaedic sort of spellbound aura. Its songs maneuver in and around the various, many times nonsensical dreams and dream-flashes that one has every night under R.E.M.-sleep. At the end of the album, however, it’s just like a person sleeping who’s getting closer and closer to dawn and so starts to slowly come out of the deep sleep up to a more easily awakened realm, further up, up, up until awake. The last tune on Book of Clouds, “Kowloon Bridge” is a soft, bare-bones reverie that mimics that period of the end of the night. And when its over – time to awaken. –KM.

Looks Pretty Damn Good

Posted: May 15, 2013 in New Indie Music

Saturday Looks Good To MeSLGTM-cover

One Kiss Ends It All

Polyvinyl Records, 2013

Review by Kent Manthie

Oh what dreamy visions. An echo chamber of ecstasy divided into 12 parts. That is the newest album by the Ann Arbor-based band, Saturday Looks Good To Me, One Kiss Ends It All. It can best be described as a surreal counter-pop, a seemingly innocent strand of happy-go-lucky songs about life, love and the intricacies of each. This, their seventh album is a comeback or a return from a five-year hiatus. On One Kiss, Saturday Looks Good To Me (SLGTM) is poised to reclaim their beloved public. As everyone knows, though, the “public” can be fickle and impatient. Of course, they weren’t all idle during those five years: there were side projects and a new label that (Life Like) that came out of it. The new album is a velvet-crush of blissful, green-grass, nuanced pop delights. “Invisible Friend” is, on the surface, a simple study in pop-love tunes, but on deeper inspection, one finds a layered, textured and swirling icing on the cake of Brian Wilson’s birthday party. Further on down the line are songs including a deeper, reflection in “Empty Beach” that includes a Hammond Organ chord-reverb ending. “Negative Space” is a Julee Cruise-like ethereal ballad. “The Everpresent New Times Condition” is a careening drive up the coast with a barenaked guitar doodling throughout. The album ends with the six plus minute “Space Children” which is a lovely dreamscape, sounding not unlike Stereolab at points, that has the perfect ending to both the song as well as the whole album.

The band was started and led by singer-songwriter-producer and multi-instrumentalist Fred Thomas. Originally conceived as a basement-studio project, recording Fred’s tunes on a variety of CD-Rs and eventually laying their music down on wax: soon a number of limited edition 7” records were recorded.

During the first phase of the bands existence, there was little cohesion among the band as it constantly mutated, the lineup would change a lot. The exceptions to this were the constancy of drummer Ryan Howard, keyboardist Scott Sellwood and bassist Scott deRoche. After a while of being a “studio” band – they recorded a number of DIY CD-Rs and some 7 inchers, they were attracting a fair amount of attention. So, finally they started doing some tour dates and next thing you know they amassed a considerable cult following, mostly through word-of-mouth (“dude, you gotta check this great disc my brother’s got in his collection…”). Once that “word-of-mouth” reached enough ears, SLGTM were heard by indie labels who wanted SLGTM to make music for them. So, after a few DIY CDs and whatnot, the band released All Your Summer Songs, their 2003 debut for Chicago’s Polyvinyl Records. All Your Summer Songs made such a big splash the year it came out that it made Pitchfork’s “Top 50 Releases of 2003” list. Their follow-up, Every Night saw SLGTM bring on board a second singer, Betty Marie Barnes. Betty and Fred, thereafter, were co-lead singers. In 2007, however, Barnes “semi-left” the band, handing back the full vocal duties to Fred, which he did on 2007’s K Records release, Fill Up the Room. This one was deemed “more adventurous”, musically and lyrically than their previous two efforts (Sound on Sound and Every Night); example: the 6 minute 48 second pop suite: “When I Lose My Eyes”.

Unfortunately for the avid fans, SLGTM decided to put things on hold for what turned out to be a five year hiatus. It was during this period that Fred Thomas started his own label, Life Like as well as doing a project with drummer Ryan Howard called City Center which recorded such fantastic discs as Redeemer and Zen Kids, both for the K-Records label, which, on the label’s website, described City Center thus: “ [an] ever-expanding landscape of warmly washed-out psychedelia, where splintered samples and chillingly desolate drones somehow emerge in the form of soft summery pop songs. ever-expanding landscape of warmly washed-out psychedelia, where splintered samples and chillingly desolate drones somehow emerge in the form of soft summery pop songs.” I found it to be an aptly written description, so vivid, it would make me want to go out and buy a CD just on what I read alone.

Fast forward years ahead: fortunately, in 2012, SLGTM, revamped with stalwarts Scott deRoche on bass and drummer Ryan Howard, two new singers, Carol Gray and Amber Fellows, went back to Polyvinyl Records and recorded a seven inch called Sunglasses. It was a two-song 7” with the “B-side” “Give Me Your Hands”. It was a musical “dipping the toe in the water” to which the rest of their “body” reacted favorably and they then recorded One Kiss Ends it All, which comes out next week. Fred and Carol and Amber rotate vocal duties, blissfully belting out the perfect pop on this comeback, of sorts. It’s a good one and I think that, to die-hard fans, One Kiss will certainly look (and sound) good to them!  -KM

Alex Bleeker and The FreaksALEX-BLEEKER-AND-THE-FREAKS-how far away cover

How Far Away

Woodsist Records

Review by Kent Manthie

Alex Bleeker, bass player for the Ridgewood, New Jersey-based band, Real Estate, has just finished his sophomore effort with his side band, Alex Bleeker and The Freaks, an indie “supergroup” of sorts, which also includes Mountain Man’s Amelia Meath, Woods’ Jarvis Tanviere, Real Estate’s Jackson Pollis, & Big Troubles’ Sam Franklin.

How Far Away is a shining album (check out “Who Are You Seeing Now?” a really shimmering, dreamy breakup song) which features tunes about breaking up and the changing aspects vantage points of the apogees and nadirs of life’s wavy graph of experiences; as well as the realization that there’s no getting around aging and the spent too much time preparing for tomorrow or dwelling on the past that they forgot to live in the present and the next thing you know you’re 40-50 years old and suddenly realize that – whoa! – all that time you’ve been wasting making plans for has suddenly, like some blurry montage, passed you by and now you’re filled with an olio of emotions such as fond nostalgia, regret, gratefulness that you’ve accomplished the things that you did get done, but also a ruing for lost chances, ones that got away, ambitions that were long ago put on the shelf, with the intention of picking them up again, but other, in hindsight, petty, but nonetheless, necessary “living” got in the way.

This is a pretty broad spectrum of ideas that I’m throwing out there, but they’ve been coming at me, while listening to How Far Away, in fact, I’ve probably gone overboard and put way too much interpretation into Alex Bleeker and from where he’s coming. Although those little tidbits are possible angles that you’ll also hear from Nick Cave (with or without the Bad Seeds), Lou Reed, although, in the last two decades, in his now clean mind, he’s more depressed sounding – many of his more recent stuff has dealt with the theme of getting older and with it, the loss of many, many friends along the way – Lou was, as was everyone else, distraught when Andy Warhol died so prematurely and in such a needless, screw-up (Andy went in for gall-bladder surgery in late summer or so of 87 and ended up dying on the table because of a screw-up due to the anaesthesia. How much of a waste is that? Like that famous line in the title track of Street Hassle (1978) – “…they call it ‘bad luck’”). But in the case of the album at hand, How Far Away, Alex Bleeker is not 72 years old, he isn’t reflecting back on a roller-coaster life with a cast of thousands, many of whom are now dead, many physically and a few in spirit. No, Alex seems to already know that this is how life is and wants to paint a pretty picture of his own. Alex is lucky to have more than one outlet for his busy and diffuse sides.

In one way one could put in a box with the eclectic Guided By Voices, but not as edgy or with any number of his contemporaries. And that is one thing I like about the various “scenes” that make up indie rock today: you have your New York clique, the wider East Coast vein that goes from New Jersey to Massachusetts down to North Carolina (Merge Records, Superchunk, et al) and you have the awesome Chicago sound of the past 10 years – one that, right now, is really being steered by greats such as Polyvinyl Records. Then, of course one can’t leave out the West Coast – scenes: everyone from the Northern California-Bay Area sprawl, that easily fits in with the further North – Portland, Seattle, etc. and of course, the perennial new crop of stuff that comes out of L.A. County and its bitchy stepsister from the south, Orange County and then, throw in San Diego music, which isn’t so easy to define and you have it.

One thing that really stood out to me is how much like Big Star, in particular and Alex Chilton, in general. It is a fabulous tribute to the sad, sad news about the untimely death of Chilton, who passed away March 19, 2010 very unexpectedly. Actually, Chilton’s sad demise is not the first death that has haunted Big Star: his original Big Star partner, Chris Bell, died December 27, 1978. Unfortunately for both Big Star and Bell, they parted ways after Big Star their debut album, #1 Record failed to (at that time, anyway – nowadays all the original Big Star albums are considered classics) find “commercial success” and that is a damned poor excuse for quitting a band, but I’m sure there were other, more complex (?) issues behind the simple explanation.

Alex Bleeker and The Freaks sound like a sunny day jingle pop sound with introspective, inward-looking lyrics that meditate on life and its various delights and let downs. Bleeker & co. also, like Chilton, et al, also have that simple Memphis-tinged and urbane charm to their songs. The 11 song, half-hour length album showcases a string of songs, averaging about 2 ½ minutes apiece. The rather short length of the album, interestingly enough, doesn’t leave one wanting more or missing a raison d’etre. It’s LIFE and its ups and downs and the fact that, unless you want to become a bitter old angry person, you’d better take heed and stay focused on what’s in front of you and where the deceptively twisting and turning road takes you. “Leave on the Light” is a great, homespun Neil-Young-esque ballad that warns you to raise your signal – keep your light on – and what’s supposed to come will. The song’s use of the pedal steel guitar makes it, as well as the following, “Home I Love” a dreamy, meadowscape of sunny mornings when the sun isn’t so high as to take your breath away, but rather a perfect time to meditate on the finer things your life has to offer. “Time Cloud” indeed sounds like floating on a cloud, the keyboard-synths chiming in a hypnotic ring which underscores an echoing slow, drifting poetic tune.

The whole album, listened to in one long sitting runs through several different emotions, from the sublime, to the melancholy to the evocation of loving memories which only exist in the mind. “Who Are You Seeing” has a rip-roaring guitar solo, which ends out the songs, but which punctuates an otherwise cloud-tripping dreamscape. It’s a beautiful album. Sure to make one nostalgic for the Memphis of the 70s, when Big Star created the “Memphis” sound – a tuneful, pretty, gentle sound that in a non-nihilistic way is haunting. Not only showing us what was, but what could’ve been and what the new fillies of indie music still have the chance to grab the baton and continue in this vein. -KM

Lance Carbunclesloughing off the rot book cover

Sloughing Off the Rot

Vicious Galoot Books, Florida, 2012

Review by Kent Manthie

Lance Carbuncle is back. His third novel is probably one of his most poignant stories yet. Sloughing Off the Rot is a wild ride from page one until the very end, punctuated by a few R. Crumb-meets-Maurice Sendak illustrations by Williams Kelly.

John is a guy who wakes up in a cave after having plopped down in his oh-so-comfortable bed, blacked out after a healthy dose of Ambien and single malt scotch. In the morning his memory has been wiped clean and he has no idea where he is, except that it isn’t his plush, king-sized bed.

The only thing that John has left is a disembodied voice, a cryptic entity that, during initial contact, explains to John what lies in store for him:  vague instructions that spell out a long journey ahead with trials, obstacles and pitfalls.  This metaphysical demi-dimensional alpha-omega-man keeps popping up along the way; for encouragement, to fill in some of the vague points and to remind him of the importance of the outcome.

During the trek John runs into many characters, including Alf the Sacred Burro, who will be remembered by readers of his past books as the nonchalant, scruffy donkey that is always loyal and always there for John. Besides Alf, there’s a whole gang of crazies, zombies, giants, stoic Apaches and others who join the circus that becomes John’s posse.

One of the things that is consistent in Sloughing Off the Rot is the freaky humor, the far-out situations that are difficult but not impossible. It’s also filled with myriad pop culture references: everything from song lyrics (there are at least two lines from “I Am the Walrus” and one from “Come Together” for you Beatles fans), a couple of Zappa references and a smattering of usage of that lingo from A Clockwork Orange.

Along the Red Brick Road John must stay on and never veer away from in order to get to his destination, he collects a wild band of strange types who, over the course of the trip turn out to be incarnations of his missing mind. His first encounter is with a crazy loon who turns out later on to be John’s own id. The big, strong, slow but reluctantly intelligent “giant” is a superego of sorts for John and the rest of the band are the other missing emotions and parts of his consciousness which is drained out of him just before he starts on the road to a better John. Also, we can’t forget the return of Alf the Sacred Burro, who, readers of Lance’s previous work will remember as the dirty, old, rundown donkey from his earlier novels. Alf is a loyal, but stubborn, old and feeble-looking, but strong and fastidious and generous beast to have on your trip.

It also turns out that he’s going to need every bit of help he can get along the way as John encounters all sorts of obstacles, temptations, forks in the road, formidable foes and don’t forget the crazy “slunkies” – roving bands of zombified freaks who got that way from tweeking out too much by huffing slunk worms. A seeming metaphor for crystal meth, “slunk worms” rot out the user’s brain to such an extent that they devolve into monsters who will either eat you, fuck you in any and every orifice or both.

The ultimate destination and final trial and tribulation comes when John and company get to the end of the Red Brick Road. After a long and twisted journey, never veering off of the safety of the RBR, they come to its end at an ominous castle, wherein a fiend by the name of Android Lovethorn awaits John to come. He can’t kill him, though, as that would mean the death of both of them. Lovethorn is, in fact, the incarnation of all the evil and rotten things about the “former” John, who, it is made known, is lying in a hospital bed back in this dimension – barely gripping to life, due, no doubt, to the near-suicidal cocktail of CNS depressants he on which he blacked out -the last thing he can remember before being transported to this desert purgatory wherein he must go through a labyrinth, a cross between the biblical and the surreal, an ordeal wherein Pilgrim’s Progress meets Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

In fact, per the instructions of the disembodied voice who periodically shows up, as a voice in John’s head, usually but occasionally in a more colorful way, such as talking through a burning bush, he, John, is supposed to get to this Lovethorn and, even though Lovethorn doesn’t (and won’t) want to, John must, by any means necessary, not kill Android Lovethorn, but make him, however he must do it, but he must make Lovethorn “send John back” to his “real” self – the dying shell of a body that’s lying in a hospital bed “on the other side”, waiting for John’s “spirit” to return to it, which only Lovethorn can do.

Well, I’m just going to leave it there and not spoil the great big raucous meeting the two have towards the climax and the denouement.

By all means, get this book and find out exactly what it’s all about. The only drawback to indie books, put out by small, independent publishers is that it’s not always easy to find them at your local chain bookstore. It may be at some Barnes & Noble someplace, it may not. But I would first check on Amazon.com for it- they seem to be able to get anything for you – music or book-wise. Failing that, go to Lance’s website: http://www.lancecarbuncle.com and you’ll be sure to find your way to this or any of the other books in his small but soon-to-be growing catalog.

Happy reading! And, for fun, see if you can pinpoint all the embedded song lyric samples and/or pop-culture references. I did – and it made reading the book that much more interesting. -KM

A Cup of “T”

Posted: May 9, 2013 in New Indie Music

Their/They’re/Therereviews_Their_Theyre_There_400_250_250_70_s

Their/They’re/There

Polyvinyl Records, 2013

Review by Kent Manthie

Just as Owen (Mike Kinsella’s solo work) has put out a new album, L’Ami du Peuple, he also has a new CD out with a new side project: Their/They’re/There is a new project that includes Evan Weiss (Into It. Over It.) on bass and vocals, Mike Kinsella (Cap’n Jazz, Joan of Arc, Owls, American Football, Friend/Enemy, Owen and others) on drums and Matthew Frank (Loose Lips Sink Ships) on guitar.

Their/They’re/There’s eponymous debut is a six-song EP that is full of energy. The three disparate members pull together to put an Emo-ish style: the opening cut, “Their/They’re/Therapy” starts out the EP like a teenage angst anthem. “Concession Speech Writer” threatens to emulsify this vibe, until you realize that there is some really great stuff going on here: this trio makes a big, complex sound that is encircled by the awesome swirling and never ending guitar plucking, picking and noodling of Matthew Frank. Singer/bassist Evan Weiss, from the band Into It Over It, has this powerful, from-the-gut vocal range; solidly built, perfect-pitched vocals that don’t get drowned out by the razor-sharp, energetic, frenetic guitar of Frank or the hammering percussion Kinsella lays down. Mike’s a really great drummer. He also plays guitar quite well himself. That’s one reason his Owen material is so powerful – his one-man-band effort is so seamless, he can really do some slick picking and grooving and generate bitchin’ beats. Weiss’s bass playing is also quite smooth – he can either be subtle and a good anchor or do some Jack Bruce-like jamming, which makes for a great rhythm section – Evan and Mike; they complement each other nicely.

So it was here that I had to come back after a couple extra listens to this EP and after one particular listening, I was just blown away.  I thought to myself – WHAT?  This album rocks.  If this stuff is “emo” than most bands that are in that category are the problem, not the genre.  The drumming is just awesome.  Mike Kinsella is one hell of a drummer.  For instance, on the final cut, “End And End”, he plays both with the band and by himself, as if he’s just going off on a bombastic, jazz-influenced solo.  It’s not dissonant or anything, but it really lends a bite to the whole atmosphere.

It did take me a couple go-rounds to get used to Evan Weiss’s vocal style, but that’s because, when it comes to all things Kinsella – whether it’s Mike or Tim – I’m so used to hearing a certain sound whereas Evan doesn’t sound like them (duh).  He has a somewhat deeper, close to baritone voice that has a dynamic range to it and can belt out a real welter of a vocal.  The whole trio really plays well together and I just can’t wait to hear their next release.

One song on Their/They’re/There that really shines is the penultimate “572 Cuthbert Blvd”, a softer, glittering harmonizing tune that is, of all the other tunes on here, closer to what I love about Owen’s music. Besides the almost classical sounding guitar on here is Evan’s softer side, when he turns his voice down a couple notches and makes it a great tune by the emotions that ooze through.

The album’s closer, “End And End” is also similar to “572 Cuthbert Blvd” in that Evan’s singing isn’t as plaintive as the first four. If he had kept the singing to more hushed tones, it would’ve given the instruments more room to shine and might’ve turned out differently. The really cool thing about “End And End” is the way it suddenly just STOPS right at the 4:00 mark. There’s no finale, no notice at all, musically, that the song’s over, it’s as if someone just turned off the recording gear, pulled the plug, if you will, and “poof” it’s done.

To find out how grand they really are, I’m waiting, hoping that they’ll take time off from their respective other outfits to do at least a mini-tour (as long as they come to San Diego!) so I can check ’em out live (and get some good photos too!)

One cannot deny that the trio really kick ass.  Is it just me or do bands such as Their/They’re/There come across as being “Emo”??  If you were to ask me if I was into “Emo”, I’d naturally say “no”.  And I don’t know if Their/They’re/There is “Emo” or not, I guess it is sometimes a personal judgment call in some cases.  There are bands that don’t hold back and aren’t afraid to show their vulnerable, nerdy side and one of these bands is Braid, who, I think, is from Chicago.

I went to go see what I thought would be an Owen show a couple years ago, except that I was under the impression that Owen was playing 2nd and Braid was opening up, but, having to take a LOOOONG bus ride there and not getting to the Irenic in the North Park neighborhood of San Diego until after 9, I showed up and as soon as I walked in I found out that Owen played first and I got inside just in time to hear him do his very last song for the evening, “Too Many Moons”, from Ghost Town.  At least I got a few good pictures of him as well as a freebie T-shirt.  I stuck around for awhile and caught some of Braid’s show, but, after a half hour or so, I just couldn’t take it anymore and I left and went home.  Besides, I was already so disappointed that I’d missed seeing Owen, which is the reason I had gone there in the 1st place.

But I’d stick around for a Their/They’re/There show.  Whether Mike was going to play a separate Owen show or not!

As far as Their/They’re/There goes, this album just gets better with each additional play.  It has the opposite of a lot of modern rock today – it doesn’t get old fast, it’s like a great, complex cult film:  the more you see it, the more you get out of it.    -KM

A Good Friend to Have

Posted: May 8, 2013 in New Indie Music

OwenOwen L'ami du Peuple CD Cover

L’Ami du Peuple

Polyvinyl Records, 2013

Review by Kent Manthie

 

Since 2001, Mike Kinsella’s been making brilliant, haunting tunes with wry, witty lyrics under the moniker, Owen. On May 14th he’ll be releasing his eight full-length CD, L’Ami du Peuple. It’s sounds like a recharged Mike, after two good but slightly overly melancholy CDs, New Leaves and Ghost Town. When I first got L’Ami du PeupleI was thrilled to hear gray of recent past replaced by some purples, blues and reds. His upbeat, electric version of “A Fever”, which I first heard on a “Daytrotter Session” which he had done (http://www.daytrottersession.com) a few years ago. This “A Fever” was much more punctuated, which was natural, of course, since it had rhythm and more buzz to it.

Owen has always been a forum for Mike to do his own thing, to write songs that are hauntingly honest, sincere, introspective and, at times, self-effacing. Being a multi-instrumentalist, Mike’s done most if not all of the work on all Owen releases. Besides being a great guitarist, with a great talent for finger picking, he is one hell of a drummer as well, which can also be heard occasionally on Joan of Arc albums or on the brilliant but only American Football CD that came out in 1999 and on the other projects with whom he’s played.

On L’Ami du Peuple Mike sounds like he’s gotten over the new-father-jitters that haunted the previous work, Ghost Town. Songs like “Too Many Moons” and “No Place Like Home” are examples of this thread. While well-written and staying in the same artistic, wry wit, he sounded unsure of what to think about his new role as a dad. Well, that self-doubt seems to have given way to self-assurance or at least he’s got it down to a routine. The new album is more relaxed, more focused on his life as inspiration for art and vice versa. Songs such as “Coffin Companions”, “Who Cares?” and “A Fever” sound less gloomy and have more of a joie de vivre in them. The last two cuts: “Where Do I Begin” and “Vivid Dreams” are both more of the old Mike; songs about relationships, redemption and the ethereal. The former is a sparse tune, Mike singing over some of that great finger picking on the guitar and some piano over on the side. “Where Do I Begin” goes straight into “Vivid Dreams” without taking a breath; one ends and the other begins as if they are two parts of the same song, which, musically, they are: same finger-picking guitar licks and same piano notes. Even the vocal notes are the same, they’re just a continuation. A very witty way to end a great, wry album.

I recently read, in an interview with Mike, with Tweed Magazine, where he is quoted as saying that a lot of the songs he writes “are about girls, sleeping, or my teeth…” I don’t buy that, myself. There are various tunes that reflect different angles of relationships and the baggage that goes with them, etc.. but I’ve never heard them as being “songs about girls”. Now, the thing about sleep – I can name at least one tune about sleep – or at least about staying in bed all day, which is probably one of my favorite Owen song; definitely my favorite song from my favorite Owen CD, I Do Perceive: “Bed Abuse”: “I spend/Most days/In this bed that I abuse/On these pillows/That you can get used to/I spend/Most days/Putting off that which can’t wait/Until I’m knee deep/In my own waste…” – “Bed Abuse”, although it may sound like a song about incessant sex (abusing the bed by constantly rattling the frame and the springs in the mattress, etc.), but which is, a song about someone (Mike?) who prefers to stay home, in the comfort of his bed instead of going out in the unforgiving Chicago air and being around too many people – a song that spoke directly to me and seemed like it was written about me, since I too enjoy being in the comfort of my bed sometimes as opposed to going out and doing the same old routine day in, day out. Of course, in reality that isn’t something that isn’t practical; I mean, you have to get up and eat sometime, you have to go out and go grocery shopping or buy cigarettes or have breakfast at a diner close by; maybe go see a band you really like at a club once in a while, etc. But “Bed Abuse” does make a good argument, though. As for the “teeth” thing, I may have to re-listen to my Owen CDs again to listen for references to teeth. Freud said that dreams in which you’re teeth are crumbling and falling out are symbols for fear of castration, so maybe the hang up with teeth is an unconscious fear of being emasculated; hmm.

On L’Ami du Peuple, you can hear the time Mike put in to make the songs just right, the lyrics fitting and the continuity in perfect order. This is, I’d say, the best Owen CD since At Home With Owen. Like all of Owen’s albums, it’s taut, orderly and fabulous.

Last August Owen, to my amazement, finally came to my town of San Diego, CA to play a gig with labelmates, Braid. Unfortunately, due to the awful public transit system here and my not having a car at the time, I was late in getting there and since the ticket itself didn’t read what time the doors opened or the concert began, I had to guess – and since many concerts start a little later than when they say they’re going to, I took that chance and ended up losing (but, as I said, it wasn’t entirely my fault: the bus ride was excruciatingly long; I’ll NEVER ride that bus again!) Anyway, so by the time I did get down to the North Park neighborhood it was near 9:00pm and once I got past the front door and into the auditorium, Owen had just started playing his very last song of the evening: “Too Many Moons” from Ghost Town. I was completely disheartened and depressed. I had waited years to see him and this had to happen! Then, if that wasn’t bad enough, I stuck around afterward to see Braid play their set (I wasn’t totally unfamiliar with them, having reviewed an EP of theirs about 6 months or so previously). But I just didn’t get into it. They were a bit too “Emo” for me. The songs sort of all bled together and I don’t remember any that stick out in my memory. Well, they took the stage at around 10 and after about a half an hour of the show I headed for the door and left, feeling empty. Here’s hoping that Owen does another swing through San Diego so I can finally see him do Owen Pic from RSa full set and feel complete again. -KM.

Pacific UV

After the Dream You Are Awake pacificUV after the dream CD cover

Mazarine Records

Review by Kent Manthie

 

Hailing from Athens, GA, Pacific UV is a quartet of space-rock, shoegazing, bliss-pop, ready, on May 14 to release their fourth album, After the Dream You Are Awake. The nine song CD is an atmospheric ride around white fluffy clouds. The ride starts off with the amazing “24 Frames”, a swirling whirligig which starts out with a melange of synthesizers and drum programming, which quickly quiets down for the opening lyrics and then engineer the full frontal electronic assault to mesh with the lush lyrics.

The whole album has this whole body of work which remind one of heroes of old such as Stephin Merritts’ Magnetic Fields, Ultravox, et al; giants of the oeuvre known as “New Wave”, except that pacificUV has managed to put their own selves into, body and soul.

The first cut, “24 Frames” is a great way to start off the album. A great overture of a sweet, textured electronic wave of blissful, lush trances. Another fabulous track is their great cover of Billy Idol’s great departure from his faux-punk genre, “Eyes Without a Face”. It was a hauntingly beautiful song when Billy did it back in the 80s (the other song that fit into that same genre-busting of Idol was the tiny bit edgier “Flesh for Fantasy”. But pacificUV manage to make it their own song. No middle bridge where he jumps out of his velvet straitjacket for a moment to sing about his psychedelic fantasy, where he gets a chance to flash that trademark snarl of his and guitarist Steve Stevens gets to get in some screaming licks. Their version is a sedate, plush and spaced-out version which nevertheless doesn’t stray from the haunting imagery envisioned by the original.

PacificUV’s been around for some time now – in 1998 the original lineup was formed in Athens, GA and consisted of Howard Hudson, Clay Jordan and Lucas Jensen. Their full-length debut CD was entitled Longplay1 but it was subsequently eponymously retitled and released on WARM Recordings in 2002. After an extensive tour after the release of Longplay1, the band actually dissolved: Clay Jordan relocated to Portland, OR and with the help of Kevin Davis, Jesse Robert W., Mike Erwin and Matt Kline managed to revamp the band and soon after, an EP was released; a 4-song EP released on WARM Recordings. The EP contained 3 original tracks as well as a remix of “LAPD”: “LAPD v NYPD”.

It took a while, but finally, in 2008 we heard from pacificUV again, when they recruited a second vocalist, Carolyn Berk, formerly of Lovers. With the new lineup ready to go, Longplay2 was the result of the long-awaited follow-up to their debut full-length. In late 2011 pacificUV relocated to Athens, GA, where, in January, 2012, they released their third full-length CD, Weekends which featured several guest appearances from other Athens-based bands, including B.P. Helium from of Montreal.

Weekends found pacificUV embracing a more melodic, electronic style while simultaneously staying with the not-incongruous at all “opulent, ethereal” production for which they are best known. But if you think about it, adding a bit more electronics into the mix seems to only make the space-drawn, ethereal waves in the music that much more hypnotic.

Well, now it’s mid-2013 and pacificUV are just about to release their fourth full-length CD, After The Dream You Are Awake, which hits the street May 14th. I think by this point the band has integrated their lush, dreamy sounds perfectly with cold, hard electronic effluvia very well; in fact, tracks such as the instrumental, “Run” has an almost Classical-type sound to it. Instead of an orchestra, though, the merging of the synthesizers create a symphony of future sounds which meld perfectly down into sparse, quiet ending that then goes into the beautiful dreamscape of “American Lovers”.

The closer of After the Dream… is “I Wanna Be You”, which is a quiet but layered goldmine of echoing, harmonic blissfully timeless lushness of Brian Eno.

Take a ride with pacificUV – they will fly you up to the curves of the ionosphere and safely back again in a vehicle of ephemeral, lush flowers. – KM.

The Lost Patrol

DrivenDriven

Self-Released, 2013

Review by Kent Manthie

 

On their fourth and latest CD, The Lost Patrol continue in their oblique, atmospheric pop candy (but NOT bubblegum!) and it just keeps getting better and better. It’s full of breathy, catchy, indie pop tunes. But one that really sticks out is track 10, “Just Go”, a song that comes off like an old jazz standard, a la Billie Holliday, etc. But, since all the songs are written by The Lost Patrol, it’s their own tune, but I love the way they make it sound like an old tune – it has that “old” style, recording technique that sounds like it was recorded in 1958 instead of 2013. Mollie Israel, the lead singer, does a fabulous job on all the songs – she has a lovely voice and, after hearing “Just Go”, one can see that she has a wide range of musical styles.

The rest of Driven is filled with ethereal, mellow and sometimes emotional indie pop bliss. “See You In Hell” is an edgy song that sounds like a “drop dead” letter to someone who deserves it – an ex who ruined a relationship, someone who was trusted but betrayed that trust and so on. “Disguise”, the closer, is a pretty, ballad-esque romantic tune to dance to or to just sit in your room and brood over.

Listening to Driven more and more, when I peel back all the layers of the studio bells & whistles, so to speak, I can hear a big influence from music of the 50s and 60s. I don’t mean “Doo-Wop” or “Elvis-ish” rock & roll, but more of an R&B flavor in it, that’s where the emotion and the laid-back feeling come in. Back when they were still new and trying to find a footing, they would try to make “soundtrack”-type music, as in experimental stuff that one might find on a soundtrack to a dreamy film, say, one by David Lynch or Wim Wenders. This foray into textural sounds and experimentation helped to set the mold for what they’re currently up to. It must be working since they have a good sized fan base here in the U.S., are critical darlings of music press writers, most notably in New York City. Also, they’ve managed to attract attention from listeners all over the globe; from countries such as Australia, Spain, Peru, Japan and Serbia to name a few.

Another big plus for The Lost Patrol is that they’ve managed to catch the attention of certain film and TV projects: since around 2010 TLP has gotten momentum by having some of their music placed on the teeny-bopper delight TV show, Gossip Girl. While I know Gossip Girl isn’t exactly high culture (or even “high-brow”) it is nice to be able to have millions of 8th and 9th graders watching a show on which your music is featured. An even better place to be placed is in Hal Hartley’s new project, Meanwhile. Also, TLP will be featured in an upcoming film by writer/director Amy Heckerling, Vamps which will feature songs of theirs from their previous albums, Midnight Matinee and Dark Matter as well as some original stuff.

The Lost Patrol continues to grow and evolve with their elegant mixture of cinematic soundscapes and retro-futuristic pop, playing live performances on both the East and West Coasts. Having followed their career for the past few CDs or so, I’d have to say that Driven is definitely their best effort yet. It has a lush dreaminess with a verve and elan that just keep getting keener with each passing release. Besides the aforementioned songs on Driven, I thought I’d give a shout out to both the opener, “Spinning” as well as “All Tomorrow’s Promises”, both of which have swirls of lunar effects, but it’s an album that is a great listen, all the way through. After getting lost in the music of Driven, I can’t wait for their next, sure to be pleasing, CD. For now, though, keep an eye out for Vamps, the latest Amy Heckerling film as well as Hal Hartley’s new project, the aforementioned Meanwhile. Hartley is known for making interesting films and I’m sure this one won’t disappoint. -KM