Friday, January 31, 2003

The Wrens - The Meadowlands (Absolutely Kosher, 2003)

The Wrens
The Meadowlands
Absolutely Kosher


Rating: 8 tangy fruit out of 10

Through all the label turmoil and bullshit, the Wrens finally emerged from the mess with this gem of a release; sounding like a blend of all sorts of bands and styles, from Sparklehorse to Doves to orchestral pop to alt-country to ambient soundscapes, the Wrens have come back from their seven year hiatus firing on all cylinders. Nearly gone is the Pixies-ish intensity heard on their previous record "Secaucus," but there are still elements of it here and there – not that you would really miss it, the beauty crafted in place of this missing aggression more than makes up the difference. This record has already been named on the top ten lists of numerous music mags and reviewers, and there is a good chance it will end up on mine as well. You can check out some tracks at the bands website, but have your wallet handy because these songs will lure you into parting with your cash before you even know it.

Thursday, January 30, 2003

Department of Eagles - Noam Chomsky Spring Break 7'' (Isota, 2003)

Department of Eagles
Noam Chomsky Spring Break 7''


Rating: 7 gold rushes out of 10
I always assumed Department of Eagles (formerly
Whitey on the Moon UK) was some sort of terrible electronica outfit – boy was I mistaken. Sure, there are some electronica bits in there, along with hip-hop turntablist type of stuff, indie rock, ambient & a whole mixed bag that sounds really great together. And not only is the music terrific, but the record is this lovely white vinyl with great hand pressed (at least it looks to be) packaging, and according to the little number on the back it is a limited edition release. So if you come across one of these little devils, be sure and pick it up – they are one of the few acts out there who can blend together a number of different genres and actually make it sound like something other than trash.

Whirlwind Heat - Do Rabbits Wonder? (Third Man / V2, 2003)

Whirlwind Heat
Do Rabbits Wonder?
Third Man / V2


Rating: 7 bush elephants out of 10
Thank Jack White of the White Stripes for bringing Whirlwind Heat to the collective attention of music fans everywhere. Not that they wouldn’t have made it there on their own, but it sure doesn’t hurt to have someone like White producing the record, putting out the record, and taking them on tour as the opener for the White Stripes. While this sort of treatment is usually reserved for groups that are so shitty they need all the help they can get, Whirlwind Heat breaks that mold in that they are actually a damn good band, and entertaining to boot. Made up of moog, drums, and bass, they sound like equal parts Brainiac, The Seconds, and even a little John Spencer Blues Explosion thrown in there on occasion, but pretty unique all the same. Live, they have the extra added element of a singer who flops around in every which direction like a man infested with a case of the crabs. And if that wasn’t enough to entice you, they even have a song about a ‘trashbag helmet’ that gets stuck in my head all the time (that isn’t the name of the song though, it’s called ‘pink’ – all of the song titles are named after colors). Put on your dancing shoes and check these fools out, you won’t regret it.

Wednesday, January 22, 2003

M. Ward - Transfiguration of Vincent (Merge, 2003)

M. Ward
Transfiguration of Vincent


Rating: 7 great paths out of 10
M. Ward has created a lovely little album of his unique blend of folk pop here. This record screams to me “summer” - I think it would be a fitting listen riding down highway 1 along the pacific coast in a convertible on a warm summer day. Or if you’re like me and don’t have a convertible, a station wagon will have to do. Ward has a natural ability for crafting songs that feel as if they could have existed 50 years ago, yet they don’t sound “retro” or intentionally dated; they just feel like this is the earnest music that comes from this man’s mouth and hands without him even putting forth very much effort. Although it would be hard to pinpoint anything that actually sounds just like Matt Ward, his songs remind me of some Howe Gelb and Mark Linkous’s output blended with the guitar playing of someone like Django Reinhardt. Ward’s sound is so unique that it took me a few listens to even realize that the song “Let’s Dance” is a David Bowie cover, a song I’ve heard at least a million times. If you like mellow, dreamy pop music with a folky bent, this is your man. He writes a catchy tune, plays a mean guitar, and even though I’ve never met him, his music makes me think he’s probably a pretty nice guy.

Vells - Vells EP (Luckyhorse Industries, 2003)

Vells EP
Luckyhorse Industries

Rating: 6.5 freebasing teenagers out of 10
One of the biggest complaints you could lodge against Vells is that their songs sound relatively the same. But at least it’s a pretty good song. Vells are an indie rock super group from Seattle, featuring current or former members of Modest Mouse, Red Stars Theory, Blessed Light, and Stagger Lee. In addition the, album was produced by Mr. All Star Northwest producer himself, Phil Ek. For me, all of this adds up to a whole lot of hype that could potentially end in disaster. Luckily, this EP turns out to be a decent listen. Not really sounding anything like the groups with which they are affiliated, Vells instead turn their attention towards recreating some sort Kinks-ian pop gems that you could be convinced were from another era if you didn’t know any better. There are times when this looking-backwards-rather-than-forwards type of music can be rather grating, but on this go around it just comes across as folks who really enjoy a good pop tune and want to play you their versions of them. This record marks a decent start for Vells, a start that will hopefully lead into a great full length in the near future.

Friday, January 17, 2003

Various Artists - New York Noise: Dance Music from the New York Underground 1978-1982 (Soul Jazz, 2003)

Various Artists
New York Noise: Dance Music from the New York Underground 1978-1982
Soul Jazz


Rating: 8 miami shooters out of 10
For those unaware, Soul Jazz Records out of the UK is one of the best labels out there for digging up all the best unknown and seldom heard classics from around the globe.  Though they primarily focus on old Studio One Reggae/Dancehall/Ska stuff, this time around they’ve put their well trained eye at unearthing some quality relics from the late 70’s/early 80’s New York City scene.  This mix has a heavy emphasis towards punk-influenced funk of the area, but includes plenty of other songs representing everything from new wave to no wave and plenty in-between.  Particular highlights include Liquid Liquid, Lizzy Mercier Descloux, Rahmelzee vs. K.Rob (produced by none other than Jean Michel Basquiat), The Contortions, Glenn Branca, Theoretical Girls, ESG, and many more.  Although every song on here isn’t necessarily amazing, you’ll be amazed at the parallels between the sounds produced from these groups mostly unknown to the masses and a lot of the popular ‘indie rock’ of today.  Know the past and know the future, as they say.