Cities Are Temples
( Loud+Clear ) 2005
"The world will cave in, as cities of stone shatter on the floor - it will happen.. " - these are the first words spoken atop a gentle snare mix and 'off in the stratosphere' keys on "Seven Winged Lions", the opener on via satellite's Cities Are Temples. So what does all this mean for you? Well, via satellite co-vocalist Drew Andrews an ex-"man of the word", so any insight on the final coming of the kingdom is likely to reach him before someone as "out of the revelation loop" as me. That said, if there was to be an unpredicted soundtrack to something as devistating as the recent Tsunami horror - Cities Are Temples may be just that. To be honest, an album such as this (which are few and far in between) - staged loosely around such apocolyptic-like events - could be the sound to many "the end is near" documentaries.. . past or to be determined.
Each of the 3 members in via satellite are credited with some form of laptop or sampler, and according to the bio they quite enjoy "tinkering with things". Tinker they do - but not without the exceptional foundation of drums (note: Tim Reece doubles as drummer for city-mates the Album Leaf ), guitars and keys (see: "passing").. . and yes - those graceful vocals, a double duty position covered by Andrews and guitar / keyboardist Scott Mercado. A comparison to post-Kid A Radiohead is quite likely ("Passing" and "Glory" are good starters), but that typecast should only be the inviting point to discovering one of the best electronic outfits I have heard in the 48 continental in quite some time. Now, mind you, the fellas can let go at times too, listening to "Cotton" at it's peak - when the trio decides to let the amps crash full tide, absolutely captures this fact - as we may then be called on to spring comparisions to the thicker moments from The Cooper Temple Clause.
Co-produced (again) by the Sven-Erik Seaholm, whom via satellite have nearly a dozen projects linked to, the sound captured within is as good as it gets for an introduction to via satellite.. . get started.
Extra credit: Manuok (Loud+Clear, 2005) is Scott Mercado's (see above) solo release that will surely floor those who grasp any of the 10 compositions Cities Are Temples reveals.
2005 is going to be good.. . or the end.
+ k 12.31.04 [the end's not near, it's here]
( Barsuk ) 2005
John Vanderslice is known for writing quirky pops songs about the darker and more obscure aspects of life. His topics include: a pedophile who wants to exact revenge on Bill Gates (from Mass Suicide Occult Figurines), the traumatic experience of watching a girl hit by a car ("Everything Changed", from Time Travel is Lonely), and a war veteran haunted by his days in Vietnam ("White Plains", Cellar Door). The messages in his songs are never handed to the listener on a silver platter, covered in a saccharine coating for easy swallowing. Instead, he prefers to express his thoughts and feelings by way of the explicit confessions and narratives of characters that find themselves in dire and strange situations.
For his sixth release, Pixel Revolt, the already-accomplished lyricist John Vanderslice worked with another music mastermind – John Darnielle of the Mountain Goats – to create a poignant record with frank, yet poetic lyrics. Like in his previous record, Cellar Door, Vanderslice once again travels down the path of war and politics in his songs. The song "Trance Manual" tells the tale of a journalist in Iraq who drowns out the chaos and disillusionment by seeking comfort from an Iraqi prostitute: "Just walk right through/past the bullhorns and sleepy 47s / right by the coalition guards /.. . Come to me now / you are warming weather / come to me now / the kind that comes with / sandbags along the river." War, however, is not the dominating theme; Vanderslice also touches on the struggles of daily life, including his own, which is something he rarely mentioned in previous albums.
Failed love and disappointment are scattered throughout the record, both in real and imaginary situations. "New Zealand Pines," a love song Vanderslice wrote to an ex-girlfriend, is full of nostalgia wistful imagery. On the track "Angela," a lost pet bunny suddenly prompts a couple to reconsider their dismal surroundings and circumstances. Taking a break from the melancholy, a delicate instrumental track called "The Golden Gate" perfectly captures the image of the graceful structure peeking out through the gray fog in the bay.
From his years as front man of MK Ultra to his solo career, Vanderslice has always produced records that are original, never trite or boring. Pixel Revolt is interesting both sonically and lyrically, a perfect blend of contrasting sounds and poetry. Let us hope that John Vanderslice never runs out of stories to tell.
( the SubPop ) 2005
Infiniheart is a very good 57-minute album that could have been a near-perfect 40-minute album. Chad VanGaalen is obviously quite a talented songwriter, instrumentalist, and arranger. Most of his lyrics - ranging from bizarre tales of biotechnology to laments of unrequited love - are interesting and well-written. The album itself jumps from the gates and grabs you by the earlobes with the high energy weirdness of "Clinically Dead," then instantly backpedals to the loping, acoustic guitar-based "After the Afterlife," which is itself followed by the quiet electro-pop of "Kill Me in My Sleep." The album progresses in this manner for another 13 songs, leaving the listener never quite sure what to expect next. The unease created here is not necessarily a bad thing; this album demands the listener's attention, and for the most part refuses to be relegated to the background. After paying the album some close attention, though, I can't help but wish VanGaalen were as good at editing his own work as he is at creating music.
It seems weird to say this about someone who, by all accounts, is an incredibly prolific and hard-working musician and visual artist, but there's a certain laziness to many of these songs. It's as if he's so intent on the act of creating music en masse (he estimates he's made about 200 albums worth of material - material being a word which would seem very appropriate in this case, as if he's not making music so much as creating stuffing for a gigantic sonic pillow) that he can't be bothered to put the work into making all of his songs stand up on their own. Don't get me wrong: there are some terrific songs here that bear many repeated listens; there are some great lyrics, too, filled with disturbing, evocative imagery. Unfortunately, there are also a handful of instrumental interludes that don't really go anywhere, songs with repetitive structures, and overly earnest, clichéd lyrics that bring to mind a high-school kid writing in his journal at the coffee shop while gazing longingly at the girl who doesn't know he exists.
Overall, I'm very glad Mr. VanGaalen has been granted a larger audience than he had toiling away in his bedroom in Calgary, and I'm glad to have been exposed to his work. He's got talent to burn, and Infiniheart is a more interesting and adventurous release by far than much of Sub Pop's recent catalog. Contrary to what others have written, though, this record doesn't make me want to listen to it over and over; it makes me very curious to hear what he does next, with high expectations for something beautiful and unexpected.
Lee Klein, esq. 08.26.05
Year of Meteors
( Nonesuch ) 2005
When I first saw Laura Veirs, about three years ago, she was, without a doubt, an "alt-country" artist. Most of her songs had a folky acoustic vibe; she wore cowboy boots; she sang abut bedroom eyes and the devil's hootenanny. Troubled by the Fire is the first album I heard by her, and while it's not Neko Case, it has a definite No Depression feel to it. With her last two albums, Carbon Glacier and now Year of Meteors, she and producer Tucker Martine have carved out a space in pop music that is entirely their own (despite the fact that the great all-knowing CD Database seems to think this is a "folk" album).
Year of Meteors starts out on "Fire Snakes" with an acoustic guitar playing a simple, yet intricate, theme, which continues throughout the song and is built upon with more guitars, drum machine, upright bass, percussion, harpsichord, strings, Veirs's voice, and a sampling of the strange, lovely noises that Martine excels at producing. This song, like the two that follow, doesn't have a traditional verse-chorus-bridge structure; rather it builds on repeating themes, offering variation and dynamics via the many layers of melody and counterpoint set over the original 4 or 8-bar idea. The varied results are lovely to behold: from the meditative drone of "Fire Snakes," through the electric guitar-based, slowly driving rock of "Galaxies," into the shuffling groove of "Secret Someones," which is all Fender Rhodes, tight drums and soft yet insistent guitars.
The rest of the album brings a continued diversity of sound. There are simple acoustic guitar songs, sedate grooves, outright rockers, and many songs that are categorizable - to me, anyway - only as Laura Veirs songs. Throughout, she, Martine, and string savant Eyvind Kang weave an incredible array of sounds into Veirs's singular songs, and create a musical work of beauty and importance. They seem to be trying to make this album as interesting and vital as possible, and there's really only one spot where they falter: "Cool Water" is, to me, the obvious attempt at AAA radio outreach, and it pretty much leaves me cold. It's a fine song, I suppose, but it just feels like a straight-ahead radio-friendly pop song, and it's not up to the level of the rest of this album.
Lyrically, I usually have no idea what Veirs is talking about ("Tell me / did you make it to the show? / Tell me / what did you think of the drummer's hair?"), but I love the way she delivers it - with conviction, humility and fearlessness all at once. I'm a sucker for people who can get out of their own heads and lives for a second, too: Veirs seems enthralled with the world around her. References to animals, rocks, water, gravity, stars, and other features of the natural world are continually popping up, placing her songs in a greater, richer context than the usual love song. And although I'm not normally a fan of breathy, quirky, slightly-off vocals, for some reason Veirs's voice just works for me. I can't really tell you why, but suffice it to say that if you are a fan of this type of singer, you'll probably eat her up with a spoon. And if you're not, give her a shot anyway.
Lee Klein 10.24.05
( Visitation | 2004 )
"You don't need no constitution just to tell you that your free. All you need's some matches and a can of gasoline".
You thought you despised what has been (and will, intelligent voter, no longer be) the ruling class of 2000 - 2004 in these United States - well, The Visitations have you beat. With track names like "Dubya Speaks", "Florida" ( " those people cheat worse than my ex-girlfriend " ) and "Osama & Your SUV" - this is an album that is directed at one general dilemma (by definition, 'crooked republicans') and set in none other than the 21st century. An immediate reference point to 'Propaganda' would be what the Violent Femmes (see: Euthanize Yourself, Milk the Bull) at their most memorable (circa "Blister in the Sun", 1983) would sound like mildly Dead Kennedy-pissed off 20 years later.
Armed with acoustics, a sparse set of drums and voice-samples from the degenerate "leader" of malapropos himself ( lil' George ), Visitation main man Davey Wrathgabar (he's been seen touring solo with a laptop) gets off his chest what many smothered Amerikans wish they had the nerve to put on tape. The man isn't holding ANYTHING back either, as his website had a personal post in June that said this: "Finally, a permanent bedtime for Bonzo. I would gladly brave the eleven hour wait to shit on Ronald Reagan's coffin". 2 sunburnt thumbs up to Davey, and please - "Don't let the man get you down".
It's not all just politics, as "The Good News" and it's 4-minute straight jabs at the bestseller most know as The Bible ( "They nailed you on a stick and said that you had died " ) would sound perfect next to Fifteen's "Jesus" on a perfect 'think for yrself' mixtape.
Has Michael Moore heard "Propaganda" yet, because any of the 11 offerings here could serve as the audible accompaniment to his next project on broken promises and desensitized decision makers. Listen, and most importantly let this be your soundtrack on the way to the polls in November. Something tells me the fuel-friendly compact Davey will get there in has a "Kill Your Television" bumper sticker on the rear (hear: "Television") - unless, of course, he rides his bike.
[from cd liner notes: Somebody at my "wage slave" job mentioned God. I asked "who made God?" They turned and walked away. I guess I ask the wrong questions.]. The guilty pleasures of rumaging through "$1.99 & under" bins. I could do it for days on end, for each time I do it, I find more bands that, without my 'PROMOTIONAL USE ONLY' friends, I would never hear of. The exmaple I choose to bring befor the jury today is ' V.3. ' , a band that even AllMusicGuide feels deserved more credit. The cover art, which depicts a home graciously burning down as a nude cellulite-laden woman gathers her laundry, seems fit to study upon your first listen to 'photograph burns'. Reported to have been recorded in a "$50.00 a day studio that friends own", it certainly comes off as an album that was recorder as such. Somewhere between the 'Bee Thousand' era GBV and Number One Cup's equally brilliant 'Possum Trot Plan', this album certainly deserves to be heard by any fan of the afformentioned bands. A singer/guitarist, a drummer & a bass player who together make music to feed your animals by. If only it could be so simple now-a-days. I would've paid $5.
( popfaction | 2003 )
"Oh yeah - oh right - whoa (x 5) - we are V C R"
I bet it gets real lonely down at the end of the cd section. V is a pretty thin section for good music. Of course you've got the Velvets & the Ventures, but there isn't much separating all the newer artists from one another besides that. Oh, I'm sorry, you like VUE don't you? Simmer down.
I wouldn't name check the faint in the same sentence or review as VCR. Wait - I guess I just did that didn't I(?). Well - let's just add for the record that I don't think it does VCR justice to simply say "oh - they sound like the faint", it just would not make sense, even it it is in the bands one-sheet. YES - VCR play many a synthesizer as do the No Doubt supporting band from Omaha. YES - VCR do have a somewhat dark approach to the organ / synth / drum style of rock as the band from Omaha. YES - both VCR and that band from Omaha are borrowing styles from bands of the distant past, most notably Gary Numan / Tubeway Army circa 1979.
VCR seem to have the right ideas & approach to this newest wave of new wave rock, and the song titles alone should reveal this: Bratcore, Rad & DVD to name one-half of them. I mean you're having a party like it's the final hours of 1978 in Soho, London - and I know who you're going to call. No - Gary is busy, and he'd rather not play for you and your 35 friends with skinny black ties and pink socks - you are going to drop a line to VCR and get that laser party set straight. Quite simply this will get you moving, no matter what style shoes you're wearin'.
Finally - the drummer is a fucking machine, not a fuckin' machine - a fucking machine. Are 'friends' electric? They are if you are the future of rock. 5 golden thumbs up to the actual disc artwork.
---> Quiet Contest
( popfaction | 2002 )
"There's something very wrong with me tonight".
If the state of Ohio is anything like the opening track on the quiet contest, I'm gonna pack up and head there so I can get some really nice rest. Not sleepy Brian Wilson rest - just fully awake, relaxed oceanside rest. You never do know what to expect out of an album with a guitar string wound up on the cover, and this one isn't any different. However - this album is much better than most albums with a wound guitar OR bass string on the cover.
It's a bit difficult for me to believe music this calm came (comes) out of Richmond, VA - think Neil Halstead or the late, great Galaxie 500 and you're getting close to what I am hearing on Quiet Contest. The memorable instrumental Aquarium, with it's faint ambience and drum clicks, brings to mind great (and much missed) bands such as codeine & bedhead. Next to last track J. Redland comes the closest to breaking loose on the Quiet Contest, a semi-wailing guitar and fuzzy sample stray a few steps off the placid path, but things are quickly back to normal for the serene closer Bast. The sounds & vocals conatined herein are hushed and focused, much like a contest to be the quietest in the backseat of the parent's car on a roadtrip way out west; or up north.
It's little surprising releases like this one that keeps all the hope alive folks - there is a valid & caring heartbeat still alive on the scene. popfaction wins.
visit ---> popfaction.com
Volcano, I'm Still Excited!!
Volcano, I'm Still Excited!!
( Polyvinyl; 2004 )
"And I miss you, and that shit hurts"
a name like Volcano, I'm Still Excited!! (a big emphasis on the
two exclamation points, which also serves as the bands "anthem"),
you may be expecting a loud, hyperactive mega-rock outfit of creatures.
Even the duplicate cover photos of one young gentleman tumbling down
the stairs doesn't truly define the unpredictable sounds you are about
to hear on this sixteen track full-length brought to you by trustworthy
Polyvinyl. Well, no disrespect to a fine band with an equally fine name,
but VISE!! play a more sound variety of organ/keyboard-led stomach-able
indie rock [this being a good, very good thing - no matter how it sounds.
I am trying to avoid the term "pop" here folks]. "Trunk of My Car" is
a sure winner with fans of MK Ultra and Polyvinyl natives Mates
of State (another specific track, 'Around the Dream', has a heavily
distinct Team Boo [Mates of States acclaimed 2003 release] vibe). A
multi-layer of singer / multi-instrumentalist Mark Duplass bare vocals
"love are you waiting underneath my bed / Love are you riding in the
trunk of my car" ride heavenly atop a steady drumbeat as a duo of keyboards
play out shyly underneath the whole affair. "Byron's 24th Christmas"
is just plain heartbreaking - I don't want to spoil all the fun, but
you shall shed a tear of two if you are partial to natural disasters,
automobile accidents or both.
( gypsy basilica ) 2005
I've recently become an avid bed jumper - and this five song EP is good bed jumping music. This is what you could put on for a class of five year olds who want to bounce around on those days when it's too cold to go outside on the playground , so you let them play inside the classroom after lunch. These are upbeat, fast songs - but it's a bit difficult to explain how they sound. Two members, Jennifer Saez and Corbin Supak, were in the band Vidi Ditties. Their music has been described as rock/punk with elements of Latin, Arabic, European, and American roots music - and that is the hodgepodge that can perhaps explain The Vulturines' sound, too. It's not that the songs are weighted down with all those elements, either, because the sounds are light and flowing - perhaps like Os Mutantes if they settled down a bit, at least slightly. The song "March of the Grasshoppers" is my favorite song. The vocals are nice - they sound like an adult's equivalent to an innocent child singing:
"I want is to be understood, but with each passing day, I become more obscure, leading away like a ship on the sea, fading away from you and its to be, but the water is clear and the sunshine's good, but a little raining cloud is over my head, soon I swim, like I never swam before, 'til my body is numb with the cold winter sky."
"In the Weeds" is another really great song - and by now, you should definitely be falling in love with Jennifer's singing. This song is upbeat and turns it up a couple notches during the chorus with a nice faster tempo. You definitely need this. If you don't like it, my imaginary friend Bertrand the Slanted & Magnificent will give you two free handjobs and give you your money back.
There is also new four-song demo at their website for you to absorb as well.. .