Altar - Red Harvest
Converge - Jane Doe
Curve - Gift
Destruction - The Antichrist
Four Tet - Pause
The Isley Brothers - Eternal
Jadakiss - Kiss tha Game Goodbye
Kataklysm - Epic (The Poetry of War)
Loscil - Triple Point
Maxwell - Now
Mors Syphilitica - Feather and Fate
Mystic Prophecy - Vengeance
Pullman - Viewfinder
Redtide - Type II
Safety Scissors - Parts Water
Slang - The Bellwether Project
Sons of Otis - Songs for Worship
Spiritualized - Let It Come Down
Stars of the Lid - The Tired Sounds of Stars of the Lid
They Might Be Giants - Mink Car
Zen Guerrilla - Shadows on the Sun

[ pullman - view finder ]
Thrill Jockey Records


Nebraska-native Chip Davis is not only the man behind Mannheim Steamroller, but the father of post-rock. In a marketing coup worthy of Leo Burnett, someone of equally deep Chicago roots usurped the pride of Omaha and launched a campaign to raise awareness of the city's "new burst of musical creativity." The genre actually dates back to about 1975, and has been known as "progressive electronic" among the self-respecting sort, and more commonly as "new age." All this comes to light now, partly thanks to the all-star quintet Pullman, who honorably revisit one of the finer moments of this long tradition, Mason Williams's 1987 collaboration with Mannheim Steamroller for the album Classical Gas.

The Steamroller's efforts to merge the largesse of classical instruments and compositional forms with the dynamic thrust of rock would eventually lead him to Williams. In the Fresh Aire albums Davis had paired a harpsichord with raucous drumming, and a piercing piccolo with far-out synthesizers. So, why not return to the basics and feature an acoustic guitar in his new age band/orchestra? The results are a moving set of 13 songs, gentle and pretty like few others.

15 years later, Pullman successfully updates the rock stylings of Mannheim and never lose sight of the heart and subtle humor that Williams brought to all his work. The tongue-in-cheek "Isla Mujeres" and "Wire and One Good Show" would make the two-time Emmy Award winner for musical comedy envious. The hearty melody of "Same Grain with New Wood" resound louder than even the Steamroller's more inspired compositions, while the slow cadence and familial warmth of "Forty Fingers" is virtually unmatched in the great Nebraskan's songbook.

Pullman seems an unlikely band for such estimable undertaking. After all, it's believed to be yet another project of the itinerant master post-rocker Bundy K. Brown, while Chris Brokaw is best remembered for the angst-ridden guitar lines of Come. Its difficult to picture even the avuncular Doug McCombs harboring such fine sentiments; though his genial character is in clear evidence in "Chicken Smoked Blankets" and "Or, Otherwise." Curtis Harvey is less of a surprise; he was previously behind the wholesome guitar-based instrumentals of The Letter E.

This album is without doubt among the more skilled and noble pursuits of musical beauty. Indeed, Pullman puts the talent and artistic integrity of Chip Davis to shame, despite his long career. But Viewfinder is just that: a remarkable collection of pretty songs. And while that has its merits, it is sometimes not enough.

-Edgar Ortega
[ top of page ]

[ safety scissors - parts water ]
Safety Scissors
Parts Water
Plug Research
Now some might say that there is no "V" in IDM--no place for vocals in the starkly electronic realm of the digital bit pushers. Some might cry that M. Patterson Curry has crossed the electron beam and ventured into the realm of "Pop Musak" and brought back a nasty virus with him. I say that these folk are too uptight--probably from too many hours of pressing their groins up against their speakers in an attempt to really "feel" what Booth and Brown were saying with Confeld. Personally, I've been cultivating a splitting headache along the long axis of my brain and, instead of trying to decipher digital nonsense, I've opted to spend an hour with my new friend: Mr. Curry. He's a good visitor: doesn't spatter too many beats on the furniture, cleaves to some sense of melodic construction, keeps his glitches from scaring my cat, and even demonstrates that his pipes are relatively good working condition.

There is a delightful sense of dampness that he brings with him--a lovely respite to hot, summer weather with his moist minimal techno and disaffected melancholy of his vocals. You cann't go wrong with "A Wash"--a bubbling brook of a tune that hops and skips over distant filtered pops and hisses while sounding so much like the song your washing machine would hum as it gently rocks and rolls with a belly full of your sudsy clothing. The skips, clicks, hoots, and warbles that make up the accompaniment of "Stormy Weather" belie the sad despondence of the vocals: "Until this rainy day is through / There's nothing you can say / We're in for stormy weather / I know it to be true." You tap your toe while considering the dissolution of relationships.

There is a decidedly human element stirred into the mix here. Usually with the minimal glitch artists, you have to disassociate yourself from any sense of humanity to really fall into the groove. Curry has filled Parts Water with the echoes of human frailty, the missteps of human foibles spilling as if from an over-filled glass. You want to rush to his aid, take the glass from his hand, sit him down, and hear his story out. It's raining outside, there are tears on his face, the glass in your hand is full. Water, water, everywhere...

-Mark Teppo
[ top of page ]

[ slang - the bellwether project
The Bellwether Project
Terminus Records

Layng Martine III
Widespread Panic

Okay, kids, let's go to the wall chart and draw up some new courses and connections on our all-encompassing map of musical cross-pollination. Let's put "SLANG" down and, in the box underneath, pencil in the names of Dave Schools and Layng Martine III. Now, with a colored marker, let's draw a line from Schools straight through the fields of rock and roll to the territory around Atlanta, Georgia, and put a big dot underneath Widespread Panic. For Martine: let's go up, over, around, skip past the edge of fusion and funk, dogleg around the huge blob of Bill Laswell-related material, and end up at the sprouting seedling of Corporal Blossom. With a different color, let's put in some dotted lines to DXT (right there, under Herbie Hancock, smack in the middle of the fury of turntable experimentalism), Lori Carson (over in the haze of ethereal singers), Pete Droge (sensitive singer/songwriters), and Fognode (way over by the door in that cross-hatched arena of ambient soundscapers). It all comes together in a song like "North Forty Two-Step"--an amalgamation of beats, horns, scratches, sly funk pastiches, backwoods guitar picking, and rollicking bass melodies.

Over the past decade, Martine and Schools have been batting ideas back and forth. Busy with their respective day jobs (Schools as the bass player for Widespread Panic and Martine was Laswell's recording assistant during the Greenpoint studio era) it has taken a few years for their schedules to crack open enough for a weekend hook-up to happen. Some beats, some bass licks, and a generous dose of excitement over the foundations laid led to the conceptualization of The Bellwether Project: a collection of (nearly) instrumental tracks that defy easy generalization and which showcase the generous talents of the artists involved.

"Bell-O-Matic" plays point and counter point between a couple of evocative guitars and a manipulated vocal track. "Third Ear," a track which wouldn't be out of place on either a Steve Vai or Joe Satriani album, highlights Kevin Sweeney's sweeping guitar, while "Little Bird" crafts a very outdoor festival vibe over which Lori Carson's delicate vocals are allowed to captivate the audience. And the nine-minute centerpiece "What a Day May Bring" is the emotional core of the modern musical sensibilities and traditional genres which have been molded and reconstructed by Schools and Martine. (And if it sounds familiar, that's because American Express has already parsed the tune into their latest Tiger Woods commercial.)

A bellwether is a leading indicator--a front-runner. And while we've charted Slang as having ties to a number of long-standing artists and genres, we haven't highlighted that the area of the chart beyond Slang is wide open. The Bellwether Project isn't just the fruition of several years of occasional collaborations between Dave Schools and Layng Martine III; this album is organic fusion of the effusive nature of creative energies. These energies overtake everyone touched and the results masterfully bring together the best aspects of each performer. A truly organic synthesis that bursts boundaries and dares to lay itself open before your ears.

-Mark Teppo
[ top of page ]

[ sons of otis - songs for worship ]
Sons of Otis
Songs for Worship
The Music Cartel

Sons of Otis

Associated Press: "In its most recent press release the U.S. Food and Drug Administration confirmed that it has indeed located a product developed in Canada that has a 99.9% chance of counteracting the effects of an overdose of amphetamines when taken aurally. The remedy will be strictly regulated and distributed under its street name, Sons of Otis."

In 2001, The Music Cartel has made a strong case for itself in its attempt to become the leading peddler of modern-day doom rock. First, the New York-based label released Electric Wizard's much anticipated long player Dopethrone; and now, this bleak display of five-mile-an-hour, atmospheric sludge from Toronto's Sons of Otis. Does heavy rock music get any slower than this? The majority of the Quaalude cocktails on Songs for Worship make Tony Iommi's "Black Sabbath," the Beowulf of the doom genre, sound like thrash. Signs of life appear only sparsely throughout this often painfully tiresome 45-minute album.

Word is that guitarist/background mumbler Ken Baluke is a rabid blues aficionado, thus the fuzzed-out cover of Hendrix's "In from the Storm" and the apocalyptic swagger of "Cold City Blues" briefly bail us out of the relentless inertia that dominates the rest of the album. Baluke's vocals are pressed so far back within the monolithic sound, it's as if he were singing to us from Jupiter. There's apparently a method to Sons of Otis' madness though, and it reportedly takes clearer shape at their live performances, where smoke machines, massive volume, and purple wheels of light aid the band in their mission to propel chemically altered minds into the farthest reaches of the solar system.

Perhaps in an effort to attain unprecedented levels of heavy droning, Sons of Otis have nearly eliminated the catchy riff from Songs for Worship. Electric Wizard, who are also the band's closest peers, deliver a comparable degree of destructive force but actually allow for a relatively high level of basic rock 'n roll catchiness to bleed through the thick fog in the form of devilishly infectious guitar riffing. Baluke's minimalist playing style is downright frustrating, given the obvious talent that bleeds through on "In From The Storm" and "Cold City Blues."

True, monstrous grooves do populate some of the album but, for the most part, the songs lack the sort of unpredictable swing that great guitar riffs perpetuate. The album's lead-in track "The Hunted" is a prime example of Sons of Otis at their most perplexingly obtuse. A single, uninspired riff, which harnesses all the vivacity of the South American tree sloth, is repeated for seven long minutes, as Baluke's distant echo relays some unintelligible story of woe punctuated by the chorus "I am the hunted," or so it sounds. Drummer Tony "The Crusher" Jacome (Shallow North Dakota) fights an uphill battle, courageously smashing cymbals and delivering a recurring machine gun fill that adds a much needed splash of life to the track. His efforts prove to be inconsequential, as "The Hunted" fades off into rock's purgatory of forgotten songs.

-Dan Cullity
[ top of page ]

[ spiritualized - let it come down ]
Let It Come Down


"It took a long time," says Spiritualized frontman Jason Spaceman, "because I've never done anything like [this] before." After a four year wait for a proper follow up to 1997's Ladies and Gentlemen We are Floating in Space, with Let It Come Down Spaceman has delivered a 11-song piece of symphonic art that plays out like a well-received musical. Of course, with 13 core players in Spaceman's stable, and with over 100 musicians contributing horns, strings, and choir to the album, one would hope he wouldn't fail in delivering such a delicious performance. And deliver he does.

The album opens up with "On Fire"--a tinkling of piano keys gives way to the vroom of a brass section blowing over the steady swing of bass. "I'm on fire / and there's no water for the flames." The rhythm recalls vintage Firewater, and Spaceman's wry vocals sometimes come across like Luna's Dean Wareham. From there it's a sonic journey through what very well could be, should be, a Broadway number. Strings and the distant sound of a horn begin "Don't Just Do Something" as a darkened stage with single spotlight illuminating Spaceman. "I'm going nowhere," sings Spaceman, "and nowhere's why I wanna be." The symphonic feel shifts to a 6/8 swing as a Beatles-esque melody starts to pull at the song's hemline.

Two songs further on, "Twelve Steps" steps onstage and shifts things back into a straight ahead rock rumble down, where rollicking, bluesy guitar riffs that recall late '60s Stones nudge up against equally rough-hewed lyrics. "I was very nearly clean y'know / 'cause I only have twelve steps to go / The only time I'm drink and drug free / Is when I get my drink and drugs for free." This confessional sentiment on the virtues of illicit hungers continues on into "The Straight and the Narrow": "The trouble with the straight and the narrow is it's so thin I keep sliding off to the side." Amen. Soon after comes the beautiful "Stop Your Crying." The 10-minute "Won't Go To Heaven" captures the disparate elements and styles spread across Let It Come Down and wraps things up in nice summary. Things end with "Lord Can You Hear Me," an old song from Spaceman's former band (Spacemen 3), and features additional vocals courtesy Low's Mimi Parker. "Lord, can you hear me when I call?" sings Spacemen plaintively. "Lord, can you hear me at all?" The backing choir swells as a dirty slide guitar cuts loose. "Lord, can you hear me when I call?" The songs fades and the curtain closes.

What's taken so long for Spaceman to create has been well worth the wait. Expansive in its beauty, humble in its intimacy, Let It Come Down delivers an astounding performance, one that's worthy of a standing ovation.

-Craig Young
[ top of page ]

[ stars of the lid - the tired sounds of stars of the lid ]
Stars of the Lid
The Tired Sounds of Stars of the Lid

Stars of the Lid

I was listening to the first disc of Stars of the Lid's new release, The Tired Sounds of Stars of the Lid, on the train the other day and closed my eyes as the disc began. I opened them a moment later, assuring myself that the lilting guitar drone was still there in my ears, and considered checking the inside of my eyelids again. It then dawned on me that we were no longer cruising through farm land. Now, I make this trip every day and there is a good half hour of track between the greenery of the Puyallup Valley and the industrial reconstruction going on down by the new football stadium in Seattle. My "blink" was a good forty minute nap and, from the sounds coming from the CD Player, Stars of the Lid were still exploring the inner mysteries of the same note.

The first disc, built around three suites--"Requiem for Dying Mothers," "Austin, TX, Mental Hospital," and "Broken Harbors"--is filled with the dying echoes of ancient highways and historical vistas that have long since been relegated to the dim recesses of the collective memory. In each track, the duo--Adam Wiltzie and Brian McBride--select one melodic phrase for intense examination: stretching it, pulling it, sending it out for a long pass, turning it inside out. The songs become hugely introspective, forcing a reduction in your mental traffic and the patter of your breath until you have synched with their pace, with their slow, stately slumber.

Cellos and violins become the dominant voices during the second part of "Requiem for Dying Mothers" fading behind the click of a glass and mournful whimper of a forgotten dog. The fading level of the recording begs for your attention, drawing you even farther into their world, and you vanish as the requiem dissolves into a local recording in an old bus station before returning to the lonesome drone of the first part. "Broken Harbors" slips out of the fog; the opening drones are mournful cries of lost water fowl against the indistinct moistness of the empty morning. Gradually the boats in the harbor begin to move again ("Broken Harbors, Part 2"), cautiously sounding their way through the fog, their engines rising and falling in gentle waves, the low sounds of their horns filling the landscape with eternal echoes. But, still, nothing moves very quickly. And if this wasn't all fantastic enough, there's an entire second disc! Beginning with distant thunder rumbling behind the sweeping drones of "Mulhlolland," the second part of The Tired Sounds of Stars of the Lid (which, I shouldn't have to point out by now, are anything but tired) continues to expand the horizons. "The Lonely People (Are Getting Lonelier)," in contrast with the bleakness of its title, is infused with a sprouting seedling of hope in the faint glitter of cleansing rain that is hinted at by the guitar work. The two-part "Ballad of Distances" (which, ironically, are two of the shortest songs of the entire collection) turn away from the guitar drones and explore just how much space can be found in the open echoes of piano chords.

Kranky has consistently been the home of soundtracks to far-reaching vistas, and each time I think about getting in the car and driving along the dusty roads, they provide the perfect soundtrack. I can see forever on these roads; I can see clouds scuttling across faint horizons; I can see a hundred years of history along cracked river beds. I can see that nothing moves as quickly as human civilization. And I am glad that there are bands out there like Stars of the Lid to remind me that it is okay to take a deep breath and pause.

-Mark Teppo
[ top of page ]

[ they might be giants - mink car ]
They Might Be Giants
Mink Car
Restless Records

They Might Be Giants

For as long as I can remember, They Might Be Giants has been writing, recording and performing their quirky style of alterna-pop with a surprising absence of setbacks or scandals. If the band's indefatigability weren't laudable in itself, the music--a sort of magical fusion of the accessible and the experimental---certainly is.

Mink Car is the duo of Johns' (Linnell and Flansburgh) first full-length studio release in five years. In the meantime they were busy with side projects ranging from McSweeny's, to film documentaries, to TV theme songs. TMBG is a band of dilettantes, and this is no more evident than with the range of genres covered on Mink Car.

With a nod to '80s electronic pop ("Man, It's So Loud in Here") and two-chord repertoire of every disaffected high school garage band ("I've Got a Fang"), Mink Car sounds as if TMBG sampled the fare from every radio broadcast over a given day and wrote songs to match. "Mr. Xcitement" is a techno/jazz hybrid performed with the help of Soul Coughing's Doughty; "Wicked Little Critta" is an amateurish, old skool rap with roots in the Johns' Boston youth. Although "Another First Kiss" appeared on the Severe Tire Damage live album, it re-emerges here as an acoustic version with noticeably less edge--possibly to cover the sappy love song category. "Older," from the television show Malcolm in the Middle, and a staple in the Giants' live show, crops up later on the disc.

Like most Giants albums, there is no adjustment period required: Mink Car is instantly listenable. Each track is an ohrworm, the German word for one of those highly infectious tunes that gets into your head and drives you and everyone within hearing distance nuts as a result of your repetitive humming. Adam Schlesinger (Fountains of Wayne, Ivy) had a hand in at least three songs on Mink Car (the eponymous song written while he was in the mixing booth toying with TMBG's eccentric cover of "Yeah! Yeah!"), which might explain why the core of this album is, as the press release asserts, "dripping with listening satisfaction." But all this whimsical and wanton genre-hopping raises one serious question: Is it parody or experimentation?

The lack of a straight answer could explain why TMBG has never really broke, in the way that other bands with just as much pop sensibility have, into Top 40 territory. No one really knows how to take this pair of accordion-wielding Brooklyn residents. Are they talented dabblers or just adept mimics? Playful and witty, or juvenile and trivial? Serious, forward-thinking musicians or satirical pranksters? I'm inclined to side with the former on all three questions, and I would hold up Mink Car as proof. In spite of its scope (or perhaps because of it), it is signature TMBG from start to finish, and therefore a welcome addition to your music library--no matter what your preferred genre.

-Eric J. Iannelli
[ top of page ]

[ zen guerrilla - shadows on the sun ]
Zen Guerrilla
Shadows on the Sun
Sub Pop

Zen Guerrilla

This spinning silver wheel from Zen Guerrilla, a band who've been vigorously hailed from coast to coast for torrid live performances and a wildly original concoction of blues, soul, punk and rock, documents the next step in their evolution from genre-bending outlaws to semi-possessed conduits of all that makes a man shake, shout and flail about. The sound is a marriage of the tumultuous blues hustle summoned forth by an electric guitar and a firecracker rhythm section to the tortured bellows of a love struck giant with a pumpkin-sized broken heart. Lead singer/mouth harpist Marcus Durant's awesome exertion mutates the band's inferno blues, leaving it pulsating with a white-hot glow. Guitarist Rich Millman attacks age-old scales and chords with a mixture of punk abandon and psychedelic invention, deconstructing them from within. It's all delivered to us, the emotion-starved listeners, in tight-knit packaging thanks to the rhythmic muscle of bassist Carl Horne and drummer Andy Duvall--a finer duo you'd be hard pressed to find.

Shadows on the Sun starts out amidst a frenzy of what these Guerrillas do best: supercharged blues romps given just the right dose of overdriven excess and pulled over the cliff's edge by Durant's indefatigable soul-stripping. The first chunk of songs faithfully carries along the same raucous vibe and sweaty intensity that flooded '99's stiff shot of whiskey in the morning, Trance States in Tongues. It's the album that made the national music-loving community stand up and take notice of Zen Guerrilla's testimony, which is refreshingly simple and sharp as a repentant sinner's guilt.

Prior to that release, Positronic Raygun (Alternative Tentacles, 1998) helped set the foundation for fired-up psychotic blues but, upon a complete listen, leaves your head spinning like it would after a ride on a short circuiting tilt-a-whirl. Too much repetitive riffing and an over-reliance on drowned out vocals make it a long walk down a bed of smoldering coals. On the two releases since then, Trance States, and now Shadows on the Sun, Zen Guerrilla spout forth much more resonant material that, like their earlier work, still reveals evidence of the over-the-top live energy that is an indispensable part of their identity.

Possibly more so than any other past Zen Guerrilla track, "Smoke Rings," off this new blast of fury, exposes the very emotional core of the blues as the band views it, which is through a glowing 3-D lens. Millman squeezes sultry lead runs from his six-string that hurt oh-so-good, as a monstrously plodding rhythm wreaks havoc. Like great blues singers past, Durant virtually shreds his vocal chords in a self-sacrificing act of catharsis.

For the most part, Shadows on the Sun offers the same hyperkinetic vibe you'd expect from Zen Guerrilla, but there are exceptions. A foray into uncharted waters, "Evening Sun" eases back on warm chords strummed on what sounds like an acoustic/electric guitar, as Durant spins a hazy tale about "tadpoles in jars and soft machines," his surprisingly mellow vocals awash in reverb. The spirit of the Old West abounds on "Shadows," a tidy little ditty driven along by a galloping bass line, a whimsical slide riff and the clickity-clack of Duvall's drumsticks. Whatever shape the songs take, you can rest assured that Zen Guerrilla will get their point across or collapse in a heap trying. Shadows on the Sun is a victory not only for the band who crafted it, but for all the hard working and hard touring bands out there living and breathing the music they love.

-Dan Cullity
[ top of page ]

<-Prev  1  2

[ profiles ]
[ singles reviews ]
[ central scrutinizer ]
[ album reviews ]
[ there's no place like home ][ there's no place like home ][ there's no place like home ] [ live reviews ]
[ noise control ]
[ links ]
[ back issues ]