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Mike
Bennett
Capsule
Reviews:
May,
2004



Scroll down for capsule reviews of releases by
Various Artists -- Greasy Kid Stuff 2, Various Artists -- Live On WLUW 88.7 FM Chicago, IL, M. Hederos M Hellberg -- M Hederos M Hellberg, Chris Von Sneidern -- Headful Of Words, Last Night's TV -- Daylight Between The Blades, Arthur Yoria -- I'll Be Here Awake, Remake/Remodel -- 12345 Accelerate, Iron & Wine -- Our Endless Numbered Days, Hamfatter -- Fireworks, The Eagles Of Death Metal -- Peace Love Death Metal, The Spectacular Fantastic -- Vortex Of Vacancy and Andre Ethier -- Andre Ethier

Various Artists -- Greasy Kid Stuff 2 (Confidential): We really are living in a golden age of children's music. Cool rock artists are doing great covers and nifty originals that grown ups can dig too. This is the sequel to 2002's compilation of tracks played on Inside the Radio, a popular children's show on the legendary public radio station WFMU. I gave a good review to the first collection, but I don't remember it being as good as this one. This is a great, great record that I will play many times. First and foremost, it leads off with a song from the final album by the late, great cub. Short of former cub guitarist (and current member of I Am Spoonbender) Robynn Iwata moving to Chicago and becoming my soulmate (among other things), nothing could be better than hearing "Magic 8 Ball", a strummy cuddlecore wonder. It is a portent of smiles to come. First, there are punk-pop delights galore. The Mr. T. Experience does right by the Schoolhouse Rock classic "Unpack Your Adjectives", The Kabalas go over the top on a splendid version of the theme from "Underdog", and Muckaferguson unleash a peppy paean to the "Dictionary". You also get They Might Be Giants tapping into the classic Space Songs record (from whence they discovered concert staple "Why Does the Sun Shine?") to explain "What is a Shooting Star?" They should just do the whole album so I can get my niece a swell birthday gift. There are not one, but two awesome ditties about mechanical creatures. Bent Bolt & the Nuts essay the tale of "The Mechanical Man", with appropo robotic vocals, and Olvia Olson & Eban Schletter (the musical director for Mr. Show) team up for the goofy "Mouser Mecha-Catbot". Kenn Kweder can teach your kids a bit about rockabilly with handclapping on "Two Little Dogs". And what kids album would be complete without an appearance by R. Stevie Moore? Whatever the answer to that question is, the D.I.Y. poster dude has a great contribution, "Horse in Striped Pajamas", which features cool-silly lyrics and nifty guitar work. Play it loud -- unless it's naptime. confidentialrecordings.com

Various Artists -- Live On WLUW 88.7 FM Chicago, IL (self-released): This two CDs for the price of one set compiles highlights from two years of live performances that were broadcast by this community radio station that has become a major player in the Chicago indie-rock scene. The first disc is comprised of songs performed on Backstage Pass (and its predecessor, Radio Free Chicago), which fits squarely within the edgy parameters of modern college radio rock. So there is strong biting rock in the Dischord tradition from bands like Rollo Tomasi ("Working Class Promise") and Black Print ("Consumed"), along with contemporary post-punk from Lying In States, who fall somewhere in the territory of Echo and the Bunnymen and The Cure on their fine "Tackle Me, I'm on Fire". The popper side of indie is showcased too. Head Of Femur (featuring a member of Bright Eyes) comes off like the popper side of Pere Ubu mixed with Pavement on "Elliot Gould Is In California Split", Troubled Hubble stretches out in a jangly manner on "I Love My Canoe", which reminds me (just a bit) of Sean Na Na, and The Detholz! go retro-synth on "Artificial Intelligence Agency". There are prime performances from Chicago stalwarts like Duvall, Haymarket Riot and Oh My God, along with intriguing numbers like the jazzy (in a Minutemen sort of way) "Hamburger Help Us" by Dakota/Dakota and The Industry taking a Girls Against Boys approach on "The Rock and the Hard Place". The second disc comes from Nick Tristano's show, and he shows off the more accessible side of WLUW (and it's the mix of the edgy and accessible that makes it such a great station). Familiar faces (voices?) include Steve and Liam of Frisbie, Steve and Diane of Dolly Varden, Sparkle * Jets U.K. and The Lackloves (who turn in a great, low key version of "Emily"). There's also an excellent performance by R D Roth (with Jerry King) on "Ear to the Ground" from his latest album. The best song on the whole set is Andrew Bird's brilliant "Trimmed and Burning". The master violinist weaves a hypnotic spell to open this track before flowing from lovely territory into a delicate and enrapturing take on pure blues. Other highlights include some great new female voices such as the one leading Suffrajet ("Sorrow") and Stolie (she sounds somewhat like Eddie (Fairground Attraction) Reader on "Satire-Laden Melodies"),The Read Letter's variation on a classic (the countrified "Can the Circle Be Unbroken?") and an inspired acoustic emo-meets-Oasis performance by Corey Hance of The Cells on "A Little More You". While very few folks will like every track on the two discs, the high quality of the performances throughout is indisputable. This is a wonderful sampler of a good slice of current Chicago music from different scenes, and the proceeds help fund further programming of this quality. wluw.org

M. Hederos M Hellberg -- M Hederos M Hellberg (Hidden Agenda): Reissue of 2000 collaboration between Hederos, the keyboardist for The Soundtrack Of Our Lives, and Hellberg, who used to play guitar in The Hellacopters. The duo is in mellow mode, performing a nice selection of covers. The artist whose influence pervades the entire disc is Randy Newman -- they do his song "Guilty", and do a great job. Hellberg has an expressive voice that strains ever so slightly. This creates an empathy and/or vulnerability that adds texture to the wonderful and smooth piano playing of Hederos. The duo also manages to wring every drop of poignancy out of songs such as Love's "Signed D.C.", Arthur Lee's tragic story of drug addiction and Tom Waits' "Soldier's Things", a song all too timely in 2004. In this context, the opening version of the Velvet Underground's "Pale Blue Eyes" is relatively jaunty, and this rendition really shows how a pianist can, with creative arranging and superior technical skills, put a stamp on a song. Here, Hederos plays a repeating rhythmic figure that underpins the verses, and then ends the chorus, giving the song a nifty musical unity. This is a fresh take on an oft-covered classic. This eight song disc is an effective mood piece, best enjoyed with your favorite brand of whiskey. parasol.com

Chris Von Sneidern -- Headful Of Words (Innerstate): As it states on the cover, this is a best of (with three unreleased tracks), covering Sneidern's work from 1990 through 1997. With Sneidern's recent work showing him expanding his musical pallette, now is a good time to look at his praiseworthy past. This shows off Sneidern's mastery of acoustic pop that fits in with the quieter moments of Big Star, Badfinger and Marshall Crenshaw. Hardcore CvS fans may have some quibbles with the selections, but I think that the man did a great job of identifying his best songs (though he notes in his swell liner notes "apparently I hate my best songs!"). I don't have to say representative songs, since one of the hallmarks of Sneidern's early work was the effortless consistency he displayed. Yet amongst all this quality, songs like "Open Wide" (which was my first exposure to Sneidern's magic, via a Yellow Pills compilation), "Annalisa", "Sight & Sound" and "Here I Go" just stand a little taller, so it's great to have them all on one disc. Moreover, they reveal another hallmark of his entire career: songs that have a strong emotional core, so they aren't just vehicles for hooks -- they are resonant and affecting. Those hardcore fans I spoke of earlier, have three unreleased songs to chew on. "Somedays (Alternate Version)" mixes the patented Sneidern blend of plaintive vocals, strumming acoustics and precise lead guitar figures over a memorable chorus that would have sounded equally at home abutting a Rod Argent organ line during the heyday of The Zombies. "Without a Prayer", which was originally a shorter a cappella number, is now a full-length song with violin accompaniment and lush backing vocals. And it's better than the released version, in my opinion. "On the Ground" is the ringer, recorded last year. I'd surmise that this was a great song that Sneidern didn't think fit in with his last album -- this song reminds me a bit of some of John Lennon's solo material, though just a bit. If you've been wanting to check out Sneidern's music, there's no excuse not to pick this up. innerstate.com

Last Night's TV -- Daylight Between The Blades (self-released): Maybe it's all the rain, but there are a lot of British artists who specialize in music for the forlorn. Rather than rage over bad relationships, frontman Spencer Bayles sublimates his anger by turning over in his mind everything that went wrong, every unanswered (and perhaps unanswerable) question with more acuity than a Senate commission. The low key acoustic pop offered on most of this disc is fairly reminiscent of Trembling Blue Stars with a dash of Nick Drake thrown into the mix. Bayles is a lacerating lyricist -- examples include the opening line to "Parting Ways" ("One of us is lying/my instinct says it's you.") and this gem from "I Can't Think of Everything" ("Got nothing against God/just some of the people he left behind."). This black humor doesn't so much cut through the mournful tones as it makes the lamenting a lot easier to tolerate. LNTVweb.co.uk

Arthur Yoria -- I'll Be Here Awake (12 Records): In 1998, Texan David Garza put out the wonderful This Euphoria, a great contemporary pop-rock album that was full of melodic hooks and wonderful guitar noises. He then followed it up with a much moodier, bluesier disc, Overdub. So how is this relevant to Arthur Yoria (a Chicagoan is now based in Texas)? And this record could be passed off as the true follow up to This Euphoria. Whether Garza has directly or indirectly influenced Yoria, I cannot say. However, Yoria shares all of the virtues of Garza at his most pop wonderful. He has an expressive tenor voice, with great phrasing. And he attacks his songs insistently -- the guitar riffs on the back-to-back winners that open the album, "I'll Be Here Awake" and "Permanent", are played with plenty of infectuous gusto. But it's not just sheer energy -- the songs also sport smart arrangements that give the songs little twists that make them enjoyable throughout. Yoria shows both a knowledge of the song structures of McCartney and Squeeze and a sly sense of humor on "P.S.A.", which is piano-based tribute to masturbation. On "I'll Pretend", Yoria writes the sequel to Mr. Garza's "Disco Ball World". With his tender singing, he's a natural on the slower stuff, though "Here to Stay" is the sole misstep on the disc, as it's just too obvious. Better are songs like "Sevilla", which builds up to maelstrom of guitar passion. This is a modern power pop record that isn't slavishly indebted to the ‘60s and ‘70s practitioners of the genre, but has the melodies, hooks and crunch that embody the genre. Yoria is amazingly talented and just needs to continue to challenge himself as a writer while honing his identity. arthuryoria.com

Remake/Remodel -- 12345 Accelerate (Popboomerang): Accelerate indeed. This Aussie quartet does not lack for energy on this crisp EP. The best track of the bunch is the slinky "Thanx 4 Nothing", which mixes a bit of doomy surf rock vibe (kinda like early Midnight Oil or Slant 6), great harmony vocals, and a passionate vocal from Jes Coggers to build a memorable groove. There is no straightforward chorus, but the hooks come from the memorable instrumental figures. Even better is how the song builds and builds to a thrilling and exhilerating conclusion. Lead track "Accelerate" is more pop-friendly, fueled by Sarah Blaby's lead guitar work. This song has a more traditional chorus -- this sounds like The Go-Go's with balls. The song "Jellybean" takes up the final two slots. In its first incarnation, it's a light mid-tempo number -- that's a relative term, as there is still some nice dirty guitar in spots. The song is then remixed on "Jellybean Remodel", with a different backbeat, a more funk-like guitar part, which reveals the brilliance of Melissa Lock's bassline. This EP reveals a band that could open for Franz Ferdinand, could play with all the garage bands in Detroit and even make friends with post-punkers in NYC and D.C. They have a ridiculously high ceiling. popboomerang.com.

Iron & Wine -- Our Endless Numbered Days (Sub Pop): The second Iron & Wine album is a full studio affair, the first being a studio demo that Sub Pop liked enough to release. Main man Sam Beam's singing is whispery and plaintive. He constructs delicate melodic music with a rootsy touch that may appeal to some fans of the late Elliot Smith and Pernice Brothers (and maybe even The Lilac Time). Despite the full sonic trappings, this is a very spare production, with the gentle lead vocals and soft guitar cutting through the silence. This approach reveals the essence of what makes this such an appealing record -- Beam sings his songs as if you were a confidant. This record is intimate, though never somber, albeit, at times a little sad. This sadness is tempered by the soothing nature of the music. This record sounds so warm and comforting, that although there are a quite a few superior songs throughout, they work so well together as a unit. Which isn't to say that Beam can't sound foreboding -- the back porch blues "Teeth in the Grass" is menace wrapped in velvet. But the essence of Beam's artistry is established on the first two songs. The opener "On Your Wings" is also blues based, with a guitar playing a percussive part, Beam whispering this plaintive request: "God, give us love in the time we have." Beam compliments the plucked rhythm with gently yearning lead guitar playing, that magnifies the dignity and urgency of this musical prayer. Then Beam follows this with the perfect "Naked As We Came", which sounds a bit like prime Lindsay Buckingham during the halcyon days of Fleetwood Mac. It is a song of eternal love, literally. A man and woman vowing that they will be together when one has to leave this mortal coil: "She says, "If I leave before you, darling/don't you waste me in the ground."/I lay smiling, like our sleeping children/one of us will die inside these arms." Again, Beam's wonderfully spare guitar playing and the affirmative melody coalesce with these lyrics -- this is a song about two true soul mates. Beam revisits a related theme, in a somewhat similar musical context, on "Each Coming Night". Clearly, death for Beam is merely a passage to a higher calling: "Will you say to me/when I'm gone/your face has faded/but lingers on/cause light strikes a deal/with the coming night." Beam sees a world that is full of pain, but is clothed in beautiful truths. That he can make this shine through in his music is what makes this powerful and essential. subpop.com

Hamfatter -- Fireworks (Pink Hedgehog): With a name like Hamfatter, you know it has to be good. Well, maybe the name isn't enough. Thankfully, the disc offers plenty of proof. This album mixes witty numbers like the opener, "Fireworks" (which sounds like a variation on the Bo Diddley beat with veddy English vocals a la Viv Stanshall) with some pretty pastoral pop-rock. On songs like "Bluesy Grooves", a mid-tempo piano piece accented by pretty lead guitar work, Eoin's vocals and the overall song structure are reminiscent of the first Badly Drawn Boy album. The band takes a similar motif into old (olde?) British folk territory on the chorus of "This Is Entertainment" with back up singer Emilie hitting some real high notes. The best song on the album might be the jaunty "John Peel (On My Phone)", which begins with the couplet "John Peel on my phone/I will never wash my phone again no more" and after botching the opportunity to be on his show, the track ends with the rustic mantra "Oh lord don't let me be poor/sweet lord don't let me be poor." Or the best track might be the floating, atmospheric "Another Young Brave", which swirls while moving like a waltz slowed down. I'd like to emphasize that Badly Drawn Boy comparison again, because this disc is high quality music in a similar vein. Very nice. pinkhedgehog.com

The Eagles Of Death Metal -- Peace Love Death Metal (AntAcidAudio): Take the basic blues rock duo approach of The White Stripes and The Black Keys. But apply it to songs that are more like the blues-based rockers that traveled in caravans across the stadiums of America and Europe in the ‘70s. What you get is The Eagles Of Death Metal and a record that offers a spare swingin' variation in music that is based on the almighty riff. The drummer/producer is Carlo Von Sexron a/k/a Queens Of The Stone Age front man Joshua Homme. The guitarist/vocalist/songwriter is J. Devil Huge a/k/a J. Everett Hughes. The goal is clearly taking a piss out of classic rock whilst celebrating, all in good fun. The goal is met. Whether it's "San Berdoo Sunburn", which seems to have been cribbed from the Joe Walsh songbook, the chugging Free-meets-Prince "So Easy", the back porch ambience of "Midnight Creeper", which melds the delta blues with slasher movie ethos, or the bashed out cover of Stealer's Wheel's "Stuck in the Middle With You" (winkingly re-titled "Stuck in the Metal"), you could spend days charting the reference points, or you could just go to the volume knob and turn it clockwise. The latter option makes more sense. Homme is a solid but unspectacular drummer – he gets the job done. On a few songs, I can spot some little touches that have a Queens Of The Stone Age feel. This is just a matter of technique and shared sensibility. So some fans of the band will simply not get this. However, if you're in the mood for a straight basic rock and roll record that is tongue-in-cheek (but not at expense of the rock). I highly recommend this. eaglesofdeathmetal.net

The Spectacular Fantastic -- Vortex Of Vacancy (Ionik): A very well done one-man band production, courtesy of the talented Mike Detmer. His primary motif is melodic rock that falls between power pop and Elephant 6 style tunes a la Apples In Stereo. There are also a few songs that will have a great deal of appeal to Shins fans. The prime moment on the disc is "Orbit". Here, Detmer successfully channels Village Green-era Kinks for a lilting ditty perfect for afternoon tea. This track may be a bit too derivative for some, but he nails it so well, and we can't have enough great Kinks tunes, even if they aren't written or performed by The Kinks, right? But Detmer is not stuck in the past, as evidenced by the dour and captivating "Freedom", a reggaefied dirge with a drawn out melody and cool production tricks that enhance the atmosphere. Not that he needs the tricks -- on the short and sweet "Obsession", with just a guitar and light percussion he crafts a Dylany nugget with a vocal reminiscent of Peter Holsapple. Mixing with these creative high points are fine examples of punchy guitar pop, like "Just My Luck" (in the vein of the late Possibilities and Young Fresh Fellows at their least sloppy), and nice mid-tempo charmers like "Lullaby", which is highlighted by very strong lead guitar work. It should also be noted that this record simply sounds great -- the right balance between high fidelity and immediacy is struck. ionikrecords.com

Andre Ethier -- Andre Ethier (Sonic Unyon): Pretty solid Dylanesque singer-songwriter. With the help of Christopher Sandes (piano, lead guitar, backing vocals) and Pickles and Price (bass, drums, backing vocals -- and I presume that's two people, though credited together), this is a sufficiently inspired take on the talking folk blues genre from someone who has earned a degree in Blonde On Blonde. What makes this record work is that everyone is attacking the fine songs with enthusiasm. It also helps that Ethier has a sturdy, confident voice to go along with a sturdy, confident lyrical stance. Listen to the rollicking "Sinners", with Sandes's barroom piano and Ethier in a playful-cum-malevolent mood, describing, for example, how he and a friend destroyed a large wasp's nest -- apparently a crime worthy of perdition. Another great song is "Requiem for Man And Family", which is a simple chronicle of a man who gets dumped after the death of a newborn. Ethier relishes his role as a story teller -- it's a strange juxtaposition of pathos and perkiness that entertains me for some sick reason. If the Violent Femmes had a been a wee bit more traditional, they would have sounded like this. sonicunyon.com.

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