erasing clouds

5 Music Reviews

by dave heaton

The Amos House Collection Volume III (Wishing Tree Records)

If you think of The Amos House Collection Volume III--a 2-disc various artists compilation created as a benefit for a non-profit charity organization--strictly as an album, it's a mixed bag, even as it contains 20 tracks that are all either unreleased songs or unreleased versions of songs that were released, and it includes a ton of talented musicians. But if you think of its purchase as a donation to a charity, with the music as a bonus gift for doing so (the equivalent of a free tote bag), the purchase will seem more worthwhile. In other words, out of the 20 songs maybe half are worth hearing in my opinion (though none are awful), yet it's hard to complain when the money is going to shelter the homeless. That said, the set definitely has highlights, music-wise. Richard Davies' "Kal" is a raw acoustic pop song that shows off his knack at melody and imagery. Super Furry Animals' "Foxy Music" is countryfied and uplifting, as rewarding as their recent career peak Phantom Power. Circulatory System's "Deserts (As Big As A Star)" has their tripping the line between pop song and experimental jam session in a more cohesive, intriguing way than on their debut album. Wilco's "Let Me Come Home" is a rough gospelized love song that their fans will go ga-ga over (despite Jeff Tweedy's off-key singing in the chorus). And there's enjoyable entries from Wheat, The Good Life, James William Hindle, Archer Prewitt, and Spoon (a demo version of "Jonathan Fisk") as well. Even though it's not a perfect compilation, there's definitely worse ways to spend your money.

Ashen, Pull and Repel (Two Sheds Music)

When you're hearing a band for the first time, sometimes how much they win you over just depends on how close they manage to get to your heart. On their Pull and Repel EP, the Georgia-based band Ashen displays a sound that would never be considered new or unique. They're an alternative rock band in the 90s sense, a guitar-based band playing catchy songs with some thickness to the sound. Yet lead singer Erin Akemi sings her heart out in a way that pushes everything aside and gets to you. "Tomorrow is so heavy, like an anchor around the ankle," she begins on the first song, proceeding through the rest of the 5 songs to sing confessional lyrics about regrets and life choices and so on in a way that makes them feel potent and affecting, even when someone in your mind you're thinking "haven't I heard this all before?" Sometimes that ability to grab a hold of me is what's most important, whether it's done with experimentation of like Ashen does it, with straight-up emotion.

Escape Pod, Losing Control 7" (Dead Digital)

Escape Pod's "Losing Control" 7" is based in old-fashioned songwriting than most of the Manchester-based Dead Digital label's releases, yet it's just as adventurous. The title track takes a folksy pop song and swirls into an electrified adventure ride, a colorful musical definition of the feeling you get when everything's spun out of control. Yet as chaotic as it feels, it's also warm and friendly, a wonderful combination. The flip side, "Change of Pace," is a sweet, melancholy pop song with Beach Boys-gone country gospel harmonies and a brilliant sense of atmosphere; it makes you feel like you're sitting around a campfire and stepping into space. Any time a band can take the tradition of pop songwriting and mess around with it in fun and surprising ways as well as Escape Pod can, you should pay attention.

Little Darla Has a Treat For You v.21 (Darla)

Though Darla Records has released amazing albums in the worlds of country and rock (My Morning Jacket's classic first two albums being the obvious example), I was first attracted to the label by their forward-looking and beauty-oriented releases in the area of electronic music (the Drum & Bliss, etc). These are musicians whose ears are attuned to melody and atmosphere, but who also want to take listeners into new frontiers. Darla's latest entry in their Little Darla Has a Treat For You series, volume 21, pays special attention to this side of the music world, through 17 tracks by groups on Darla as well as labels distributed by, affiliated with, or just loved by them. The CD begins with a bouncy futuristic new wave track from Printed Circuit ("Mobira") before seguing into a typically spacey (in a lovely way, of course) electro-pop song from Sweet Trip ("Noise Is a Social Skill") and a gorgeous glacier of an ambient track by Auburn Lull ("Steady Lights"). Add to that a couple of hot-as-anything dance tracks/mood pieces from Mexico (Terrestre's "El Maquilazo" and Fax's "Diez"), a new Flowchart song ("It's Overdone") that shows them still pushing forward with their schizoprenic style of ambient-electronic-pop, two innovative tracks from the like-minded Audio Dregs label (F.S. Blumm's organic "Ankern" and Lineland's more computerized but just as alluring "Planeta Engraja"), and an absolutely gorgeous lullaby from Aregentina's Entre Rios ("Litoral" remix). There's also great tracks from electro-futurists Randomnumber, I Am Robot and Proud, and Manual…and so that rock and country fans don't feel completely left out, there's a haunting ballad from Pale Horse and Rider and a white-hot song from DIY sensitive punkers Boyracer. All in all, another splendid foray into new music.

Stereolab, Instant 0 In the Universe (Elektra)

Stereolab has made enough similar recordings over the years that anyone who has heard any one of them is likely to know what is meant by "the Stereolab sound." Rooted in Neu and the Velvet Underground but also vocal pop and the style of lounge music, it's a sound smothered in synthesizers and the lovely voice of lead singer Latitia Sadier. The group's new EP Instant 0 In the Universe has that sound down pat, with none of the fantastical sidetrips of their last album Sound-Dust or too much of the jazz dabblings of the album before it. These five songs will sound new to no one familiar with Stereolab, yet the EP overall has a sonic clarity and energetic punch that does seem like a slight alteration to the formula. The songs jog and bubble forward with more urgency that on the last few releases (which I nonetheless loved - perhaps the confession that I love every one of their songs is in order). "Good Is Me" does through a slightly Country & Western guitar in the mix-an interesting addition, especially for a song that comes off like a potent attack on the narrow-minded worldview of leaders like wanna-be cowboy G.W. Bush. That song and the EP-closing "Mass Riff," which has almost-disco tempo changes and a nice thick sound, show that even when Stereolab are sounding very much themselves, they're up to many things at once: singing catchy melodies, playing around with styles and textures, and throwing pertinent questions at the world around us.

Issue 18, December 2003

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