erasing clouds

5 Music Reviews

by dave heaton, erin hucke

Collette Carter, The Information and The Last Nite (tbtmo)

The Philadelphia duo Collette Carter's first album The New Stroboscopic swirled together 80s new wave, now electronics and pop-soul in a way that picked you up and carried you away. Their new album The Information and the Last Nite takes that sweeping feeling and amplifies it 100 times. While at the very essence they're making simple pop songs about love and life and so on, there's a propulsion to their music. It lifts you off the ground - mainly by having a singer with a beautiful voice sing great melodies over forward-moving beats, and then, most importantly, by weaving her (often doubled-up) voice together with layers of synthesizer and guitar. You end up with songs that feel like a cloud (or a dream) but also bear the intimacy of a love letter. The Information and the Last Nite turns up the electric guitars and makes their sound even busier than on their debut…at first this seems like a mistake, until you get pulled into the groove and you realize that it's the exact opposite of a mistake. With 10 equally good original songs and a cover of A Flock of Seagulls' "Space Age Love Song," The Information and the Last Nite is as worthy of your attention as their debut; again Collette Carter bridges pop, rock and electronic music in a way that's intoxicating.--dave heaton

Decibully, City of Festivals (Polyvinyl)

Imagine a melodic, slow-paced alt-country band, complete with lapsteel and banjo. Got that? OK, now add a singer who, with a voice so gentle and delicate, sounds like he should be fronting a Britpop group. Layer in a few electronic effects and some keyboards, and you've got Milwaukee-based septet Decibully. More than half of the songs on the band's sophomore album, City of Festivals, ache along with desperate lyrics to match. "On the way to your hotel/I burned matches that I found/Individually down/Until the last one that I tried to save/To start a fire in your hotel," lead singer William Seidel pines on the opening track. The remaining songs provide slightly more upbeat instrumentation, mixing in looser keyboards and drums like on "Your Love Is A Tempo," although the songs don't get much cheerier lyrically. And that's a good thing, allowing room for poignant thoughts such as "Life's just a constant state of exploiting your fate" from "Skipping Over Goodbye." Though in a couple of instances, Seidel's vocals transform from quiet, careful and reserved into loud, passionate and gut-pushed, as at the end of "Holy Angel Choir." The only negative of the album is that there aren't more of these great let-loose moments to be found.--erin hucke

Mike Doughty, Rockity Roll EP (self-released)

On his latest EP, Mike Doughty (former Soul Coughing singer) continues to pair off-kilter acoustic guitar with funky electronic beats. Rockity Roll's poetic lyrics focus mainly on lost love and the lack of someone to love. (It also should be noted that Doughty goes light on his signature fake-word scatting in this six-song collection.) "Lisa Ling and Lucy Liu," which appeared on Doughty's 2002 live album Smofe + Smang, has been rewritten as "27 Jennifers," keeping the same melody, dropping the references to the two famous, long-haired, Asian women with LL initials and hanging onto the hopeful chorus. "You might be the one that I've been seeking for/You might be the strange delightful/You might be the girly who shall end all girls/You might be the sweet unspiteful." Other lyrical highlights include, "The best I ever did with my love/Said your name on the microphone/You heard it at the restaurant/Cashed out and brought your tips on home" and a reference to bootleg Sean John clothing. When the first beats of the last song start up, it's hard not to be a little sad that this short CD is coming to an end.-erin hucke

Illoin, Pinafore (Notenuf)/Collision/Collider)

Lately there seems to be more and more abstract electronic music that bases its atmosphere on hip-hop as much as anything else. Pinafore, by the Philladelphia-based Illoin (the artist formerly known as Vertebrae), begins with a foreboding bassline and choppy rhythm that makes me expect an MC to come in. But instead you get a muzzled yet emotional pop singer, plus vibraphones and a swirl of noise. So while Illoin does seem to draw inspiration from hip-hop, there's so much more going on here - that fact becomes even more apparent as the album proceeds, pulling you into soundscapes that are melodic and enveloping, pretty yet menacing. There's rough beats, yes, and melodic synth parts that recall other electronic acts that go for beauty, but also snatches of sound straight from the worlds of classical music or international folk music. The title track sounds like a dirge played on a church organ…before the organ disappears as is replaced by stirring, more optimistic piano (still no beats or obvious electronics to be found). One song is called "Winter Songs All Sound the Same"; that's a funny joke, but also pertinent, as what hangs over the album is a melancholy mood that feels like winter. Yet at the same time, the songs here don't all sound the same, and none of them sound like anyone else besides the wonderfully unique Illoin, either.--dave heaton

Looper, MP3 EP #2 (self-released)

The scratching noise of an old record beginning to play leads into a string section that could have come from some long-lost Hollywood melodrama from the golden age of cinema, at the beginning of "Pale Blue E-Type," the first song on Looper's new MP3 EP, the second EP they've made available for free download on their web site. About 30 seconds after those strings begin, in comes Looper frontman Stuart David's voice and some funky drum beats (Looper's music is populated by beats that feel both retro and futuristic). "Pale Blue E-Type" is one of David's "story-songs," with him ruminating in poetic and humorous ways, in this case about automobiles. But his story has a fetching musical backdrop that sounds more sophisticated than just about anything Looper's done before. All three songs on MP3 EP #2 are more forward-looking than those on their first MP3 EP, all carrying Looper's proven strengths into new slightly new places. "None of That" is a catchy pop song about restlessness with a thick synth melody that works like a funky bass line. The EP closer "Fall At Her Feet" might be even more surprising than the other two: a straightforward piano ballad, a love song filled with longing and hurt that's sung in a gorgeous, sensitive way by David. It has the wee-hours melancholy of a classic jazz ballad, with the closing line," Forgive me tonight, I'm too drunk to stand." It's brave for a group known for using a textured sound based on synthesizers and beats to record a track that's mostly one voice and one piano, but what's more important is how amazing the song is, how it feels confident and sophisticated, not like an experiment at all.--dave heaton

Issue 18, December 2003

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