erasing clouds

And 10 More Reviews of Music

by Dave Heaton, Anna Battista, Erin Hucke

Snow Patrol , When It's All Over We Still Have To Clear Up (Jeepster)

Dark. It's dark in a room, in a small room somewhere in Paris. In a corner Samuel Beckett is writing, inventing a language on his own to isolate himself from the rest of the world. He's lost in making up characters obsessed by the meaning of life and by the monotony of life, by characters trapped in the inability to act and communicate, ranting about existentialist dilemmas and absent heroes and gods. Irish guitary combo Snow Patrol are just like Samuel Beckett's characters, but they are trying to find their own musical language in which they will be able to express their existentialist dilemmas about lost girlfriends. Former Belfast and now Glasgow residents, Snow Patrol hated being reminded they released stuff on the same label that releases Belle & Sebastian's albums, but this time, they even asked for their help, as the presence of the random members of the Glaswegian combo proves, hence they can't complain. Shame that whereas Snow Patrol's first album was a movable feast of barging sounds, this is more stereotyped and less original. The opening track "Never Gonna Fall In Love Again", sets the tone for the whole theme of the album, a lost love, a girl who has left the singer in distress. First single "Ask Me How I Am" and "Black And Blue" are the monikers that after all the kids are in perfect shape, and, thank God, they are using their damned guitars, though they keep on having weak moments here and there and relapsing in first album mode on in songs such as "Last Ever Lone Gunman" which is the "Starfighter Pilot" of the situation. Thumbs up for the laid back "One Night Is Not Enough" and the chain sawn guitars of "Chased By…I Don't Know What". "The aspirations for yesterday were valid for yesterday's ego and not for today's", Beckett once wrote, but for Snow Patrol yesterday's aspirations are still alive and kicking. A grower. Well, perhaps, I hope so.--anna battista

Spoon, Girls Can Tell (Merge)

With their third full-length Girls Can Tell finally seeing the light of day, Spoon further their status as one of the most unique and enjoyable rock/pop bands in the "indie" world. They're unique because they rarely follow the straight path, enjoyable because of all of their songs are immeasurably catchy and pleasurable. While on their first album "Telephono" they built eccentric pop songs around edgy guitar and on their second (and, for me, their best) album A Series of Sneaks they went for a fuller rock sound, here they go for variety. Piano, vibes and mellotron augment the mellow pop/rock of the opener "Everything Hits at Once" and blues-based guitar roars on the second track "Believing Is Art." On the whole, the texture is as much piano/keyboards as the usual guitar/drums, and the songs are built around melody and hooks a lot more than usual. But that hasn't supplanted their rougher side, as evidenced by rockers like "The Fitted Shirt" and "Take a Walk." Girls Can Tell is more accessible, but it isn't uncharacteristic of Spoon, who have always had a knack at killer melodies. It's just that where before they might have been surrounded by noisy guitar and delivered in less than 2 minutes (like on Sneaks' single "Car Radio"), here they're prettified, with clearer production, instruments not common with Spoon (piano, viola, harpsichord), and greater attention placed on playing up the band's melodic side. Which all means that this album doesn't sound like their others, but is just as pleasurable in its own way. It's a smorgasbord of rock/pop styles and sounds, and all of them work. Girls Can Tell is a success story for Spoon, both musically and in terms of career path, as the band has found its way away from the major-label hell they were momentarily caught on and on to Merge Records, one of the finest labels around. --dave heaton

The Terrifying Experience, Magnetic Breakthrough (Mental Telemetry)

Forget Guided By Voices for a second, would you? Yes, Mitch Mitchell played guitar in the "classic lineup" of GBV, but with his band The Terrifying Experience he's been following a wholly different path. More in line with the Stooges-influenced dirty punk of Ohioan bands like Prisonshake and Cobra Verde than GBV's eccentric arena rock, The Terrifying Experience blast through 15 tracks of loud-as-hell, straightforward rock and roll on their latest CD Magnetic Breakthrough. While the most striking part of their music is the guitar sound (big, crisp and raging), here and there they'll surprise you with an almost-pop melody or with a switch in genre, as with the bluesy "The Road to Hell" or the lazy, Meat Puppets-ish dreamer "From Chariots to Garbage Cans." And while the vocals are relatively low in the mix, Mitch Mitchell has a quite sensitive singing voice, one that balances nicely with the rolling thunder of rock that the band delivers. I hope this CD can break out of the "GBV-related" category and reach a wider swath of rock fans, because at this point the GBV comparison is irrelevant and will just lead people to false conclusions and misguided expectations. All in all, what's here is plain and simple, little analysis needed: it's rock and roll, delivered straight to you, without any pretense, posing or slick production. --dave heaton

25 Years of Rough Trade Shops, Various Artists (Mute Records)

Fact: all those who go to London and visit the Rough Trade Talbot Road shop are real music connoisseurs. Consequence: I'm a profound connoisseur of music because I visited the above-mentioned shop in the past. Fact: those who take pictures in front of the Rough Trade shop are hopeless romantics, they are suspiciously looked upon by the shop assistants and by the passers by and they might even be potential public dangers. Consequence: I'm a public danger. OK, I'll admit it, I didn't only visit the Rough Trade shop while in London, I languidly stopped in front of it and took a picture, romantically sighing in front of it, idiotic now-I'm-happy-I-can-finally-die smile on my face. There, I said it, now you can laugh at me. But see, I did it because London is the Big Ben, Westminster cathedral, the British Museum and ABOVE ALL the Rough Trade shops. Rough Trade is a piece of history, a legend, nobody can deny it. Happy island for music addicts, heaven and haven for punks, the Mecca for music lovers where you could buy records, fanzines and discuss with the people drenched in DIY ethics a go-go, the first Rough Trade shop opened in 1976 in Kensington Park Road, an effort courtesy of Geoff Travis. It later became a record label, opened more shops all around the world and now also owns a worldwide renown website. The Rough Trade story is long and can't be summarised in a few lines, but what can be said in a few lines is that Rough Trade helped great music and great bands to emerge and make happy millions of people all around the world. In the booklet notes, Jon Savage makes a short list of the music celebrities who are regular customers of the shop, but Rough Trade shops are great not because of them, but because of you. Hence this compilation is a tribute to celebrate music, bands and above all passionate music fans. The four CDs include Pere Ubu, Buzzcocks, The Congos, Subway Sect, Television Personalities, The Go-Betweens, The Fall, Scritti Politti, Sonic Youth, Lee 'Scratch' Perry, Pixies, Spacemen 3, The Chemical Brothers, Cornershop, Echoboy, Clinic and Le Tigre, but to mention a few of them. Neatly packaged, the excellent 56 tracks form a perfect history of great music, the music that changed the world and the attitudes, from the '70s to our days. Happy Anniversary Rough Trade Shops! ( battista

Twigs, Epicure (Endearing)

Twigs are a DIY force of noisy pop/rock from Norway who have released a handful of EPs and other releases over the years. Epicure, their second full-length album, covers a dizzying array of rock styles, all with toughness. At the core of their sound lies pop melody, but it's covered with feedback and intense, guitar-led mid-song shifts. At times they'll break into slow, relaxing passages, only to come back and pummel you into the floor. The band's lyrics and vocals are like poetry. Katy Penny's gorgeous voice slide from a whisper to a scream--over here she's doing a Sonic Youth-like almost-spoken thing, over here she's singing straight ahead like part of a chorus. And at all times, the lyrics are the proof (in case you needed it) that rock lyrics can be as intelligent as academic poetry books. On moment she dreamily sings about "the orbit of an atmosphere, in rhythm with a star" like she's lusting after it , the next she's nastily telling off a lover who's trying to "move in for the kill." And at every step, you're guaranteed that guitars and keyboards will explode into chaos when you least expect it. Twigs' strengths lie not only in their ability to craft a beautiful melody and their habit of blowing you away with guitar noise, but in their habit of absolute unpredictability. On Epicure you can listen to a track and make a judgment, but don't be so sure that your opinion will stand by the next track. They can play soft, they can sing sweetly, and they can murder you with noise. Watch your back and enjoy the ride; Epicure is not only an exhilarating trip, it's a work of immense beauty, one more reminder that, when delivered right, the loudest guitar screech can make you gasp in awe and admiration as much as the prettiest sunset can. --dave heaton

Ultra Living, Transgression (After Hours/Bubblecore)

Transgression serves as both a title and a keyword for Ultra Living's latest album. This duo from Japan, aided by a handful of friends, takes their music over, through and across any boundaries set up by categories, genres or cultures. Between the first track, a jazzy pop songs with jittery beats, and the last one, an ambient trip-hop song featuring nimble acoustic guitar, electric hand-claps and soprano saxophone, lies an assortment of musical styles, including electronic music, hip-hop, pop, jazz and classical, often in the same song. "Absurdly Pedantic" and "The Birds Must Be Eliminated" take vocal samples, focus on particular phrases or words from them, and loop them in with beats and instruments. "Immaterial" sounds like a futuristic soul ballad, "Vincent's Boogie" is a quick classical interlude, and "Skies of America" is a guitar-driven Ornette Coleman cover. "Preppy MC Death of Hip Hop Vol. 1 (remix)", featuring eccentric MC Mike Ladd, and "Anamorph" come the closest to sticking with one genre--in this case, hip-hop--yet Ultra Living's out-there embellishments still truly stick out, managing to demonstrate both the comparative musical conservatism of hip-hop as a genre, and the possibilities when MCs are matched with sonic experimentalists. All in all, Transgression incorporates all sorts of fabulous music without seeming like a Frankenstein-ish patchwork of styles; everything coheres. By incorporating parts of everything into one blend, the tracks on Transgression manage to sound both organic and electronic, natural and manipulated, familiar and new. Ultra Living's musical amalgamation shines a light on the invisible lines that run between a myriad of genres--how classical and trip-hop are related, R&B and free jazz, the most avant garde and the most accessible sounds. Ultra Living genre-breed until they stumble into an almost genreless realm, a new sound: ultramusic, encompassing all. --dave heaton

Unbelievable Truth, Misc. Music (self-released, available at

Unbelievable Truth may be nevermore, but their music lives on in Misc. Music, a compilation of rarities, b-sides and live tracks, clearing out the UT vaults and making the music heard. Misc. Music includes a total of 13 previously unreleased tracks, the sorrythankyou single b-sides, a random smattering of other songs and a second disc of their last live show from September 2000. Many of the unreleased tracks are in the vein of the songs on sorrythankyou: musically adventurous and slightly experimental. The band uses a wide range of musical instruments and production techniques making for a diverse listen. The songs span from the very delicate to the not-so-very delicate, often bringing in dramatic cellos to heighten the emotion. Songs like "Disaster" and "Some of These People" are good enough to sit comfortably next to "Covers" and "Advice to a Lover" from sorrythankyou. Whereas the breathy, barely-there "Whose Side Are You On?," an often-played live tune, would be better suited for the subtle naiveté of the band's debut album Almost Here. In addition to Misc. Music, Unbelievable Truth have made available more than 20 non-album tracks for free download at their Web site This collection includes early demos, live tracks from the sorrythankyou tour and even a rocking cover of the Stone Roses' "I Wanna Be Adored." You really don't want to miss that or any of this. --erin hucke

Vibon CD comp (tbtmo/Darla)

A few years ago, San Francisco-based Darla Records was instrumental in bringing out a growing genre of electronic music that they dubbed "drum and bliss." Spotlighted on their two Drum and Bliss compilation CDs, as well as on installments of their Bliss Out and Little Darla Has a Treat For You series, this was electronic music rooted in pop melody and dream-like mood as much as beats and rhythms. While a few of those groups (Junior Varsity, Sweet Trip) represented Cali, and one was from Japan (Color Filter), another, Flowchart, was from Philadelphia. Flowchart's sound was a bit more dance-oriented and beat-heavy than the others, but shared a habit of amplifying the pretty side of electronic music. Sean from Flowchart was also a part of Mall, a similar but even more grounded group also hailing from Philly. Both groups are part of a thriving electronic music scene which is partially documented on Vibon, an inexpensive compilation released by tbtmo, a DIY electronic music label founded by Rob from Mall. The comp spotlights sixteen artists, including Mall and Flowchart. The bulk of the artists are from Philly, and a few of them are other names used by the members of Flowchart and Mall. Even a cursory glance at tbtmo's web site will demonstrate (through mp3s and an extensive catalog) that Philadelphia is filled with talented musicians doing interesting things with electronic music. Every track here is impeccable. Most fall into the category of both spacey/dreamy and danceable, though some are more one than the other and every artist has too distinct a voice to be wrapped up and summarized quite that easily. Some of my favorites include the jazzy industrialness of Planet Nett's "Aimmm," the beautifully trance-inducing electronic melody line in Printed Circuit's "Diatomy," and the minimalist beats and spooky voices on Tleilaxu's "Philodendrite," but every track is superb. Each makes me interested in hearing more music by the artists included and in diving further into what seems like a vibrant, exciting scene.--dave heaton

Bill Wells Trio, Incorrect Practice (Geographic)

Haikus are very short poems, generally made up of seventeen syllables disposed on three lines. Tender and light, they are a bit like paper origami that fly on the pages of a book leaving there the essence of their pureness. But Bill Wells doesn't compose haikus, he has the ability to construct proper hymns and symphonies as this album proves. Disguised under the Bill Wells Trio moniker are Bill Wells in person, Robert Henderson and Belle & Sebastian's Stevie Jackson, with a good help from ubiquitous Stephen Pastels, of course. Recorded at East Kilbride Arts Centre in 1999, Incorrect Practice contains only six tracks in which Wells' piano diffuses its sad notes, its melancholy blurring and hurling with Henderson's trumpet, only to be enriched by Jackson's guitar and harmonica. The result are tracks such as the joyous, dismembered and dislocated "Bad Plumbing" and the heart stopping "Four Cows", a suave drama that sounds like walking on crisped leaves, like rain dancing on a roof and like time slowly and constantly slipping away from your hands. A symphony is not a haiku, still can have its power, purity and perfection, Bill Wells has proved it. --anna battista

White Out Featuring Jim O'Rourke, Drunken Little Mass (Smells Like Records)

Instruments scream, shriek and squawk, ravaged and assaulted by unwise but still expert hands. And yet, in all this mess there is still an unquenchable harmony. Free compositions, free forms and free rhythmic blocks of patterns, born out of jazz but verging towards avant-garde, converge into this experimental project which involves the ubiquitous Jim O'Rourke. The spooky "Fury Breath Flying At Half Mast" is reminiscent of John Coltrane's "Ascension", only it is more experimental, "Least Shred Of" contains a ghost-in-chains-wandering-around-haunted-house like noise, "Maelstrom And Tear" sounds like a spaceship fluctuating in the still air, before finally landing on planet earth, while "Cloaking" is made up by a texture of sinuous flutes. This album of fractured jazzbo grooves is an experiment not to repeat at home. White Out featuring Jim O'Rourke can get away with it and sound like geniuses, you'd sound like poor chancers doing weird disconnected jangling and rattling noises. ( --anna battista

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