Winter Cleaning: 17 Extremely Brief Reviews of Relatively Recent Recordings
by dave heaton
There's nothing I hate more than one-sentence Robert Christgau-style reviews, where the album has been completely dismissed before the readers even understand what it sounds like. Yet there comes a time when the CDs pile up so high that I have to be honest with myself and admit that I'm never going to get around to reviewing some of them, especially those that for whatever reason haven't made a strong impression on me. Months go by, they still sit there, I feel bad that nice people took the time to send me the CDs and I've yet to even acknowledge that they exist. So I take drastic action: reviews so short that they can hardly be called reviews. Please take the reviews below not as wholesale dismissal of these recordings, but as an attempt to at least offer some description and criticism of CDs that have been hanging around for too long. Think of it as winter cleaning on my part, with good intentions.
The Buttless Chaps, Love This Time (Mint Records)
Gentle orchestral pop that falls somewhere along the Nick Drake-Belle & Sebastian continuum, with horns, banjo and a laidback countenance but also lyrics and vocals that are so laidback that they're nonchalant.
The Cling, Happy Hell (self-released)
The Cling approximate the bounce of ska, thick guitar sound of 70s rock, and slick stylishness of today's alternative rock, on three songs that are catchy, if somewhat unremarkable.
Corn Crop and the seven donkeys, "Health Department/Hey Pop!" (Mungler Winslowe)
If the collage cover art (Jesus crying in a cornfield) doesn't tell you that this is going to be a strange trip, the music will. The first song's an oddball riff on the blues and Suicide's electro-punk with unlikely come-ons ("I want to be your couch potato/I want to eat your chicken sandwich"), the second a country-jazz cousin to Tom Waits.
Dream Into Dust, The Lathe of Heaven (Chthonic Streams)
The album art looks like the works of Chris Cunningham or stills from a Nine Inch Nails video, the lyrics are all about inner fear and "creeping unease"…the music sounds like Depeche Mode if they lived in a haunted house and always kept weirdo experimental musicians lurking around in the background.
The Dutch Flat, Ghosts (Woodson Lateral)
Driving post-punk with a dark, heavy sound and overly dramatic vocals…fits right in style-wise with the bands name-dropped in the promotional materials (Shellac, Xiu Xiu) while having a personality of its own.
The Larch, Only Pop Music Can Save Us Now! (self-released)
"Shake me and reassure me/these aren't the dark days that I dread," sings Ian Roure at the start of an EP filled with the hope that the G.W. Bush years will soon be over. Power-pop with a touch of the Byrds and a hint of ska, The Larch's songs are melodic and hopeful, even as the lyrics reflect the sad reality of living in a country ruled by people you despise.
Manta Ray, Estratexa (Film Guerrero)
Playing psych-rock tinged with electronics, Manta Ray build and destroy on all 12 tracks here, constructing elaborate grooves and then ripping through them with the intensity of punkers and the grace of a classical ensemble.
The Mighty Stars, The Mighty Stars Are Go! (Avebury Records)
Pump your fist and get to it - The Mighty Stars play rough-and-tumble garage rock colored by punk (The Clash and the Buzzcocks especially). Fast and fun.
Pansy Division, Total Entertainment! (Alternative Tentacles)
Self-described as the first outwardly gay punk rock band, the Pansy Division have been doing the same thing for years now - playing melodic punk-ish rock that's goofy as it comes. Their new album's no different, loud and silly.
Phantom Tollbooth, Beard of Lightning (Off Records)
Phantom Tollbooth takes an album from 1988, strips the vocals from it, and lets Guided By Voices frontman Bob Pollard sing whatever he wants over it. The result is kind of a mess, a weird blurring of time periods and styles, but it still showcases at least some of Pollard's gifted at, through lyrics that are surreal yet honestly emotional in places.
Red Bee Society, "Two Cops/The Homecoming" (Gantry Records)
Fantastic two-song single. The first song starts with the Bends-era Radiohead sounds that's all the rage these days, but infuses it with a more-stripped down guitar energy and heart. The second track starts off like a melancholy jazz standard and then bounces its way into some sublime other place, dream-pop that goes straight to your heart instead of getting lost in a cloud.
Selfmademan, The Daylight Robbery (Small Man Records)
"Even if we don't know everything/it doesn't mean that we can't try to make a difference in the system," the first line goes. Good sentiment, pretty bland punk/alternative sounds. That's my perspective on all of the songs here - good intentions (societal change), but the music doesn't move me.
The Shifties, demo EP (self-released)
On their 5-song demo EP (supplemented by 3 live tracks), The Shifties come off like an especially good bar band…and I don't mean that as an insult. Catchy, fun pop-rock songs about heartbreak, loneliness, and the local greasy spoon.
Tigerella, self-titled (Shmat Records)
Tigerella's CD came with a cute folding paper cat, currently living on top of my microwave…I hate to admit it, but I like the cat more than the music, which is pleasant but indistinct indie-pop.
Tyrades, self-titled (Broken Rekids)
Billed as "Chicago's first and only punk band" (really?), The Tyrades play completely retro punk rock that will definitely appeal to people who are still into that sort of thing, who like trying to relive the energy and style of the punk rock of the past.
Via, Deception Pass (Woodson Lateral Records)
The Seattle band Via has a thick, guitar-heavy sound that alternately sounds like hard rock and the sort of dense guitar rock of indie groups like Polvo. An ominous mood and songs that don't make much of an impression on me, good or bad.
Steve Wilson, Steppin' It Up a Notch (Pink Hedgehog)
Earnest singer-songwriter from the UK, with mellow pop-folk ballads that have the occasional light touch of nightclub jazz (sounds like a less cynical Randy Newman in places).