erasing clouds

7 Music Reviews

Boyracer, Check Yr Fucking History (555)

Boyracer play dead-on perfect pop songs like they're the most ramshackle, energetic punk rock band around. Lead by Stewart Anderson (who also performs as Steward and runs the great DIY label 555 Records, which sadly is about to go under due to the financial pressures of running a label these days), Boyracer has been pumping out raw emotion and noisy pop treasures for years now. Their latest EP Check Yr Fucking History finds them as super-charged as ever, starting with the on-fire "You've Squandered Yr Talents" and the romantic rocker "New Plastic" ("Homemade haircuts/frostbite fingers/my swelling heart just for you"), and continuing through to the closing "When I Was a Blonde and You a Brunette," which deftly segues from a sweetly melodic, guitar-driven pop-rock song into a 20-minute feedback burst that's as sharp as they come.--dave heaton

Harold Budd, La Bella Vista (Shout Factory)

Daniel Lanois' self-congratulatory liner notes to Harold Budd's La Bella Vista, which Lanois claims to have secretly recorded during two private Budd performances without him knowing it, ends with the sentence, "Harold, the world is a better place with you in it." While the presence of such personal sentiment here is a bit suspect, it's a sentence the album's listeners are likely to agree with, whether they're new to Budd's music or not. La Bella Vista is essentially 40 minutes of Budd playing the piano - with slow, elegant grace. The 10 pieces are minimalist (of course), and flow along in a magnificent, truly lovely way. They represent another compelling achievement by an artist with a unique personal vision - Budd's style of playing is highly emotional even as it's delicate and quite abstract at times.--dave heaton

The Gena Rowlands Band, (trailer) (Autoclave Records)

This luxuriantly-recorded EP is a sample of The Gena Rowlands Band's forthcoming full-length, La Merde et Les Etoiles, and if it's an accurate indication of that album's content, I'm gonna pass right now. The EP isn't bad - at least not in the poorly-recorded, poorly-written, or poorly-performed senses. In fact, the instrumental portions are near-perfect, as smooth and appealing as a scented breeze. Singer/songwriter Bob Massey has a fine grasp of studio dynamics and moody arrangements, and his penchant for stop-start structures suits these tracks just fine. It's more that, in four short songs, Massey crosses the line between literate observation and pretentious self-indulgence too many times to count. Cast as the lower-key manifestation of Washington D.C.'s political and cultural disillusionment, (trailer) is just too earnest and self-obsessed for its own good. The music is palatable in a pseudo-orchestral, indie-rock kind of way, with experimental touches courtesy of members of Mecca Normal and Simple Machines. I just can't imagine anyone but Massey's friends and co-conspirators caring much about the turgid, unctuous vocals or weirdly bland observations on film stars and dating. I'm picturing a bunch of hopelessly hip pseudo-intellectuals with too much money and not enough inspiration sitting 'round ye olde bar and whining about their cynicism while they drink endless $6 beers. Get over yourselves, people.--john wenzel

IfIHadAHifi, No More Music (Contraphonic)

Combining the groove-happy rhythms of The Makeup, the scream-sung lyrics of D.C. post-punk, and all kinds of stripped-down indie-noise influences, IfIHadAHifi sift through a tuneless, mildly engaging pile of shattered forms and find only their own boring reflections. All the elements would seem to be in place: propulsive drumming, ragged chunks of guitar, great studio production, and blatant Fugazi rip-offs in nearly every song. But the utter lack of melody prohibits careful or passionate listening. I imagine these guys rule in concert and would probably be perfect for a disco-punk triple bill. But I'll be damned if anything on No More Music leaves much of an impression. The vocals are mutilated enough to sound distanced and ironic, but not enough to convey any sense of experimentalism. Molested keyboards wash in and out without purpose or meaning, and the assorted tasty sound effects never seem more than a trendy (but very well done) garnish. "Watch You Disintegrate" is pretty good, but takes too much from Brainiac to be an accomplishment in its own right. I also sense an early Sebadoh/mid-'90s tape loop obsession, but it never comes to fruition. And, as is fairly standard these days, crappy '80s influences weigh heavily on the vocals. And I'm not just talking about Devo, cause everyone rips them off with abandon. I'm talking about the skinny-tie, pale-as-a-ghost, can't-sing-to-save-your-life influences. It sucked then and it sucks now. So where does that leave us? Nowhere, really. I was tempted to give this album a better review because it's really not that bad. Then again, it's really not that good. --john wenzel

Lycia, Empty Space (Silber Records)

One of the songs on Lycia's final album Empty Space is called "Violent Violet," and the one after it is "Bloody Basin." Both titles evoke exactly the mix of terror and peacefulness that is at the heart of the album. Lush tides of radiant guitar recall the zen-like stillness of ambient music, yet underneath at all something dark and mysterious going on. That darkness is reflected in the churning motion of the bass and drums, in singer Tara Vanflower's gothic singing voice, and in lyrics presenting both a distrust of the world ("Not Here, Not Anywhere") and a bleak sense of resignation ("This Is the End"). But mostly it's part of an overall atmosphere that's as ominous as it is serene. The always-present serenity is continually undercut by an erratic, dark sense of restlessness. That mix gives Empty Space a truly unique atmosphere that is simultaneously tense and mellow.--dave heaton

Shmat Records: A Map of the Woods (Shmat)

A relatively new label showcasing musicians from the San Gabriel Valley area of California, Shmat Records already has a really great track record of putting out pop-music recordings that tend toward gentle yet heartfelt songwriting. A Map of the Woods is the sort of inexpensive (three dollars!), consistently enjoyable compilation that every new label needs to introduce music lovers to what they do. There's 15 tracks from 8 bands here, including lovely introspective ballads from recent releases by Light Sleeper, Carte Blanche, and Avoidance Theory, plus songs that are similar in mood and worth by other new, promising pop groups like The Awkward Age and Ivan the Bear. There's nothing more exciting than a new label putting recordings that look good and sound even better; here's to hoping that A Map of the Woods and the label's other fine releases are only the start of an illustrious career.--dave heaton

The Smittens, Gentlefication Now! (Dangerfive Records)

With song titles like "Twee Valley High" and "Army of Pop Kids," it's obvious before you even listen to The Smittens's debut album Gentlefication Now! that you're going to hear melodic, cute, slightly goofy pop songs from this group of Vermonters. Yet The Smittens don't think of their songs as frivolous, and neither should you. "Being nice is a political act," they claim in the liner notes. Note the exclamation point in the album's title - this is pop music as an act of revolution, an attempt to make humanity loosen up and smile, in hopes of a more peaceful world. The Smittens' vehicle for this noble agenda is bouncy, lovely pop songs with melodies that'll live in your head for a long time to come. With guitars, a keyboard, a lone drum and a handful of voices, The Smittens shake their way through snazzy songs about love, music, fashion and whatnot (about life, basically) which combine the indie-label pop sounds of today, the DIY looseness of Beat Happening and the bubblegum pop of yesteryear (it's no joke that one of the members mentions loving The Archies in the liner notes), for the sake of "clean, pure fun." They sing nearly a cappella at times quote from the Gos-Gos and "Land of a Thousand Dances" at other times, and the whole time you imagine them with big-ass smiles on their faces. Put on Gentlefication Now! as soon as you can (and as often as you can), but don't be ashamed to dance and sing your heart out.--dave heaton

Issue 20, February 2004

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