erasing clouds

4 Music Reviews

by dave heaton, anna battista

The Decemberists, The Tain (Acuarela)

The Decemberists' second album, Her Majesty the Decemberists, was a leap forward for the band in terms of diversification of their sound and songwriting style. But it still was a surprise to hear that their new EP The Tain "owes a lot to such 70's hard rock/prog bands as Deep Purple and Iron Butterfly," as lead singer Colin Meloy put it in an interview, given their basic pop and folk leanings. But what's most surprising about the EP itself is how natural these influences suit their songwriting - there's power chords galore, and shifts into a thick wall of rock power from time to time, but there's also the band's usual gift at melody, poetry, and transportation. The Tain is an 18-minute song cycle separated into five parts, based on Celtic mythology, that is very much in line with the dark, wry and sometimes eerie tales of intrigue and jealousy that filled the Decemberists' other albums. In particular, it sounds like a stretched out version of a Castaways and Cutouts track, just with a harder rock edge in the beginning and end. It's like they're taking some of the moods and textures that usually lie between the lines of a Decemberists song and diving into them musically. It really works, it's an epic song that feels neither self-indulgent or awkward.--dave heaton

The Fence Collective, Fence Reunited (Fence Records)

Spring is always the right time for novelties and for new exciting things, especially for new music and new releases. It's good timing then for our friends at Fence Records to get a new compilation out. Containing 14 tracks by the best Fence artists, performed by the same Fence artists featuring some of their colleagues, Fence Reunited is simply a great album. The compilation opens with the heart-ripping "Comfort in Rum" by Hms Pinafore performed with James Yorkston, followed by the acoustic "Lemonbelly" by Pip Dylan, performed by Down the Tiny Steps. There's some pop/electronica in "Floating" by Down The Tiny Steps, performed by The Pictish Trail and Beth, some mellow harmonica in the melancholy "A Friday Night In New York" by King Creosote performed together with Yorkston, which is the best track of the album together with "Going Down To The Water" by The Pictish Trail, performed with King Creosote and Down the Tiny Steps, which in its sadness and simplicity is mesmerising. This release confirms that the musicians gathered under the 'Fence Collective' moniker are extremely talented. It is a must for all the Fence Records aficionados. -anna battista

Homescience, Jungling (Track and Field)

Can a band that starts off its album with a song called "The Mother Superior Teardrop Factory" play anything but psychedelic music? The UK band Homescience fill their third album with a dream-the-afternoon-away atmosphere formed by 1960s musical allusions, delicate melodies, fat bass lines, soft keyboards, and a singer with a high, off-in-his-own mind voice...and it's lovely all the way. But as transporting as their music is, they're not tripping of to galaxies far far away; these songs aren't science fiction, they're about everyday life and the ways you deal with it (its fleeting nature, its beauty, its pain and boredom). They perfectly capture the feeling of being lost in the shuffle ("You had dreams of frogs and monkeys/I had dreams of cars/now you've left the railway station/you don't know where you are"), of yearning for something more than what's around us ("I want something I can't always see, something that reveals itself to me"), and of using imagination to escape from tears ("slow beating hearts can't take the darts/so keep it locked up inside of your head"), and in doing so they relate all of the dreamy textures to real feelings and situations. -dave heaton

Pale Horse and Rider, Moody Pike (Darla)

On Pale Horse and Rider's album Moody Pike, just like the equally impressive 2003 album These Are the New Good Times, Jon DeRosa sings detailed portraits of lost individuals throwing themselves into drinking, one-night stands and bad memories in search of some kind of human connection. Or as he sings on one track ("In the Cold of Your Room"), "We're all thirsty singles just looking for a spark/but as the city welcomes morning we'll be drowning in the dark." His lonely-heart stories are set in cities and the country, but the musical setting is, appropriately, gorgeous old-fashioned C&W and folk (think Merle Haggard, George Jones, a bit of Townes Van Zandt maybe), with hints of the graceful pop minimalism that mingles with ambient music in DeRosa's other band Aarktica. More so than on the previous album, though, here Pale Horse and Rider is a band, not just a one-man show. Most importantly, DeRosa brings singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Marc Gartman into the fold; he sings four of his own songs (DeRosa sings 5 originals and a cover), which have a lighter tone musically but lyrically cover the same terrain of love and life and emptiness. "When you moved out here you were so much younger/seems like a while/but it was just December, " a line in one of DeRosa's songs goes…summing up the general feeling that most of the people who live in the album possess. These are people with hopes for a better life, but their hopes are slowly being drained out of them, with every passing night.-dave heaton

Issue 22, April 2004

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