erasing clouds

5 Music Reviews

by dave heaton

The Album Leaf, In a Safe Place (Sub Pop)

Jimmy LaValle went to Iceland to record his new album as The Album Leaf, In a Safe Place, at the request of Sigur Ros and Mum. And you could say that it shows, as right from the start the album uses electronics and guitars to reach an isolated place of beauty reminiscent in tone of the music of both of those great bands. The Album Leaf's music has always been spiritually related to those groups, this isn't a big shift; there's a reason that Sigur Ros invited LaValle on as the opening act for one of their first major tours. And even LaValle's previous group Tristeza used their instruments to explore similar atmospheres. Yet the melodic, zenlike charm of many of In a Safe Place's songs seems especially reminiscent of, say, Mum's least dour moments and Sigur Ros' gentle interludes. The connection was apparent even before I learned that the album was recorded in Iceland. That isn't a roadblock to enjoying In a Safe Place, however; the album's instrumental tracks are moving and engaging. What does put a bit of a damper on things is the presence of vocals on a few tracks - generally speaking, they just don't seem to fit, and get in the way of the music rather than adding to it. The minor exception is "Over the Pond," sung by Jon Thor Birgisson of Sigur Ros; his vocals blend into the track naturally, even as they don't steal LaValle's thunder. On the whole, though, In a Safe Places is filled with captivating music that's calm but not dull. Strings, piano, and percussion from guest musicians augment LaValle's songs, which even alone have a unique sort of grace to them.

Colin Clary and the Magogs, Her Life of Crime (North of January)

The cover art for Her Life of Crime pokes fun at the idea of Colin Clary as Pop Icon, the hearthrob of young women everywhere. Listen to the first song, though, and you're thinking maybe this guy should be the next American Idol. "The Shape of This Town" is the perfect 2-minute radio single (on 1960s radio, anyway), with a snappy singalong chorus, handclaps and great dual vocals from Clary and Hannah Wall. The rest of the album includes another handful of great pop-rock singles, with shaking tambourines, tuneful guitars, infatuation and stolen kisses galore, plus lovelorn ballads perfect for rainy days and lonely nights. Then there's some winning combinations of the two, like the absolutely sublime, breezy-but-bittersweet "I Only Give You Bad Advice Because I Love You." And, in a category all its own, a gorgeously sad love song with a perfect title: "You Drove Me Crazy and Broke My Heart (But I'm Still Glad You Were Born)". I'm acquainted enough with Colin Clary's music that seeing his name on the front of a CD is enough to immediately brighten up my day, even before I've heard it. But Her Life of Crime stands above the best of what I've heard before; it's filled with amazing pop songs that are also filled with heart.

The Like Young, So Serious (Parasol)

When Joe and Amanda Ziemba emerged from the ashes of their former band Wolfie as the duo The Like Young, they proclaimed the new band to be more of a stripped-down, back-to-basics rock n' roll thing. And, on their debut full-length Art Contest, it was like they said, though the perfect pop melodies and infectious enthusiasm that were Wolfie's hallmarks were thankfully preserved as well. The second Like Young album, So Serious, picks up right where the first one left off, with the rock n' roll edge pushed a bit further; with each release they get closer to capturing in the studio the truly unbridled rock energy they unleash in live performances. Razor-sharp guitars and powerful drums are the forte, along with terrific harmonies and hooks. On So Serious, lead vocalist Joe Ziemba allows more punk-rock venom into his songs, directed at himself and others, while Amanda's pretty harmony vocals serve as the reassuring voice to chase the inner demons away. "You know, it's been a bad year/you really helped," Joe sings on one of the album's best tracks, "Heard Your Health." That song offers some bittersweet optimism along with the classic-rock crunch, and it represents what ultimately makes So Serious so rewarding: The Like Young have managed to make their music more rocking and more emotionally piercing. They're amplifying the rock without dumbing their songs down at all.

Pere Ubu, One Man Drives While the Other Man Screams (Hearpen Records)

The voice of David Thomas is instantly recognizable, especially when he's yelping his way through Pere Ubu's classic "Navvy." One Man Drives While the Other Man Screams, the second volume of Pere Ubu's live series (recently resissued on Thomas's Hearpen Records label), opens with an on-fire, warped version of that song, performed in November of 1978 in London. Actually, "on-fire" and "warped" are perfect descriptions for pretty much all of the music here. Pere Ubu's post-punk weirdness sounds just as weird but in places even more energetic in these liver performances. This isn't the original, Peter Laughner version of Pere Ubu - that was captured on Volume 1 of the series, 360 Degrees of Simulated Stereo - but the lineups after that, recorded on tour in 1978, 1980 and 1981. There's one song from an early single ("Heaven"), one from their debut album The Modern Dance, and one from their third album New Picnic Time, but most of the 13 tracks are from either their classic second album Dub Housing or their not-as-classic but still solid fourth album The Art of Walking. The recording quality is excellent throughout, and the performances are always compelling...which means that this is a solid live set from a classic band of eccentrics.

Superfallingstars, Swimming Across the Sound (Skipping Stones Records)

"I'm blasting the oldies on my Honda radio/and singing along to all the songs I do not know," goes a line on one of the songs on the Connecticut-based band Superfallingstars' debut CD Swimming Across the Sound. The band's songs themselves have both that 'I wanna sing along to this even if it's the first time I've heard it so I don't know the words' quality and melodies that from time to time are more reminiscent of the 1960s than what's in vogue today. To be more specific, the six songs sung by the band's guitarist/vocalist, Mike, especially feel like a garage pop band running ramshackle through songs that are somewhere between British Invasion tunefulness and starry-eyed American indie-pop. The four songs sung by the group's bassist, JJ, including a fine album-closing cover of The Smiths' "Please Please Please (Let Me Get What I Want)" fall into different territory - musically they're similar, but he has this deep, more serious, Julian Cope or Jarvis Cocker-type voice which gives the songs a darker edge that sometimes makes for an interesting side-trip and sometimes just feels awkward. Overall, though, Superfallingstars' m.o. is to run through catchy-as-hell pop-rock songs about the intricacies and complications of love and leave you wanting more.

Issue 24, June 2004

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