erasing clouds

8 Music Reviews

by dave heaton

Enemy Love, self-titled EP (Diet Strychnine Records)

The four songs on Enemy Love's self-titled EP have the same undertone of bleakness as the band's name; the opening track "Weekender" pokes fun at humankind's misguidedness, with lines like "everybody's looking for it/nobody can find it/cause we all look for the things that we could never find." But those sentiments are underscored with warped guitars and a danceable energy that together are somewhere between 70s post-punk and 80s new wave. On the EP overall Enemy Love find a winning balance between sensuous style and melancholic resignation. Picking up on Bowie-esque glamour and lonely-boy pop introspection at the same time, and swirling around it a batch of textures and styles ranging from Jesus & Mary Chain power fuzz to a stray Country & Western guitar dying in the sun, Enemy Love are on to something interesting here. There's range and heart in these songs, which feel fit both for blaring over wide-open landscapes and as the soundtrack to someone crying alone in the corner. By the time the feedback rush of the Spacemen 3-influenced closer "She Don't Make Me Run" has drained from your ears, you'll be ready for more.

Escape Pod, Winter EP (Dead Digital)

Escape Pod's three-song Winter EP puts a Beatles-esque chorus of vocals over sexy spy-movie electronics, to beautiful effect. Escape Pod's songs feel like the music video soundtrack to dreams, with a stark but at the same time hazy mood...not unlike a more awake version of the Beta Band. All three tracks are cinematic, meaning they're big and bold and pull you completely into their world. The first two tracks - "Winter" and "Living in Books" - are funky and mysteriously romantic cries for affection, while "Seeing" is a stripped-down philosophical lullaby. Escape Pod's vocals alone would be mesmerizing enough, as would be the instrumental tracks alone; put them together and you've got something special.

Julian Fane, Special Forces (Planet Mu Records)

The basic touchstones for UK singer/songwriter Julian Fane's album Special Forces are Sigur Ros and Radiohead's dream-like electronic journeys Kid A and Amnesiac. Fane's voice lilts like Jon Thor Birgisson's, and wavers like Thom Yorke's, while the atmospheres he builds are similar in mood and tone - yet truthfully just as haunting and beautiful, if maybe not as new-sounding. Yet the familiarity eases the more you listen; these songs are expansive and intimate, plus filled with magic and mystery. Listen to the way "Freezing in Haunted Water" explodes partway through into an Electric Light Parade of awe and hurt. Or how the album's cool yet ghostly electronic textures sometimes melt into the background and sometimes swallow you whole. Or listen closely to Fane himself, to how his voice sounds emotionally bare and raw even as it's mystifying and hard to pin down. The more you listen the more you hear, and the more you'll grow transfixed, whether it's by the music-box melodies that grow increasingly percussive, the techno echo lurking warehouses away from Fane's fragile voice, the gentle film-score instrumentals, or whatever. Special Forces is a vast world of surprises hiding within at-first familiar sounds. At the intersection of one man crying out for hope, a futuristic symphony, and the Ice Age lies Special Forces, imaginative, comforting and daring.

Food for Animals, Scavengers (Muckamuck)

10 tracks in 20 minutes - what is this, a Guided by Voices record? Nope, it's a blast from hip-hop's future, a completely frantic and schizophrenic glimpse of the impending apocalypse. Hip-hop is inherently a scavenger's art from, but Ricky Rabbit of Food for Animals is a scavenger among scavengers...the soundscapes he's built for his MC partner Volture Voltaire to rhyme over are busy as hell, with junkyard beats meeting soul samples and rapid-fire laser-gun blasts in some weird some of futuristic purgatory. The music's at first completely jarring - try to put this CD and not jump back for a second. But the more you listen, the more you become attuned to it. Volture Voltaire's rhymes sometimes conflict with the tracks and sometimes fit comfortably within them; in either case he manages to take the razor-sharp music and guide it in certain directions, towards statements of individuality, rebellion, and political uplift ("when I say fuck you I really mean fuck George Bush," he clarifies on the first track). Meanwhile Ricky Rabbit's off on some other plane innovating up a storm. How can music this dense be so slippery? How can music this ferocious be so pleasurable to listen to? Check out Scavengers and see.

Hey! Where'd the summer go? (Humblebee)

Despite those thoughts you have when you flip on the radio or see the astounding number of albums the worst bands sell, the world's never going to run out of good bands. Therefore, the world's never going to lose the need for inexpensive indie-label compilations collecting great music that will unfortunately never enter the ears of your average person on the street. Hey! Where'd the summer go?, the product of the relatively new, quite promising Canadian label Humblebee Recordings, collects 24 tracks from 24 bands, over half of which only your most indier-than-thou friends will claim to have heard of. It stands, therefore, as more proof that name recognition has no relation to quality, as the CD is filled with great pop and rock songs, loaded with catchy melodies, sincere emotion, and whatever else you crave from a pop or rock song. Despite the title, the compilation came out closer to the beginning of the summer, I'm pretty sure, and was created around no particular theme as far as I know - six of the songs were previously released somewhere else, though overall they do share both the brightness of summer and that vaguely melancholy feeling you get when you realize how quickly time's passing by. The bands include a few indie favorites (The National Splits, Sleepy Township, Paper Moon) and a couple bands I've learned about recently but come to like a whole lot (The Diskettes, Postal Blue), but they're mostly new to me. A few highlights (from an album with close to 20 of them) are The State of Samuel's "Why" (hyper-hummable yet full of longing), Myredpocketbook's "The Ignore From the Girl Across the Seat" (a funky shuffle of an unrequited crush) and Under Shooting Stars' "Clouds Upon Clouds" (shy electro-pop). It's a splendid collection and an international one, showing that talented broken hearts exist all over the world.

New Radiant Storm King, Leftover Blues 1991-2003 (Contraphonic)

How long can a band fly just under the radar? New Radiant Storm King always seem to be just outside the conversation of most indie/alternative rock fans, and it's seemed that way for a while now. Leftover Blues 1991-2003 offers a chance for people to check out what they've been missing, with 11 tracks from the last decade or so. What'll you'll hear is a pop-rock guitar band following their own slightly offbeat course. Their music is generally in the vein of 90s bands like Sebadoh, Pavement, and Archers of Loaf, but with their own unique mix of surrealism and open-hearted emotion, not to mention a boatload of often edgy, noisy and unpredictable guitars. Leftover Blues is a solid collection, catchy in the right places and razor-sharp in the right places, but it also has the same hard-to-penetrate quality I've found in all of New Radiant Storm King releases. They have an easy-to-enjoy, hard-to-really-get-to-know personality that both fascinates me and turns me away. That said, this is a consistent batch of songs from an under-heard band, bound to appeal to many a fan of the intersections between sweet melodies and intensity.

Terrestre, Secondary Inspection (Static)

Terrestre's Secondary Inspection opens with what sounds like the missing drum part from some jazz dance orchestra of the past, before settling into a more fleshed-out and futuristic spooky groove. That haunted - eerie and evocative - vibe runs through the whole album, but what keeps the tracks earthbound and provides the energy is the percussive side. On Secondary Inspection, Fernando Corona, aka Terrestre, seems obsessed with the rhythms and sounds of drums and drum-like instruments. Track after track is united by pulsating bass surrounded by clattering percussion and pounding drums, forming patterns that are unique and often suprising, but still hold together in a way that makes this dance music. Secondary Inspection often feels like the skeleton of an all-night dance we're hearing the low end but not the hooks. In that way it's mysterious - and occasionally suggestive of fear or disorientation - but also endlessly spellbinding. I'm not sure what all Corona is up to here (though the title and inside cover art suggest immigration as a loose theme), but I think he's a brilliant man. Secondary Inspection is as rhythmic and entrancing as it is enigmatic. It'd provide an off-kilter enough atmosphere to keep a dance floor interesting, but is also a great soundtrack for the unfinished and hard-to-explain thoughts and emotions that rule our everyday lives.

Mike VanPortfleet, Beyond the Horizon Line (Silber)

Talk about truth in advertising. Mike VanPortfleet of Lycia's new album is titled Beyond the Horizon Line, and it sounds exactly like you're journeying through the clouds, beyond the sun. This all-instrumental album opens with silence, and then slowly floats forward as a hazy, ever-evolving wave. Song titles like "Echoes of the Lost Sea" and "Night Sky Illumination" are perfectly evocative of the album's well-crafted mood, which at various times strikes me as comforting, lonely, gorgeous, frightening and hopeful, though the pieces are all open-ended enough that perhaps I'm placing my own moods and feelings onto those of the album and hearing through that lens. A quiet, ambient work of both grace and complexity, Beyond the Horizon Line presents us with atmosphere after stunning atmosphere...the perfect sonic equivalent of daydreaming about air travel, or space travel, or flying like Superman (or a ghost, more appropriately).

Issue 26, September 2004

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