erasing clouds

5 Music Reviews

by dave heaton

A. Graham & The Moment Band, This Tyrant Is Free (Sonic Unyon)

I think it's great that one of the few U.S. bands on the Canadian label Sonic Unyon hails from my beloved Kansas City, as there's always more going on there than most people know. And A. Graham & The Moment Band (that's A as in Andy, the songwriter/singer/guitarist of the band) are the perfect band to represent the city, not only because their debut album This Tyrant Is Free is a joyous rock n' roll blast that should sound good to most ears, but because something about their friendly-but-edgy, down-to-earth approach to music suits the city. A. Graham & The Moment Band consider This Tyrant Is Free to be their "demo", as it was released locally before Sonic Unyon picked them up. But if this is only a demo, pray that their first proper album doesn't take any steps backward in the name of progress, as This Tyrant Is Free makes a striking mark as it is. The band casually weds a Modest Mouse-ish form of ragged energy to country flourishes in a winning manner, as Graham's songs offer wry humor mixed with anxiety ("it's been so long since I called you back that you've probably wrapped your legs around someone else's head," goes one attention-grabbing line). Graham is a world-weary, self-deprecating presence throughout, and half his lines are imminently quotable, smart-ass confessions - some bitter, some funny, most both at once. "I've been rotten/it's par for the course" he sings one moment...later on "Total Nutcase" (as in "I'm a total nutcase...I'm yours") it's "Sure I've been caught up in the crowd before/sure I've been naked from the waist down at the mall." This Tyrant Is Free rocks these sentiments up the right way by being musically as off-kilter but as entertaining as they are. Jaunty piano, steel guitar, and trumpet mesh with power chords and Graham's indie-rock whine, giving birth to something uniquely harried and nervously beautiful, in a perfect state somewhere between psychosis and pure joy.

Invisible, The Invisible EP (self-released)

Invisible's music is mostly soothing - with piano, strings, and soft guitars - but occasionally jarring, as on the sometimes intense opening instrumental "Calia." That mix is appropriate for a group whose songs overall are both meditative and inquisitive - as The Invisible EP proceeds, the trio seems to be increasingly pushing us to think deeply about what's going on, even while we find their gentle melodies and the lushness surrounding them to be pretty. "Shall the content forever remain invisible," are the first words on the 6-song EP, and it's an apt question, as there's something about Invisible that at first asks you to look over it, to consider it as pleasant but unremarkable; yet there's more going on than meets the ear. The first time around, I starting pay real attention to the EP only when it reached the fifth song, "Sweet Love." It begins like a completely straightforward proclamation of love. As the song proceeds, the chorus "In togetherness you and I are blessed" becomes a mantra that gives the song a magnificent lift - through repetition we reach transcendence. The song after it, "Faults By Which," has an ambiance and starkness which make it immediately pleasurable and moving, and the EP finishes with an experimental flourish that's unnamed. By the end, you're ready to go back and listen to The Invisible EP with new ears, to accept and appreciate what was invisible before.

Loveless, Gift to the World (Q Division)

Loveless is of course the name of a My Bloody Valentine, but Loveless the band from Boston will remind you more of other "college rock" bands from the 1990s. You know the type - a big, stylish sound, catchy hooks, loud guitars, a vague sense of rebellion but nothing too radical. Loveless includes two members of the 90s band Expanding Man, one member of the 90s band Letters to Cleo, and Jen Trynin, who released two albums as a solo artist in the 90s. And those touchpoints do give a clear sense of where Loveless are coming from. At their best, as on "Go" and the title track "A Gift to the World," Loveless rock up their hooks in a way that really drives them home. That song "Go" has been bouncing around my head a lot lately, without me realizing that it came off a CD I've been meaning to review but hadn't actually listened to in months. That's the quality that Gift to the World has at its best. "Go" doesn't hold any deep meanings for me (the chorus is "don't it make you go/yeah don't it make you come around," which means nothing to me though I'm sure it means something to Loveless), but it's infectious. On the other hand, when Loveless calms things done for serious ballads and mid-tempo rockers like "You Wore Me Out," "This Is a Way," "Cold," "Darling Would You," and "She Could Be Something Good," I can hear the life draining out of the CD. Middle-of-the-road lyrics blend into a catchy upbeat rocker, but they stick out in a lethargic ballad that's not catchy. About half of the album is given over to songs that have little energy and nothing interesting to say, unfortunately. When Loveless is in power-pop mode, I'm on their side. When they're not, Gift to the World becomes music that I'd quickly flip past if it came on the radio.

Summer Set, self-titled EP (Send a Friend Records)

"I felt so out of place/I couldn't feel my face," Wilmington, North Carolina's Brian Weeks sings on a song called "West Coast," on the self-titled EP from his band Summer Set. The song's moody organ and downbeat percussion provide the melancholy beauty, while ragged-glory guitars provide the anger underneath, plus release. That song's title relates the West Coast to the sadness in the song; on the other hand, there's clearly a bit of laidback California-ness in these songs (courtesy the Beach Boys and their modern-day devotees). Then again, there's also some countryfied guitar twang here and there, and the band's basic sound echoes an assortment of college-radio staples (Sloan, Beulah, other Elephant 6ers). Mostly, though, Summer Set are armed with great melodies and an even greater handle on using their instruments to set a mood - especially the way that insistent, razor-sharp guitar keeps peeking in between the hooks. Summer Set casually runs through a breezy batch of rock songs that seem to be collectively telling the story of a break-up and its aftermath. Then they settle down with lonely organs and guitar fuzz at the end for a poignant moment of nostalgia and longing. It's a story told with an economy of words. "Holland Tunnel at 1 am/15 minutes from an old girlfriend/buzzed her down and she led me in/knew we couldn't be friends," Weeks sings, and then lets the fuzz, the organ and silence say the rest.

Sunsets and Silhouettes (Planting Seeds Records)

The cowboys-in-the-sunset cover photos for Planting Seeds Records' Sunsets and Silhouettes compilation give the album a retro, 1970s look for some reason, but all the music is from the here and now. Some of the songs come from recent or forthcoming releases, but almost all will be new to most listeners' ears, even for fans of the 18 included bands. The title Sunsets and Silhouettes has a psychedelic ring to it, yet while there are definitely bands here that tilt that direction, it's always in a gentle way. The focus is generally on dreamy, melodic pop songs, whether it's melancholy songs from U.K. bands Pinkie and Camera Obscura (a slow, pretty version of "Books Written for Girls" from Underachievers Please Try Harder) or very 1960s-sounding songs from Minneapolis' The Autumn Leaves and Vermont's The Sixth Great Lake. What's most important for you to know about Sunsets and Silhouettes is that the quality of the songs is impeccable - all 18 songs are equally worthy of your attention - and the album is put together cohesively, so the songs feel natural next to each other. The album's pleasures come from both new faces and old friends. Of the latter, there's a track by Mark Gardener which is the first song I've heard from him since Ride (if it's not quite up to that band's heyday, it's still a compelling song, and it's quite interesting to hear his familiar voice in a more stripped-down context), and great songs from both of the new groups that have risen from the ashes of the Jesus & Mary Chain, Freeheat (with Jim Reid) and Sister Vanilla (with sister Linda Reid singing and William Reid on guitar). Idiosyncratic singer-songwriters Xavier Pellef and Linda Draper both make a strong first impression on me with their contributions, and there's also great songs from underrated musicians like Fiel Garvie and Tracy Shedd. Sunsets and Silhouettes comes to a close with Dakota Suite's "All That I Can Hold Near," which feels like a sunset, gorgeous but fading. But unlike a memorable sunset, these songs will live on as more than just a memory, due to the work of Planting Seeds Records in putting together such a great compilation.

Issue 28, November 2004

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