erasing clouds

7 Music Reviews

by dave heaton, anna battista

Carl Henry Brueggen, Cinzano & Cocaine, Idler (self-released)

On these two EPs, Chicago-based guitarist Carl Henry Brueggen dives head-first into bossa nova sounds, with great success. He's definitely playing with a particular, well-defined style, but he's not painting in broad strokes. Nothing about these two CDs is cartoonish or inauthentic. Brueggen sounds not like a daytripper but like a seasoned pro. Cinzano & Cocaine is the earlier of the two, recorded in 2001. Its three songs feature a 9-piece band, lead by Brueggen on guitar but also with percussion, vibes, flute, lap steel, and bass. The sound is lush and relaxed, melodic and romantic. Idler, recorded at the end of 2002, is even more laidback, but also prettier and more developed, with 13 musicians this time and a fuller yet at the same time subtler sound. These short EPs only offer a taste of Brueggen and band's sound, but there's something nice about that; each one is like a 10-minute trip to paradise. - dave heaton

It's a Team Mint Xmas Vol. 2! (Mint Records)

"Daddy's drinking up our Christmas/there's going to be no good times this year"... "the holidays are filled with joy and happiness but I wanna cry" ... "Santa Claus likes rich kids better". No, It's a Team Mint Xmas, Vol. 2 isn't your typical Christmas album. Augmenting the 2000 It's a Team Mint Xmas, Vol. 1 7" with 8 new songs, Mint Records' Christmas compilation doesn't exactly follow the reverant, sacred route. Nearly all of the songs are originals, and it's a varied, more reckless collection, with everything from a Santa-hating instrumental by Atomic 7 called "Senor Santa Es El Es Munstruo" to lonely Christmas C&W ballads (like The Tennessee Twin's fine "X-Mas Is Past") and goofy punk-rock tunes. Overall, this is a really refreshing Christmas album. Somehow by not sticking too closely to the traditions it ends up being even more heart-warming, even more reminiscent of the feelings that the holidays really bring out. There's nothing glossed over - not holiday depression, alcohol, excess commercialism, or family dysfunction. The album-ending "Do They Know It's Christmas?" singalong, credited to Mint-Aid and featuring members of several Mint bands, is completely tacky and over-the-top, a perfectly irreverant way to end the album. - dave heaton

My Favorite Song Writers (Five One, Inc.)

Record labels choose to celebrate their anniversaries in all sorts of ways. My Favorite Song Writers marks the 10th anniversary of Five One, Inc. in a way that should be regarded as unique - getting 12 musicians to leave their bands behind and do solo tracks. The bands they come from include Cursive, Pretty Girls Make Graves, Eastern Youth, The And/Ors, Pollen, Husking Beem and more. For some of them playing solo is nothing new, for others it is. In every case, though, the musicians are not only heading out alone, but stripping (and generally slowing) down their sound a bit as well. Most of the participants come from guitar-heavy rock bands, bands that could be tagged variously as 'punk' or 'emo' or 'indie-rock' or whatever. Yet here the consistent feeling is mellow and toned-down, with the focus on the singer and his song. The artists come from bands that I have various opinions of and tastes for; my reaction to the collection overall is as mixed as my opinions on the musicians are. My favorite songs - those that are most probing or memorably tuneful - come from Stephen Brodsky of Cave-In, Ryan Ferguson of No Knife, and Robert Nanna of Hey Mercedes. All three reach great states of melancholy and emotional engagement. Other songs leave me cold, but the album format is still unique and the results equally so. - dave heaton

The Pearlfishers, A Sunflower At Christmas (Marina)

Yes, I know what you are thinking. Indeed, you’re quite right, Christmas records are quite useless and embarrassing products created for people who usually have appalling music tastes and don’t actually buy records, except in December, when they decide to go musical and end up buying a Christmas compilation to get in the festive mood. Dear oh dear. I would think the same of A Sunflower at Christmas if it hadn’t been written and recorded by The Pearlfishers’ David Scott and released by Hamburg-based record label Marina. The album is miles and miles away from the usual depressing Christmas releases, it is in fact quite cute and pretty, a sort of ode to childhood, angelic innocence and sweetness, rather than a simple ode to Christmas. A Sunflower at Christmas, the fifth Pearlfishers’ album on Marina, includes seven original compositions by David Scott and a personal rendition of the Christmas classic "Away in a Manger". There’s a bit of everything for every taste here: the album opens with the Beach Boys-evoking track “Snowboardin’” and also includes the loungy “Ice Race” and the heart-rending “The Snow Lamb” and “Blue December (In the City)” (the traffic noise on the latter is apparently courtesy of Bill Wells). The Pearlfishers’ A Sunflower at Christmas is a quite magnificent Christmas record, the sort of album you won’t be listening to just on 25th December, but throughout the year. - anna battista

Ponies in the Surf, A Demonstration (Early Morning Late Night)

As Ponies in the Surf, Camille and Alexander McGregor play pretty, minimalist acoustic pop songs that hearken towards all kinds of folk music traditions of the past, from children's music to religious folk to the music of Columbia, where the duo grew up. This 7-song EP is called A Demonstration, but that's an unnecesarily humble title, as each of the songs is unique and affecting. They sing sweetly together, with both a child-like playfulness and an accomplished sense for melody. Songs like "Government Brand" tell stories while leaving ambiguities, where "See You Happy" and "Ventricle" are love songs without cliches or conventions. There's a romantic sense of style to these songs, plus a dreamer's sense of possibility; I can't wait to hear more.{} - dave heaton

Silvercord, Chasing Broken Shadows EP (Dreamland Recordings)

Silvercord's Chasing Broken Shadows EP begins like the audio illustration of the title, with two impressionistic instrumentals that float around you like wisps of fog - pretty but also eerie. Distant vocalists sing you through the sonic landscape; then emerge as a chaotic mix of remembered words and sounds. And then from all of this comes what? A brillant pop song called "god Came Down," with Silvercord, aka Geoff Nostrant, singing intensely but joyously over layers of beats and guitars about memories, personal and historic, about spiritual breakdowns, about finding hope within the context of enternal human arrogance. "It's good to be alive...nothing will change this," he sings. The hangover from that ecstatic peak, "Unearth Me," is Nostrant as a multi-voiced chorus of one, ruminating blissfully on who knows what all. It's a swirling dream of a song that's followed by a mostly instrumental prayer ("An Elfin Lament"), another shadow that may be broken but it's also completely gorgeous. - dave heaton

Things in Herds, Everything Has to End Somewhere (G-Folk)

The title Everything Has to End Somewhere correctly gets at the sense of resignation and sadness that haunts the new album from Things in Herds, the mostly one-man-band of Pete Lush who previously gave us the fantastic rock-pop-folk (Radiohead by way of Nick Drake) album I Can Dancing and Walking. Lush's voice is absolutely brittle and sorrowful as he sings the opening title track, both a reflection on disappointment and an opinion that such sadness is inevitable. Everything Has to End... feels like a break-up album often, but yet it's not just a drowning-in-sorrow exercise. The songs tenderly take us into a contemplative state - in that way they feel like late night, like moments of absolute stillness and peace. Things in Herds' music has a uniquely vivid sense of presence to it; the basic style is stripped-down, acoustic-guitar pop (with occasional nods to rock, carrying with them a brightness and extra sense of hope), but there's a lonely grace to the sound that makes it stand out from the crowd. And above all, Things in Herds' songs are wonderfully formed and absolutely gorgeous - Lush, accompanied by background vocalist Miss Ping, sensitively articulates deeply personal feelings. There's a sweetness to his voice that carries into the songs, even when they're filled with loneliness and heartbreak. The songs are also imminently melodic; they will drill their way into your skull. Everything Has to End Somewhere is a refined work of atmosphere that's also touching, filled with feeling. - dave heaton

Issue 29, December 2004

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