erasing clouds

5 Music Reviews

by dave heaton, john wenzel

Frog Eyes, The Folded Palm (Absolutely Kosher)

Frog Eyes come out swinging at the start of their second album The Folded Palm. On the first handful of songs their brand of warped pirate-rock sounds especially hyper and uncontrolled, with lead singer Casey Mercer winding his voice through various levels of ecstasy and strain while the band tightly wails away on their instruments, playing like punk-rock pioneers and jazz experimentalists at the same time (not to mention a Gypsy folk band). Yet even the manic first track "The Fence Feels in Post" has some lovely moments of guitar-driven quiet woven through it - things here are more complex than they seem. "Who sings this song? Who knows my head?", Mercer sings to start one song, and the answer is no one and everyone, as Frog Eyes' lyrics read both like confessions and like the stream-of-consciousness ravings of someone who's on a lot of drugs. They're a fascinating band - tilting towards history and geography and psychedelia and so many other larger-than-life forces at onces. Their perspective on the world feels dark and forboding ("You better hold tight/because even cancer needs a home!") but also slippery, hard to pin down but eternally enticing. And their musical style could be described with the same words. The Folded Palm is their most explosive recording yet. Even in its quietest moments, it's on fire. - dave heaton

Manipulator Alligator, These Are Bees (Kaw Tapes)

"This is my heart and these words in your hand and you can do with it as you like/this is the sound of my voice on a tape you can take wherever you like," goes a line two songs into Manipulator Alligator's These Are Bees album. This is stripped-down, one-man-and-a-guitar music - it's a style of song that's being performed all across the country right this very second, by people with the same heart-on-sleeve sentiment, yet still These Are Bees stands out from the crowd. Sometimes sincerity, and a way with words, is what it takes to push someone's songs past the theshold of familiarity. That's the case here; the genre is in no way new (think of Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Nick Drake, Joni Mitchell; and think of their millions of offspring) but the feeling is so pure, so genuine that it doesn't matter. Manipulator Alligator's melodies are decent but not show-stopping, but he's really succesful at using songs to probe feelings. The topics are common - love, loneliness...matters of the heart, essentially - but the words used to capture them are fresh and descriptive, and his delivery is sharp and incisive. {} - dave heaton

The Minus 5, At the Organ (Yep Roc)

Now I'm no Wilco worshipper but the Wilco-Minus 5 collaboration Down With Wilco took the Minus 5 to new heights. Scott McCaughey of the Young Fresh Fellows has led the group and its rotating members through a handful of albums' worth of 60s-influenced pop-rock songs, but to me the Wilco collaboration was the only one that had much of a spark, the only one I could listen to more than a couple times without getting bored. At the Organ is a 7-song EP of Down With Wilco outtakes; the songs overall fit right into the sound of that album, though some aren't quite up to that standard (take the opener "Lyrical Stance," a inside-joke of a song that when it comes done to it is pretty much an empty classic-rock run-through). There's decent but not enlightening alternate versions of Down With Wilco tracks "The Days of Wine and Booze" and "The Town That Last Its Groove Supply" (and a video for the latter), plus two catchy, clever, new songs - the McCaughey/Jeff Tweedy-written "Formerly Hail Centeruion" and the country Dylan-esque "Film of the Movie" (which, for the record, is a newer track that includes no members of Wilco on it). At the Organ is a nice little record. Nothing groundbreaking, but pleasant enough. - dave heaton

The Mutts, The Mutts (Fat Cat Records)

Despite the ill-advised, now-generic “The” before their name, the Mutts are truly worthy of your attention. Their spastic, dirty bar rock isn’t all that original, but neither is the sublime indie pop of the Shins, and they obviously kick a considerable amount of ass. What the Mutts do, besides driving by all the right ‘70s Detroit rawk signposts (Iggy Pop, MC5, etc.) is conjure up a powerful storm of bent electric notes and hoarse singing wrapped tight in frayed, shit-scented bow. This isn’t exactly trash rock or punkabilly (the rhythms are too accomplished and measured) but the lead singer does sound suspiciously like the dude from Reverend Horton Heat, and his bandmates absolutely wail on the guitars. Almost every one of these six tunes has the right stuff: doubled guitar leads, clipped bass lines and liberal amounts of smoke-stained, booze-soaked howling. There’s more than a hint of Jim Morrison-esque debauchery in the lead singer’s voice, but the cadence is thankfully not as plodding as that highly overrated frontman. If the Strokes leaned more toward the Detroit side of the fence and weren’t afraid to indulge in a bit of ‘70s-centric soloing every now and then, they’d sound like this. And they’d be glad they did. – john wenzel

Soltero, The Tongues You Have Tied (Three Ring Records)

There are certain things you can count on with each new Soltero record: impeccable production, subtly beautiful melodies and liberal amounts of oblique sarcasm. The Tongues You Have Tied doesn’t disappoint, taking Tim Howard’s breezy, literate songwriting another step towards sublimity and measured incoherence. Howard’s speak-singing is oddly ingratiating and peerless; he makes Steve Malkmus sound over-excited. But it’s this languidness that contrasts so nicely with his crisp acoustic notes and gorgeously-produced electric echoes. The last album I heard from Mr. Howard (who plays nearly everything on here) was Science Will Figure You Out, a not-uncomfortable mélange of myriad styles and tones. The Tongues You Have Tied, which started out as an EP and ballooned to full-length, sounds considerably more focused, touching on everything from stoned yet mysteriously nimble indie folk (the Lou Barlow-esque “The Tongues You Have Tied”) to random electro-lounge (“Coattail Ronnie”) to John Lennon-esque pop (“The Good Times”). And yet, it holds together better than his previous work, even as it tries to pull itself apart. The Tongues You Have Tied is a warm, intimate disc that’s deceptively rough around the edges, making it seem easy to belt out spontaneous-sounding melodies while hewing invisibly close to perfect pop blueprints. – john wenzel

Issue 29, December 2004

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