erasing clouds

And 18 More Reviews of Music

by Dave Heaton, Anna Battista, Erin Hucke

Red House Painters, Old Ramon (Sub Pop)

They live in the most neglected and hidden corner of your blue souls, they're masters of long tracks, painful guitar chords that ache like a hopeless broken heart and make tracks haunted by the ghost of women so near and yet so far. Their frontman has just starred in Cameron Crowe's movie Almost Famous and yes, you've guessed, we're talking about Red House Painters. Sixth album for this band who resuscitate back to the music world after their 1996 Song For A Blue Guitar album. Long time has gone since the funereal but compelling dirges contained in Down Colorful Hill and though the tracks contained in Old Ramon are extensively long like on their first work of art, they're never tiring, less dark and sad. Mark Kozelek even manages to give his listeners a wee joyful present, an ode to his cat, "Wop-A-Din-Din", which is so sweet that will make you swoon. More unlimited poetry follows in the ten minutes long "Void", the sad "River" and the fragile, but not weak "Golden". Sweet and deadly, melancholic and desperate is Red House Painters' world, but you won't repent paying a visit to it.--anna battista

The Relict/The Clientele, "Held in Glass/(I Can't Seem) To Make You Mine" 7" (Johnny Kane Records)

The Clientele and the Relict both play beautiful atmospheric pop that instantly, vividly places you in the middle of a new setting through words, melodies and voices. Listen to either group's songs and you'll feel transported: to rainy streets, sunny city parks, and so on. They both transfer a sense of place through songwriting better than almost anyone working in pop today. The connection between the two groups isn't tenuous; the man behind the Relict used to be a member of the Clientele. Here both bands are present with a song apiece, and both have chosen to use their tracks to feature talented female vocalists. The A Side is "Held in Glass," by The Relict introducing Abi Marvel. It's a gorgeous duet that depicts a dull, empty urban landscape ("And we shall ride these city streets/there are no colors in the skies") while conveying a sense that life is in stasis, going no place. The flip side is equally beautiful, features another extraordinary guest vocalist, and has a feeling just as melancholy. "(I Can't Seem) To Make You Mine" is not a cover of ???? song, but a sweetly sad love song about spending long and lonely nights pining for a lover who is out of reach. Both tracks are as pretty and as moving as pop gets, and add substantial depth to the already growing repertoire of these two fine acts (neither of which has put out a proper full-length album yet). --dave heaton

R.E.M., Reveal (Warner Bros.)

Reveal has been hailed as the latest great R.E.M. renaissance record; one that ties the band back to their "jangly" roots. Some critics even went so far as to claim Reveal as the second coming of Automatic for the People. Truth be told, Reveal has more in common with Up (instrumentation and lyrics) and Green (pure poppiness of the songs). All too often in recent reviews, critics blatantly write off 1998's Up as somewhat of a techno goof made by a bunch of monkeys with too many drum machines and synthesizers to play with. Perhaps said to boost the new album's sales above the poor American sales figures of Up. But the main thing that lazy critics inadvertently noticed (and actually, it's unmistakeable) is that Reveal is far more radio-friendly than R.E.M. has acted in a while, reconfiguring Up's experimental organ and drum machine bliss into a catchier form. But it's an intelligent pop as only R.E.M. can concoct, with lyrics that have gotten more articulate and less politically-motivated over time. Reveal strikes a great contrast with airy pop tunes like "All the Way to Reno (You're Gonna Be a Star)" and "Imitation of Life," with heavier, more "traditional" R.E.M.-spirited songs such as "Disappear," "I'll Take the Rain" and "Saturn Return." Yet songs like "Beach Ball," a concious delve into the world of Brian Wilson, come off sounding a shallow and a bit embarrassing (ala "Shiny Happy People"). And here, in this space between Earth and what's above, of weightlessness and weight, floats Reveal. With numerous lyrical references to floating, flying, lifting, air, gravity and being high (chemically-induced or not, I don't know), R.E.M. finds a comfortable balance. Reveal sits polished in a glossy, glittery, sunshiny pop package, but what is inside is more complex than it may appear.--erin hucke

Roto, The Low Power Hour (Resin Records)

Roto originated as a live experiment. Resin Records label-founders David Arbury and Carleton Ingram would play their songs live, but with a different drummer for each show, bringing his or her own style of drumming to the songs. Roto's debut CD The Low Power Hour continues this in a way; three different drummers from other bands (Q and Not U, El guapo, Land Speed Record!) take turns on the various songs, adding their own ways of playing. The songs therefore feature drums to a certain extent, but not as much as you might expect. Guitar, bass and vocals are as much in the forefront. Arbury and Ingram sing off of each other, sounding at times like they're doing sea chants or campfire rounds; their voices come together and fall apart, sometimes repeating each other, sometimes doing almost a call-and-response-type-thing. On "Time Trial," for example, their spoken-sung chanting sounds hauntingly like a singalong of ghosts. The 17 songs on The Low Power Hour have a truly unique art-punk sound to them, with a loose feel, a sparse structure and arrangements that are at times quite intricate (as with the Zappa-esque changes in "Wrecking Ball"). There's also a theatrical side to Roto--one that comes through not just in the mysterious atmosphere they evoke through their singing, but in the dramatic vocal bridge in the middle of "Brain Chip" and the musical-like reprising of the same song twice (a song called "The Show," not coincidentally). On numerous tracks, like "Town to Town" and "Pipeline" for example, Roto also manage to achieve a certain sense of intense calm that is both relaxing and unsettling. The latter track is also a perfect example of the way their lyrics probe into all sorts of ideas, issues and stories in a subtle, abstract, rather odd way. "Pipeline" is a truly eerie song that at times seems like a proposal of murder and at times comes off as a meditation on time and the death of the past. The track after it similarly seems to be both about relationships ending and about the progress of time in general. This is the way Roto's lyrics work--they bring things up without clearly explaining them, but get the wheels in your brain turning. Time, cause and effect, the relationships of thoughts to actions--all of these things are carefully poked at in a poetic manner. The Low Power Hour was born out of a musical experiment, but it seems both complete and complex. The musicians push off each other in new directions, but they're also getting you to push ideas around your brain, to figure out what's going on and what it means to you. --dave heaton

Ru.electronic (Lo Recordings)

As the name indicates, Ru.electronic is a compilation of electronic music from Russia. Chosen by one of the included artists, EU, the tracks here can be grouped into three general categories: Very melody-based tracks with varying rhythms; noisy experimental pieces; and tracks that blend the two styles. In the first category we have artists like EU, Lonyx and Klutch, whose track "Strochnik" opens the album with a melodic flurry of notes over slightly fuzzy beats. Then there's musicians like PCP, Fizzarum and Vesna, who go in a crazier direction, with waves of distortion, metallic atmospheres and other unexplainable noises of intrigue. Tenzor and Solar X fall somewhere between the two categories, mixing atmosphere with melody. The later's track "One Free Drink" is a danceable number with a haunting background melody line, that also seems like it's built on the sounds of bouncing racquetballs, springs and laser beams. There's 10 artists altogether, including six who contribute two tracks, and the important fact about Ru.electronic is that each musician is unique and attention-worthy. Each creates his or her own little world of sound in a few minutes time, and each world is gorgeous in its own way. --dave heaton

Scuba Z, The Vanishing American Family (Sanctuary Records Group Ltd.)

Edinburgh based duo Johnson Wax and Brian Anger are apparently having lots of fun while playing in this record. To confirm this opinion we might even note the fact that Scuba Z's first musical effort isn't necessary evil: tracks such as the groovy "Californian Paranoia", a blend of funky rhythms and relentless voices collapsing with stunning beats and sampling Frank Zappa, the big phat beats hit "Hip Bounce" which is understandably the first single taken from this album, or the soothing title album track "The Vanishing American Family" which sounds like plunging into the deep blue ocean, are examples of good dancey rhythms and genuinely tasty intuitions. It's a shame that these intuitions become rather fragile in the second part of the album, where lyrics and rhythms become more bland and sometimes end up in making Scuba Z a cheesy and mock heroic version of The Shamen echoing from the top of a mountain. Luckily, Johnson and Brian have a bunch of samples to sparkle their tracks with and revive them in the dullest moments. Catch Scuba Z touring in September or hear them on Sky, MTV, at Milan catwalks and wherever people think it's hip to play their music. ( battista

The Slits, Cut (Remastered) (Island)

Formed in 1976, Ari, Viv, Tessa and Palmolive (later replaced with Budgie), were the terrible girls of punk rock, The Slits. Issued the year after they toured with The Clash, in September 1979 on Island and now re-mastered, Cut represents the sound of a band which was ahead of their time and for this reason destined to disappear leaving behind a few fans and the seeds for bands such as Sleater-Kinney and Le Tigre. Gifted with a shocking cover that showed The Slits semi-naked and covered in mud, the album contained the sound of a band that had developed a style of their own, characterised by a total incompetence in playing their instruments, but also by a terrific passion for music and in particular for anything that went from Mary Poppins to dub. The album contains their single "Typical Girls", and other jewels, such as "Instant Hit", "Ping Pong Affair", "Love Und Romance", "Newtown" and the Marvin Gaye cover "I Heard It Through The Grapevine". The Slits were 'typical girls' who lived in a man's world, didn't give a fuck about it, but decided to be culture innovators and consequently disappeared leaving to the others the honour to walk in the path they opened. Rewire your synapses 'cos they'll destroy them with their bass lines, their dub and their talent. Glory to the bass line and to The Slits of course.--anna battista

The Sound of Pirates 2 Mixed by Ed Case (Locked On Records)

Ed Markomallis is a true head case, or rather, is the true Ed Case, DJ and producer who gave life to the mid-'90s pirate radio Transmission FM programs. Many years have passed since his first record, "Something In Your Eyes", and since then Ed has recycled himself into so many projects and alter egos which would be difficult to list them all here. Apart from owning his own label, Middle Row Records, Ed Case is also behind the Monsta Boy and Suburban Lick monikers and has been lately better known for having remixed the hit "Clint Eastwood", by the Damon Albarn and Tank Girl's father Jamie Hewlett alternative artsy-fartsy project Gorillaz. So, before releasing his solo album and a bunch of 12", innovator of two step garage music Ed Case introduces us to this collection of sounds which include Todd Edwards, Wideboys, Zed Bias, Remi, Monsta Boy and so on, the whole remixed and relooped by Ed in person, in his own style. Deep dense and contagious rhythms and beats await you in this compilation. "A great menace hangs over the town," Sartre wrote in Nausea. Ed Case's and his remixes are true menaces, but for your head and your foot. The pirate is on board and on the deck (s). ( battista

The Swords Project, self-titled (Absolutely Kosher)

Their name might make you think of an ancient military maneuver, but The Swords Project are of a more peaceful nature, as you can tell from their self-titled debut EP's cover art, a drawing of a stampede of unicorns. A 7- or 8-piece mini-orchestra from Portland, Oregon, the Swords Project build a nuanced sound that sweeps you along as it mutates from lullaby to rock, from atmospheric scene-setting to sweeping, almost-funk-like groove. With guitars, bass, piano, violin, clarinet, melodica, a pair of drummers and some elctronic touches, The Swords Project's sound is huge and immersive. Their songs are mostly instrumental, with low vocals used as another layer of sound, and utilize sound dynamics as successfully as any of your best "post-rock" outfits. They've got the intensity of Godspeed You Black Emperor!, but they use it in a different way. The Swords Project's edges are softer; they're more about beauty than madness, more about possibility than the apocalypse. The opening track, "Shannon's Wedding Song," keeps building and building, getting bigger and bigger, until it takes over your world. All four tracks also find their way into a comfortable groove, an element that's easy to forget about when you're working with such big, cinematic soundscapes. With an enormous, gorgeous sound, a brightness that's missing from much of today's music, and a full-length debut due sometime in 2002, The Swords Project are a group to watch. --dave heaton

Tahiti 80, Puzzle (Atmosphériques)

Don't you just love summer? The sun, the sea, the seagulls and…the sounds! And if you're looking for some good sounds that can lull your tired and lazy bodies while lying on the beach, well, then, look at here, please. Produced by Tore Johansson, a name associated with The Cardigans, Xavier Boyer, Pedro Rosende, Mederic Gontier, Sylvain Marchand, known to their audience as Tahiti 80 have finally released their long awaited first album. Coming from the same school of thought and sound associated with Air and Daft Punk, Tahiti's album is made up of tales of summer skies as in "Yellow Butterfly", love as in "Made First[Never Forget]" and songwriting, which seems to be a recurring theme. Boyer must be obsessed by it, but this obsession is not a disgrace: in fact his lyrics happily blend with the uplifting '60s cheerily happy tones and nuances delivered by the other members of the band. Xavier even makes jokes about his songwriting in "Mr Davies", singing ''…he gives me complexes/Because he's considered a songwriter/And I'm not at this time" but we must generally admit his tracks are rather enchantingly as also "When the Sun" proves confirming that Tahiti 80 make sugar coated music for sweet eyes, coloured bikinis and syrupy cocktails. Please use a double dose of solar block cream this summer if you're going to listen to it under the sun: Puzzle, which also features the AR Kane cover, "A Love from Outer Space", will manage to attract even more sunny golden rays than usual.--anna battista

Teenbeat 2001 (Teenbeatr)

Whenever I start to forget about Mark Robinson's Teenbeat Records and some of the great pop music they've put out, it gets to be the right time of the year for Teenbeat's yearly $5 comp to come out. Each year, they put out a collection that showcases their current roster and is sure to include some absolutely fantastic songs, including a fair number that can be found nowhere else. The 2001 comp is one of the best yet. It introduces me to some new names, reminds me of names I should have been paying more attention to, and has some great tracks by musicians I already love. Teenbeat 2001 also covers a wide variety of musical styles. Some of the highlights include a sing-songy rock tribute to Washington DC by Johnny Cohen & Pete, a superb dance-pop track by Tha Cheeky Bastid (Andrew Beaujon and friends under a pseudonym), an enigmatic, harmonic pop ballad from Hot Pursuit (featuring former members of Tuscadero and Blast Off Country Style), a quick, gorgeous electro-pop song by hollAnd, a countrified cover of Unrest's "Isobel" by Currituck Co. and a laidback pop gem from Aden. There's also tracks by Butch Willis, The Rondelles, Bells Of, True Love Always, Tracy Shedd, The Long Goodbye, Phil Krauth, Rhonda Harris, Flin flon, Robert Schipul and Mark Robinson, plus a handful of unlisted, "you figure out who they're by" bonus tracks. --dave heaton

The Third Eye Foundation, I Poo Poo On Your Juju ( Domino Recording)

Master of horrific, desolate and incredibly enthralling tracks, Matt Elliott introduces us to an album of remixes. Noises and blinks, suspicious bits and pieces stolen who knows where or produced by mysterious instruments twisted in unknown ways have always characterised The Third Eye Foundation music and some of you will probably be happy to know that they all characterise also Matt's remixes. First and probably best tracks of the album is Yann Tiersen's "La Dispute", remixed by The Third Eye Foundation, a barren landscape, but, and I can assure you this, a barren landscape has never sounded that enchanting and wondrous; Urchin's "Snuffed Candles" is instead an endless carousel of loops, weird noises that sound like animals squelching and Blonde Redhead's "Four Damaged Lemons", is a dancey track whereas Glanta Vs Third Eye Foundation's "When I Dance" is a pure anthem which will surely hypnotise you. Matt Elliott seems to be lost in a world of his own, where he can connect with aliens in faraway lands, get drowned in liquid silky rhythms and explode in a myriad of sounds while playing with religious imagery, crown of thorns and a crucified Jesus. --anna battista

Tram, Frequently Asked Questions (Setanta)

How can you become famous in the music world? How do you produce a hit record? How can you climb the charts? How can you make tons of money with your music? How can you convince your audience that you're not totally shit? These are probably the frequently asked questions musicians have been wondering for ages, over and over and over again. They're so frequent indeed that Tram still haven't found the answers. The second album from London-based Tram, that is Paul Anderson and Nick Avery, is indeed a continuous acoustic rant, a praise to lo-fi recording, proved by the background noises you can hear here and there. The eleven bittersweet songs verge towards the harmonic, they are rather melodic and heartfelt, but, unfortunately, there's no track which emerges and distinguishes from the other. Tram have indeed produced an album without a climax, if we exclude the Tim Buckley cover "Once I Was," originally recorded for a Tim Buckley tribute album entitled Sing A Song For You, Frequently Asked Questions, it must be admitted, is full of good intuitions, as the instrumental tracks "Folk" and "Light A Candle On My Birthday" prove. There's talent alright here, but it's suffocated by their refined lyrics that make their attempts at being enthralling perfectly innocuous. ( battista

Travis, The Invisible Band ( Independiente)

When it usually rains during a gig, the band playing feel as if they've been suddenly jinxed by the gods of the weather and generally know that their concert is going to be shit. Of course this applies for the average band, but not for Travis, who, while singing during a festival, were blessed by the rain that arrived perfectly in time, while singer Fran Healy was ranting about always raining on him. On their new work recorded in Los Angeles, The Invisible Band, there isn't any new rock number as in the first album, no "All I Wanna Do Is Rock", no teenage girls shouting and rocking, but only fine lyrics, suspended in the air by some new arrangements. "The grass is always greener on the other side", Fran sings, on this album, but the grass has never been this green on Travis' side of the fence.The Invisible Band contains mostly ballad like love songs like "Dear Diary" or pop love songs such as the uplifting "Sing". Scarily at some point on "Last Train" wee Fran compares himself to Che Guevara, but you don't know if he's doing a clever point about being a revolutionary or if he's hinting at the fact that Che Guevara's image appears even on lighters and Fran and his pals might go large and become the next icons. Indeed by now Travis are just like Glasgow's People's Palace: they're a popular institution and that's also why on the sleeve notes, they thank the people of Glasgow, a very nice gesture towards their fans and the city that gave them life and fame. There you go then, quiet is the new Travis. ( battista

Turbo's Tunes (Kill Rock Stars)

Music shopper's rule: $5 indie-label compilations are always worth your money. Well…let me modify that; when the label puts out music as fine as Kill Rock Stars does, it's worth your money. Turbo's Tunes is a 73-minute release compiling released and unreleased songs from KRS bands. It leans heavily toward the released side of things (3 of the 19 songs are unreleased) , but unless you can afford to buy every single KRS release, you're bound to find something here to love. KRS is a label which gravitates towards raw emotion and power, whether it's from punk-rockers, folk singers or a punk-poet-type like Jim Carroll. Turbo's Tunes kicks off with some blazing rock tracks from the great bands that I already associate with KRS: The Gossip, Sleater-Kinney, Bangs, Kleenex, Unwound, Frumpies. But then it continues through all sorts of musical territories, including gothic folk (Holly Golightly), party rock (Cadallaca, fronted by Sleater-Kinney's ????), folksy pop (Danielle Howle, Sport Murphy), melodic pop-rock (The Breakdowns) and weirdo neo-R&B (Har Mar Superstar), and ends with a pretty, 9-minute instrumental by Jean Smith. All in all, it's completely worth your time and money, an inexpensive way to find a new love. --dave heaton

We Love You…So Love Us too (We Love You)

Aye, we know it, record label always claim they love us and the artist they represent, but then they drop the artist they signed and break our hearts. But, fortunately, not all the record labels are just like that. You take Jo Hillier's We Love You and well, you start thinking that perhaps behind the mere etiquette that defines the label, perhaps, they really love their fans. Compiled by Jo, We Love You…So Love Us Too goes from the pop nuances of I Am Kloot's "Over My Shoulder", to the '80s electro rhythms of Ladytron's "Another Breakfast With You" and Zoot Woman's "Chicago Detroit L.A.", from exotica stars Safariari with "Kiwi Airlines" to Tahiti 80's "When The Sun" and to the electric sound of joy of Hour Musik with "Love You" and the gem of the compilation, "Fast", by Bomb the Bass featuring Shawn Lee. This is just a sample of new and old bands with exciting sounds. You won't have to do an effort to love them. --anna battista

Wolfie, Tall Dark Hill (March)

After kicking off their career with two albums and a handful of 7"s of quick, upbeat pop-rock, Wolfie started navigating their path more carefully. The realization that their songs weren't complex enough for their tastes lead to an infusion of classic rock crunch into their songs, as well as a more focused effort to add variety and more intricate song arrangements to the Wolfie sound. Their third album, Tall Dark Hill, blends a bigger arena-rock sound with their catchy pop songs, but in a less self-conscious way than on their recent Wolfie, and the Coat and Hat EP (which is still excellent, by the way). As the first album without founding member Mike Downey (also of Mathelete), the album also features an increased vocal presence by keyboardist Amanda Lyons. Wolfie's songwriter, Joe Ziemba, and Lyons had previously collaborated under the name Busytoby, releasing an excellent, underrated album called It's Good to Be Alive. On that album, the two sung together beautifully, balancing their voices off each other. That sort of vocal arranging has made its way into Wolfie's sound on much of this album, and the band is better off for it. The other noticeable change in Wolfie's sound is an attempt to stretch out a bit on some songs and to, in the case of the final track, the 9-minute "Happy State of Mr. Bubbins," utilize Ziemba's obvious love for storytelling in a more expanded format. Other than that, Tall Dark Hill contains all of Wolfie's best qualities in droves: their infectious energy, ear for melody, and sensitive lyrics that wed childlike imagination to pure heart. Their music is always a celebration of creativity, songcraft and the world around us, and Tall Dark Hill is no exception. There's also a number of great extra sonic flourishes decorating their songs these days, like the echoing guitar in "Waiting for the Night to End," for example. Tall Dark Hill is a great rock record, a great pop record, and has a genuine emotional core that indicates, once again, that Wolfie knows how music can affect your heart while moving you to dance.--dave heaton

Susumu Yokota, Grinning Cat (Leaf)

Susumu Yokota's second album Grinning Cat is an electronica album infused with classical piano, or a maybe a piano album with electronics. The 13 tracks are filled with delicate piano and the stateliness and precision of classical music, but also all sorts of other things, including live percussion, handclaps, beats, muted or overheard voices, and a few types of horns. Grinning Cat has an ambient mood about it, with mellow atmospheres, but also superb melodies and an inherent sense of playfulness. Opening with the slow, moody "I Imagine," the album feels like a journey into the pretty side of one's imagination. Track titles like "Sleepy Eye," "Fearful Dream" and "Flying Cat" add to the album's aura of a fantastical dream; it also makes sense that the album was reportedly inspired by Alice in Wonderland. The music matches the creativity of the titles. For example, "Flying Cat" uses synthesizers, whistling noises and drums to simulate the feeling of flying, to conjure about the feeling of riding on the back of the song's namesake, while the final track, "Lost Child" has a truly melancholy air which matches the feelings of aloneness evoked by the title. The album has a playful feel, but also an inventive one. Yokota subtly uses all sorts of instruments and styles to build his sound. "King Dragonfly" adds hip-hop touches to gentle piano, while several tracks use handclaps, children's voices and very live-sounding percussion to give you the feeling that the music is inhabited by people. And above all, Grinning Cat is absolutely gorgeous, a majestic work. Susumu Yokota has a mastery over textures and sounds, and uses it to conjure up a fanciful, beautiful dream.--dave heaton

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