erasing clouds

20 Music Reviews

reviewed by dave heaton, scott homewood

Click on a musician's name to go directly to the review, or scroll down and proceed through them all.

Dopo Yume, Flume, FM Knives, GZA/Genius, Simon Heselev & Kurt Vonnegut , The Impossible Shapes, Innocent Words: Small, My Table, Gordon Isnor, Jasmine Minks, Dan Jones, Kiddo, The Larch, Lifeguards, Light Sleeper, The Loveless & Goodnight Trail, Mateo & Matos, Momus, No Escape, Pale Horse and Rider , Pothole Skinny

Dopo Yume, True Romance (self-released)

The persona that Dupo Yume lead singer Jordan Galland cultivates on their album True Romance is that of the rebel playboy, a crooner who's into leading the glamorous life, which for him means loving wine, women (especially those who look like Brigitte Bardot), fashion, and all things French. He's like James Bond minus the spy thing, ready to seduce beautiful women in ten seconds flat. At first it seems like a joke, as he begins the album with the line, "Soft soft softly/she looked so hot doing her laundry." Then you realize how into this persona he is, and that a certain self-aware humor is part of his thing. That bit of humor helps lighten the album up a little; dead-on perfect melodies and music that has style do so even more. Dopo Yume's music is brash and festive, with Galland's lyrics offering an incisive, overly romantic view of his love life to tremendous hooks and melodies, all to pulsating rock beats. It's edgy synth-pop as played by Bowie fans, or like Imperial Teen if they were fronted by Jarvis Cocker. However, you describe it, True Romance is lively, sensual, and spectacular, but also carries underneath its surface an understanding of the complexity of love, of heartbreak and uncertainty.--dave heaton

Flume, *Note to Self (Bittersweet Records)

Flume's debut album Note to Self collects 10 snappy, upbeat, pretty pop songs about love, sadness, hope and the other states of being that people go through in day-to-day life. Their sound, based around singer Heather Nicholas's pretty voice and some decently memorable melodies, is not innovative (in fact, they sound an awful lot like the great Holiday Flyer and its offshoot bands The Sinking Ships and California Oranges-definitely not a bad thing), but they pull it off seamlessly enough to make their album at worst pleasant and at best moving, stylish, and fun. Note to Self is a solid pop album, a good thing to kick off Spring with. {}--dave heaton

FM Knives, Useless & Modern (Broken Rekids)

FM Knives have that old-school punk rock sound, one you'd recognize quickly if you've ever listened to the Buzzcocks, Stiff Little Fingers or the first Clash album. Fast, tight and melodic, their Useless and Modern album derives much of its power from how effectively it captures the style of those groups. More specifically, to make an album that so thoroughly gets what those legendary bands were all about is an accomplishment. From the first track-with its chorus "Living in this place alone, too bored to do anything"-on, the album projects a level of dissatisfaction with the world that not only echoes that of classic punk but gives their music a real-life urgency that makes it reach beyond just imitation. Putting feelings of isolation and rebellion over potent electric guitars isn't new or old; it's what most great rock music is all about. FM Knives won't win any awards for innovation, but they will rock you out of your seat.--dave heaton

GZA/Genius, Legend of the Liquid Sword (MCA)

GZA/Genius' last album, Beneath the Surface, took the Wu-Tang sound-a mix of martial arts references, mysticism and urban journalism-and stripped it down to its bare essence, with starker beats and less musical embellishment. The result was both uncommonly radio-friendly and in the Wu-Tang tradition, yet the album got (unfairly) dismissed almost across the board by critics and fans alike. While that type of reaction to a change might make an artist become more conservative the next time around (witness the route Busta Rhymes has taken after the lukewarm response to Anarchy), GZA/Genius has instead put forth a solid album that builds off the strengths of both his well-liked Liquid Swords album and his less-liked Beneath the Surface. In other words, the album shows off GZA's dense, word-heavy rhyming style as deftly as the former album yet it as catchy and easy on the ears as the latter one. Legend of the Liquid Sword also taps into the old-school soul and reggae influences that helped make the last two Wu albums so enjoyable. The resulting "best of all worlds" album isn't as tightly wrapped, as cohesive, as GZA's previous two albums, yet it's at the same time perhaps the strongest example of his diverse talents.--dave heaton

Simon Heselev & Kurt Vonnegut, Tock Tick (Wall Lizard Music)

While musicians of all genres are rightly showing their feelings about the current war in Iraq by quickly writing and releasing songs (on the Web, mostly, as the Beastie Boys, Billy Bragg, John Mellencamp and others have done) that explicitly comment on it, the most effective anti-war song that I've heard makes no reference to current events and, indeed, has a universal quality because of that. On "Tock Tick," a 7-minute, 1-song single, Simon Heseley and his friends put down a mellow, atmospheric jazz groove and then over it place the voice of Kurt Vonnegut, reading an excerpt from Slaughterhouse Five. That well-chosen excerpt isn't a portrait of war's horror or a preachy condemnation of war, but a poetic glimpse at peace, a dream of what could be that is likely too deep for our political leaders to get, but is nonetheless moving and haunting, especially when set against music that is itself moving and haunting. Describing a man watching a late-night war film on TV, backwards, Vonnegut gives a portrait of war in reverse-bombs flying upwards into planes, etc.-which stretches all the way back to the dawn of humankind. The bombs go back to the planes, the planes go back to their countries, the bombs go back to their factories and the pieces go back to where they came from. "The minerals were then shipped to specialists in remote areas; it was their business to put them into the ground to hide them cleverly, so they would never hurt anybody ever again."--dave heaton

The Impossible Shapes, Bless the Headless (Recordhead/Mr. Whiggs)

The Impossible Shapes play rock music that describes love and other universal forces in a way that's mysterious and, sometimes, just plain weird. Take lyrics like "The best part being that the sound was one with my own" or "Love is here and hope is gone/we must cry for the bathing swan," both from the song "Bathing Swans." There's something sort of deceptive about their style of psychedelic rock, in that sometimes they seem to be projecting "love is everywhere" aphorisms, yet each time they do so there's a tinge of gloominess around. Their music is filled with as much dark sounds as light; they conjure up the feeling of being lost as readily as they sing hymns to nature. And most of the time they seem to be doing both (which is perhaps the perfect encapsulation of the hippie/free love era, as the supposed dream was often shattered by murder, chaos or war). Of course The Impossible Shapes also have great pop melodies, and successfully meld a unique type of art-rock style with a slightly retro-60s vibe. Bless the Headless is not as conceptually focused as their last album (Laughter Fills Our Hollow Dome), yet musically has an even fuller, more confident sound. That confidence translates into show-stopping moments like "The Line So Flexible," where their guitars seriously burn the track, Hendrix-style. The album also has a darker, cloudier mood that makes it feel even more complicated than Laughter. Witness, for instance, how the dense, ominous fuzz rock of "Kids Need Creeks" interacts with the lyrics: "Kids need creeks and dirty knees/and wide sails to catch the breeze." Then see how that interacts with the next track, the weirdo-circus number "A Final Feast Forver," about having a big feast before leaving this world. The album ends with the title track. It's an instrumental, but the title alone should get you wondering: what kind of demented religious sentiment is "Bless the Headless"? Who would be giving such a blessing, and why? By the end of the album The Impossible Shapes have stunned you, both with their capacity to rock and their ability to f**k with your head. {}--dave heaton

Innocent Words: Small, My Table, Various Artists (Innocent Words)

Not really sure what the background behind this compilation CD really is as it takes a bunch of songs from other labels and throws them on this CD without much in the way of explanation as to why. There is a note in the liner notes thanking Pearl Jam and some medical facilities. As near as I can guess, the bands and labels donated these tracks to maybe help raise money for a charity of sorts. Giving money to a charity is often a good enough reason to try new music but the choice of bands here is awesome as well. Absinthe Blind, Stone Gossard, The Maroons and a bunch of other well-respected bands in the indie world take part on this comp and, while not everything might be your cup of tea, there is more than enough here to satisfy every music fan. I am real impressed with the selection of bands here and the quality of this whole package. Kudos to evryone involved. {3 and a half stars}--scott homewood

Gordon Isnor, I Am a Conjurer (Lord Sir Skronk)

I Am a Conjurer opens with two infectious songs delivered in true oddball style. Over loud, ridiculous-sounding synthesizers that are straight out of the cheesiest 80s song you've ever heard, Isnor woos an unnamed listener with the promise of a outer space ride and confesses that he just robbed a liquor store. Both of those songs are goofy and weird; equally odd is how easily they win you over, how endearing even the most songs' corniest parts are. A couple songs later, Isnor shows he can use those same cheesy keyboards to more sublime purposes, crafting a pretty, psychedelic bliss-out ("High Five"), as well as to even more bizarre ones, like making an instrumental in the style of the Beverly Hills Cop theme song. As the album progresses, Isnor occasionally throws away the keyboards to reveal another occupation: traveling folk singer, guitar in hand. His take on folk is appropriately warped and tongue-in-cheek, even as he channels traditional down-on-your-luck themes ("Song for New Scotland"). An unconventional songwriter to say the least, Isnor is constantly taking ridiculously set pieces from music I hate and using it to make music I like, mostly by staying somehow sincere even while he pulls your chain. He's purposely enigmatic and weird, yet also continually takes that veneer away just enough to show that he's truly talented (at playing guitar and writing hooks, especially). "I'm not a person anymore, as if I ever was before," he sings on the relaxed, jazzy "I'm Not a Person Anymore." It's a song that's puzzling, touching and goofy, like everything on I Am a Conjurer.--dave heaton

Jasmine Minks, "I Heard I Wish It Would Rain" EP (The Bus Stop Label)

The Jasmine Minks are apparently a much-admired 80s UK band which started up again a few years ago. All I know them from are the 3-songs on their new EP, on the Bus Stop Label (which often puts out great 3-song CD EPs). But those three songs are enough to make me see why they'd be highly regarded. Fairly straight-ahead, melodic pop music with a slight funk edge, these songs all shine a light on the restlessness, unhappiness, and complacency of human beings while trying to push them forward a bit. The key track here is the first, "I Heard I Wish It Would Rain," which takes up over half of the length of the EP. The song has a basic sound that recalls the UK pop-rock of the 80s more than that of today, yet its message is relevant. A call to keep your head up and stay strong even when times seem hard. All three of the group's vocalists-Jim Shepherd, Pam Berry, and Tom Reid-chime in on the song's stirring chorus: "There's lots of smiles/but nobody's happy/I heard I wish it would rain." The second track is a slower number that embodies that same longing for change, to be "Blown Away." "Learn to Suffer" closes things with a catchy, almost dance-ready groove. And as with every EP worth is salt, you leave wanting to hear more. {}--dave heaton

Dan Jones, One Man Submarine (Leisure King)

"I'm so tired I'm so ti-ti-tired, I forgot to go to the store/I made a great big list but I'm not sure what for," Dan Jones sings on the title track to his new album. He's kind of a rock n' roll everyman, seeming like the guy down the street, hearing songs on the radio ("don't know why that song's a hit/I really do not care for it") and knowing he can write better ones. Over 12 tracks, Jones and a few pals burn the house down garage-rock style, play midtempo would-be hits with Beatlesque hooks, roll out a few Petty-esque country/rock wanderers, and hunker down for some introspective ballads. The songs sparkle and shake, in a rough but kind sort of way, and all the while Jones seems like a friend you once knew, whether he's singing a sensitive-guy ballad about how much band practice sucked ("Worst Practice Ever"), stomping out a goofy punk rock song with his band The Squids ("My Banana") or doing a serious tale of poverty and heartbreak ("Frustration"). And more often than not, Jones' songs are down-to-earth in a way that takes in both humor and pain. Jones can sing a come-om like "Let's have a pizza/let's take the long way to the park" and then later in the song confess "I can't live this way no more." That right there, is the world in a song.

Kiddo, self-titled (Drive In)

Kiddo's self-titled debut opens with one of the catchiest songs I've heard so far this year (and I've heard a lot of songs already): an American-Bandstand-meets the new millennium pop-rock show-stopper called "Wooward Avenue," a letter from the band's home of Cleveland to the city of Detroit. The group keeps the giddiness factor high throughout the album, on songs like "New Year's Resolution Haircut," "Amy" and "The Makeout Song." These songs are punchy and hand-clap ready, the perfect soundtrack for your next party. But since you can't dance forever, Kiddo knows to balance the spunky numbers with some lovelorn pop ballads and more relaxed but still fetchingly melodic numbers. All in all, Kiddo takes a half-hour's worth of space on a CD and fills it with songs too keep you awake and happy during the other hours of the day. {}--dave heaton

The Larch, Pouters, Rollers and Runts (self-released)

NYC-based quartet The Larch play straightforward pop-rock in the tradition of people like Elvis Costello, Squeeze, and Neil Finn - songwriters who stick within the traditional format of a pop song but use their grasp of melody and way with words to generate emotion and provoke thought. In other words, musicians devoted to songcraft before innovation or flair. The Larch's latest album Pouters, Rollers and Runts might not be impressive enough to launch their name into the ranks of those musicians, but it is a solid effort with plenty of memorable songs. The catchiest include the especially Costello-ish "Victoria Crown" and the album-closing "Monday Down," an ode to trying to stay optimistic during the doldrums of the working week. Here and there The Larch adorn their songs with horns and string arrangements, nicely filling out their sound a bit, and even add a light ska flavor to some of their bouncier numbers. Pouters, Rollers and Runts doesn't blow me away, really, but does keep me entertained and interested.--dave heaton

Lifeguards, Mist King Urth (Fading Captain Series)

Guided By Voices head Bob Pollard has often mentioned 70s prog rock as an influence-early Genesis, Blue Oyster Cult, and so on-yet I've hardly been able to hear it in his music even when he claims it's there. The chief exception is the new Mist King Urth album from Lifeguards, a group consisting of Pollard and GBV guitarist Doug Gillard. At first glance, this is prog central: thick rock songs with intricate changes, long guitar solos, and an air of theatricality reflected in things like an instrument that sounds like some sort of exotic flute and an instrumental based around "native"-sounding drumming. But the idea that this is Pollard finally expressing his prog-rock fandom is complicated by the fact that this is a collaboration in the style of other recent Pollard collaborations like Go Back Snowball and Airport 5, meaning that Gillard wrote all of the music on his own and then gave the tapes to Pollard to sing over. So the real story of Lifeguards is Gillard, whose own love for 70s rock has been well-established through his band Gem, not to mention his role in Death of Samantha and Cobra Verde, letting his own musical interests push the album's direction. While Pollard's creativity and knack for melody are evident through the hooks and typically eccentric lyrics, the album belongs to Gillard's guitar, which sets the album on fire in all sorts of ways. He not only covers the album with an enormous wall of daring riffs, he also puts nice, more gentle melodic touches all over the place. If Gillard's music shows the influences he obviously shares with Pollard, it also shows him pushing Pollard in different directions; the sheer density of guitar here is miles away from the economy of instrumentation on many GBV releases, especially the earlier ones. In the end, Mist King Urth isn't just a journey into the 70s but a reinvention of it. Between the two of them, they have enough musical knowledge to recreate the sounds they love, but also enough sense and imagination to make it fresh.-dave heaton

Light Sleeper, self-titled (Shmat Records)

"Everything I know about love/I learned from a pop song," starts one of the songs on Light Sleeper's quick but satisfying self-titled album. As the song goes on, it points out the way pop songs offer a simplistic vision of love. Light Sleeper's gentle, lovely pop songs offer a more genuine, less routine look at life, one that's more poetic and ambiguous, and has a friendly tone of humor. There's songs about looking for hope in a laundromat and being entranced by a goddess on the silver screen. "Come on Baby" illustrates love through a simple scene, wishing for sleep for an exhausted loved one. Light Sleeper's songs are pretty and melodic without being routine. The group's two singers, Yvonne and Richard, sing together perfectly, over a dreamy background of guitar and bass (think a poppier version of Damon and Naomi, and you'll be somewhere in the right vicinity). Light Sleeper end their collection with one more beautiful exploration of the distance between real-life love and fictional love, the appropriately titled, "Where's My Happy Ending?"{}--dave heaton

The Loveless & Goodnight Trail, self-titled (Sonic Boom Recordings)

"Went to the Family Dollar/didn't have one of either/I'd just like to say I'm sorry/no one to say it to", Jon Tschurald sings at the start of his band The Loveless & Goodnight Trail's debut, self-titled album. This epitomizes the band's worldview, that of feeling eternally disappointed by life, always so unsatisfied. Disappointment has been a force behind so much music, from the start of time on. The Loveless & Goodnight Trail use it as an invisible link between genres, from country to punk, though they stay mostly in the region of Bob Mould (and his various bands) and the Replacements. At times though, they're so morose as to almost turn into a goth band before your eyes. Though at times they seem like a rock n' roll powerhouse to be reckoned with, at times they seem about to surrender to their own demons and just go to sleep. They're at their best, to my ears, when they stick in the middle of those two extremes and play melodic yet passionate rock. When they really turn it up loud, their songs get less distinctive. But I suppose volume is necessary when you're trying to drown out your inner voice of dissatisfaction.--dave heaton

Mateo & Matos, Enter Our World(Glasgow Underground)

You're lost in a jungle and desperately wandering around when you hear groovy percussions and sounds, coming from the thick of the jungle. Bongos and unintelligible voices can be heard echoing around. You suddenly decide to follow the wicked beats and find the source of those intriguing sounds. Following the music as if you had been hypnotised by a mad piper, you finally get to the source of those sounds, a spot in the middle of the jungle where people are having a party and two DJs are spinning records, creating weird sounds and beats. You can now open your eyes and, though your dream of the jungle will suddenly dissolve, the music and the DJs, called Mateo & Matos, will still be there. New York-based producers, remixers and DJs John Mateo and Eddie Matos have been fiddling with music since the late '70s and have now released a new groovy album, Enter Our World, on Scottish label Glasgow Underground. "Enter Our World" is a portal to a deep house world, where beats and sax interspersed melodies reign sovereign. "Ago Jinde" is a booming track studded with African Rhythms; "Glasgow Spirit" is a sophisticated but never boring ode to multiethnic, internationalist Glasgow; "Set Our Soul Free" sounds like a crossover between St Etienne and Basement Jaxx, but it's never tedious and tiresome; luscious "Feelin Sexy" features sensual vocals by Jeanine Lapardo while short interludes, like "Call of the Conga" (Part 1 and 2), follow each song allowing the listener to relax and get ready to dance on the next track. Releasing records on independent dance labels all around the world and through their own United Underground House Sounds, Mateo & Matos have gone a long way, from the streets to the clubs and vice versa. Come on, enter their world. {}--anna battista

Momus, Oskar Tennis Champion (American Patchwork)

From the album's first seconds, when Momus starts whispering about pirates over weird electronic noises, you know that Oskar Tennis Champion is not going to be your typical pop album. In fact, if anyone tells you they've heard other albums that sound a lot like Oskar, don't believe them. This is a singular experience, one grounded as much in traditions of theatre as music. It's some sort of weird Vaudeville epic, with songs about pirates, Bauhaus design, the power of sperm, Communism, Beowulf, Antarctica, promiscuity and an "electrosexual sewing machine," that's been electrified, first by Momus himself and then by John Talaga of Super Madrigal Brothers, who remixed the entire album after it was completed. The resulting album sounds both old-fashioned and out-of-the-blue new, drawing on recognizable musical theatre song forms yet exuding a daring sense of sonic chaos. There's also plenty of humor here. The lyrics are as absurd as can be, and Momus's suitably dramatic singing style only amplifies that effect. Oskar Tennis Champion is stylish and fun, yet there it's fascinating too, an exhilarating trip through an offbeat amalgamation of styles, sounds and words. {}--dave heaton

No Escape: A Tribute To Journey, Various Artists (Urinine Records)

If you polled all the music critics and asked them to pick the band they hate the most you would undoubtedly hear the name "Journey" more than any other. It's more than the band's plethora of hugely successful, incredibly sappy, saccharine songs that make true music-lovers feel the suck. It's also an easy choice, to the point of being cliché. Journey represents the era of corporate rock, popular for awhile, but eventually discarded when the public the band was so obviously pandering to eventually caught on and gave up on them. When the sheep bail on you, it's real fucking obvious. But, that's usually when it comes full circle. When the sheep hate you, en masse, suddenly the music nerds discover you weren't so bad after all, and go after the kitsch factor. It's the same sad pseudo-coolness making the stoners who burned disco records in the late 70's excited when "Celebration" or "I Will Survive" comes on at their local karaoke hole. No one is declaring the four Journey songs covered on this EP are great shakes, song wise - that would be the real lie - but there is the kitsch factor, the lovable cheesiness making these songs so-bad-they're-almost-great. And the band did write a bunch of hits, so people know who they are. The four indie bands on this CD are The Ohms ("Anytime"), Houston ("Send Her My Love"), Wafflehouse ("Separate Ways"), and Traindodge ("Only The Young"). Coming off the best is Houston, who gives "Send Her My Love" a great Sonic Youth-like atmospheric lift, almost making the song credible. The worst is Wafflehouse, who undoubtedly picked the sappiest song ever, and suffers for it. Suffice to say I don't hold Wafflehouse responsible just because they picked a shitty song to cover, but I do wonder about all of these bands electing to give tribute to a band that derserves none. On this Journey, there are no real winners - although the concept and the bands trying their best trying to pump up crappy songs - do deserve some credit. {3 stars}--scott homewood

Pale Horse and Rider, These Are the New Good Times (Darla)

Sometimes places have power. Example A is Sacred Heart Studio in Duluth, Minnesota, a church turned recording studio that must have some of the best acoustics in the world (for a studio), judging by how crisply it has captured the music of those who record there. For his Pale Horse and Rider album These Are the New Good Times, Jon DeRosa traveled from NYC to Minnesota and recorded the album there with Alan Sparhawk of Low. The album sounds like it was recorded at an old church, meaning the sound is pristine and beautiful. And the songs he sings are suited to a place of beauty and history. They're folk songs, traditional in style if not in time period (as the few which weren't written by DeRosa were written by some of his contemporaries), about people and their lives. They're songs of love and loss and disappointment which feel old and new, which tell universal stories. The subjects go from the serious, like death and hard times, to the less monumental but still common to life, like flirtation and romance. The piano ballad "Sunday Matinee" (written by Marc Gartman, who plays banjo and piano on the album), might be the furthest from telling some colossal tale of yore, as it's about hearing a couple making love through the walls, yet it's one of the album's most beautiful songs. Each of the other 10 songs is drop-dead beautiful in its own right, from DeRosa's cover of his own Aarktica ballad "Aura Lee" to "The Prettiest Girl I've Seen Tonight (So Far)", which brings the album to a close with the image of a couple's drunken waltz to their car after the bar has closed. These Are the New Good Times was recorded in a timeless setting, draws from a musical style that bears ghosts of the past, and demonstrates the power of music in the here and now. {}--dave heaton

Pothole Skinny, Time Shapes the Forest Lake (Perhaps Transparent)

After 30 seconds of chimes deliver a warning notice that something ominous is to come, Pothole Skinny's Time Shapes the Forest Lake starts things off with a song that is, at first glance, a pleasant, melodic pop-folk song in the tradition of someone like Elliott Smith or Iron and Wine. Listen closely, though, and you'll hear words that are creepier than you might expect: "The thieves are gone/they're down at the pond/it's ten of them to one/but I got my shiny gun." The last two minutes of the song turn it into a slightly psychedelic jam, giving a strong sign of what's to come. Pothole Skinny's music is pretty, but it's not easy; the stories it tells are harsher and weirder than the ear-pleasing surfaces suggest. They're less a pop band than an art-folk group in the tradition of Ghost or Pearls Before Swine. A hazy mood hangs over everything, and it's either one of terror or peace; you decide. Their lyrics bear the air of fantasy tales or mythological legends (notice song titles like "When Morpheus Calls for Slumber"), but also a heavy portion of surrealistic ambiguity. Pothole Skinny use primarily acoustic and electric guitars, but also banjo, organ, cello, flute and more, to explore the ways that music can be both alluring and enigmatic. They take dives into dark psychedelia here and there, but even a gentle acoustic guitar can be bone-chilling if it's played right. Time Shapes the Forest Lake is unsettling and drop-dead gorgeous, often at the same time.--dave heaton

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