erasing clouds

First Prize Killers, The Powdery Parade (Edectone Records)

review by dave heaton

Conventional wisdom, as dictated by the entertainment industry, would have you believe you can learn all you need to know about music from the radio, MTV, and a copy of Rolling Stone. But I've found that 9 out of 10 of the albums that really sweep me away are from bands I've never heard of at all. If you need evidence that the best bands aren't necessarily the groups that Spin or MTV are saying you must pay attention to, pick up The Powdery Parade, the first full-length from Minnesota-based band First Prize Killers. I know next to nothing about them and can barely remember when this CD arrived in my mailbox, but it's one of the most satisfying pop-rock albums I've heard in a long time, with winning melodies, clever and heart-filled lyrics, and that certain sense of playability that makes an album stick around your stereo for a long time.

First Prize Killers's sound melds wise-ass rock to country-flavored love ballads (think a less dour Silver Jews, perhaps), with Neil Young-ish guitar licks, violin, and horns (trumpet and trombone) to boot. The album has an Americana vibe to it that's initiated by the great album-opener "The Lower 48," which describes a road-trip across America in a surreal but beautiful way ("we're not over the hill, we're still young/we're gonna carve our name into the side of the sun"). There's a certain romantic sense of hope for tomorrow in the group's songs (all written by singer Paul Descombaz), but also a pervasive ambiguity that makes them hard to pin down. I like that in a band, when they're able to leave interpretive space in their songs without making them too abstract or self-consciously arty. First Prize Killers manage to sound like your next-door neighbors and like mystery men.

The Powdery Parade closes with "Vampire Lake," a classic summer song-evoking infatuation and confusion and shyness-that also plays like a sci-fi fairy tale, with robots and vampires. Its ending moments, with banjo, violin, and re-assuring voices repeating the words "Tonight, tonight…", are as evocative and comforting as the best sunset, with a warm glow and flickering, perfect beauty.


Issue 14, August 2003 | next article

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