erasing clouds

5 Music Reviews

The Capstan Shafts, The Night Shrine of Well-Groomed Lawns (Ladder the Christmas Monkey), Demon Dog of the American Park Service (Yellow Mica Recordings)

Vermont's home-recording superstar Dean Wells is back with a couple more Capstan Shafts cds. Don't be surprised, since sometime last year he's been keeping up a steady pace of turning out EPs of brilliant, weird, and melodic homemade rock n' roll. The latest two don't represent a sea change of style, and that's fine with me – his winning way with fuzz and, more importantly, with songwriting have me completely hooked, waiting for the next installment whether it comes next week or next month. The latest two will satisfy any of my fellow Capstan Shafts addicts (a number that's certainly growing, right?). The Night Shrine of Well-Groomed Lawns is the summer record of the two, breezy in nature for all of its nine and a half minutes. Squeaky keyboards play a few notes to announce Wells' entrance, and then in he comes with his catchy-as-hell bedroom arena rock anthems, with the best titles this side of Ohio (or better?): "The Gourgestest of Glorious Suns," "Get Needy on Me," "No Downer for the Skein". The descriptive side of the titles carries into the lyrics on any Capstan Shafts song, here as elsewhere; pay attention to lines like "hyper-powered dreamer ease my mind / speak French to me teeth all stained with wine." There's a nice "the days keep rolling by" feeling to these songs, even as they inevitably carry some weariness and hurt inside. (What's a good rock n' roll song without hurt? "Sometimes I'm sure that sound is my last chance being blown," he sings on "Sometimes the Horns" before belting out some "ba-da-la-da-ba-ba" type stuff. Demon Dog of the American Park Service offers all the pop/rock pleasures you're longing for, but it's a more-toned down record than Night Shrine, with a tone that's heavily bittersweet. For a scraggy rock singer, Wells can also have a really expressive, sensitive singing voice, and here he puts it to good use, with lovelorn songs full of longing. Sometimes it's expressed by humorously setting a scene – "now she's back from college for a week / I'm in my lucky monkey briefs / for all the good it does me". Other times the tone is more overtly sad, like on the wistful "Gone City Knockout," which has a perfect chorus ("the night falls for you / I can't really blame it cause I did too") and a touching moment where he sounds close to speechlessness. Those sadder songs feel like the heart of the EP, and in a way the heart of the Capstans Shafts music, yet Demon Dog is still filled with wild, fun guitars recorded as sloppy as you want it to be. The best thing about the CD is the way the more melancholy state finds its way through still-kicking, ragged-as-ever rock n' roll explosions that should be bouncing around the heads of anyone who hears them. - dave heaton

Crane Orchard, Finish Raw Edges First (self-released)

Originally the solo project of Paul Fugazzotto, Crane Orchard has successfully transformed the musings of one songwriter into a cohesive quartet. The songs have the smoothness characteristic of bands with single songwriters, but they also have the depth that comes from working with multiple heads. This depth emerges mostly from the combination of classic instruments with modern electronics. Finish Raw Edges First is most notable for this fusion. Mellow but involved instrumentation with sometimes raspy, sometimes fluttery electronics layered on top dominate the record. Crane Orchard's songs are melancholy in mood but intricate in their layering and in places, their structure. Overall, the music has a precise quality to it without being dull or predictable. The drum machine certainly adds to this quality, giving the songs a very stable feel, calculated and not organic. The vocals are the only aspect of the record that do not share this quality. This makes for an interesting combination, something that has a Joan of Arc temperament to it: the music is thoughtful, mellow, and layered, while the vocals are slightly awkward, sometimes off-key, but never disrupting the mood. If the vocals were as precise as the music, then the music would dry up, but the vocals keep the sound fresh. The instrumentation is not predictable by any means. It is just a bit robotic. Even the guitar work, both acoustic and electric, is played very precisely. Finish Raw Edges First explores a sort of computerized folk music that a lot of bands are experimenting with now. Crane Orchard does it well. Especially with the last track on the record, "Hold the Light," which flows and grooves and drones just the right amount. The five-minute track is very repetitive but the vocal melody and the beat are in such a groove that the song does not tire. "In your head it's always raining..." Solo musician flavor + bedroom laptop sentiment and a solid band of fellow musicians = Crane Orchard. – brad amorosino

Lorenzo Goetz, Jesus Elephant (Innocent Words)

Lorenzo Goetz is a pop band with some serious groove. Most of Jesus Elephant has a danceable bounce to it, or at least a beat to incite extended head bobbing. But Lorenzo Goetz is by no means a part of the exhausted indie dance scene. They have a flavor all their own. It is not derivative of the current trends in indie music. The Lorenzo Goetz flavor is more laid back, and void of pretension. The most immediate comparison I would make is to Beck. The songs have their own feel to them, but still groove on a very organic level. There is an eclectic mix of instrumentation on Jesus Elephant but it is never excessive or out of place. From horns to electronics to tribal drums, all of Lorenzo Goetz's artistic choices are tasteful ones. They even break out the cowbell. Most of the songs are very rhythm driven, but the vocals are also rich in their delivery. There is not a whole lot of melody to the vocals, but the structure of the syllables and the general attitude of the vocals definitely drive the songs. Many of the tracks have a hip hop flavor to the vocals, which adds to the eclectic mix of sounds on the record. There is even one track, "Buddha" that is straight hip hop, but with a refreshing twist of acoustic guitars and minimal drums. The song also features a raspy sung chorus that has some real soul to it. On other tracks the vocals are more poppy and straightforward, but always tasteful and well sung. The lyrics are not printed in the liner notes, nor could I find them on the Innocent Words website, so I'm not sure what the religious connotation is that is present throughout the record. Songs like "Hymnal," "Jesus Elephant," and "Buddha," definitely evoke some curiosity into the religious emphasis of the album. The cartoonish elephant donned with a halo on the album's tray card makes me fee like the religious reference is a sort of light-hearted metaphor, but who knows for sure. The album overall, is groovy and soulful and sure to get you on your feet. – brad amorosino

The Herbaliser, Take London (Ninja Tune)

Friends, fans and lovers of beat-heavy blended hip hop, hard breaks, jazz, sampledelia and funk rejoice: eclectic and daring The Herbaliser are back with a smashing new album. Ten years have passed since Jake Wherry and Ollie Teeba released their debut album Remedies, but their latest work proves that time hasn’t changed this duo, though it has definitely matured them, enriching their influences and injecting in their trademark cut-up style a dose of refreshing creativity. Already rumoured as being their best release so far, Take London is a hybrid of genres and inspirations: samples of the film The Long Good Friday (1980) appear here and there in the album, and while “Nah’Mean, Nah’m’ Sayin’” is a classic hip-hop number, “Song for Mary” is the sort of track that would fit on the soundtrack of an Italian ‘50s-‘60s Mondo movie; “Geddim’” evokes ‘70s police thrillers (Morricone would probably love it); “Lord Lord” is a sensual and sophisticated track featuring Roots Manuva, while “Generals”, featuring a sparkling Jean Grae, long-term collaborator of The Herbaliser (she also appears on other tracks on this same album) and formerly known as What What, is an irresistible funky assault on your ears. The album closes with a tribute to Serge Gainsbourg, “Serge”, with a monologue by French composer, author and singer Philippe Katerine. Imaginative and cinematic, exciting and mesmerising, Take London will help The Herbaliser to take London and the rest of the world and to do it with loads of style. – anna battista

P:ano, Brigadoon (Mint Records)

Brigadoon is a bizarre album. The album is almost an hour long, twenty-two tracks and features a mixture of pop sentiment with strange moods and eclectic instrumentation. Twenty-two tracks is a bit much to digest, granted a lot of the songs are under two minutes, but it's still a bit much to swallow. The short songs and their poppy feel definitely aid in the album's digestion, but it does take a few listens. P:ano explores a mixture of elements that are immediately apt to foot tapping, with more experimental qualities, such as a variety of electronics, percussion, and overall texture to the album's different tracks. A lot of the songs are very refreshing as far as their minimal level of instrumentation. Songs like "The Snow" are short and sweet and feature just a few musical elements beneath the vocals. Brigadoon is stippled with these refreshing moments of clarity that keep the album moving along at a surprising pace for such a long winded record. Female and male vocals also add to the depth of the record as a whole. There is such a mixture of sounds on the album that at first it seems difficult to grab onto. But after a few listens everything sinks in and it is apparent how the eclectic mix of sounds on the record keeps it engaging. The hour long album flies by in two-minute chunks that are each unique and interesting bits of musical exploration. Most notably, Brigadoon avoids the typical pitfalls of pop music, despite simple song structures and catchy vocal melodies, the album is never repetitive or tired. It is energetic and refreshing the whole way through. P:ano manages to successfully couple familiar pop sentiments with a fresh twist of experimental instrumentation. – brad amorosino

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