erasing clouds

12 Music Reviews

Ian Britt, One Day I.. (Jalapeno)

Britt's biography is short and to the point: 'Boy meets guitar. Learns guitar.Writes impressive songs. Gets discovered. Conquers the world.' And, if there is any justice, that is precisely what should happen. For Britt has recorded an album that is every bit as essential as Damien Rice's O, while sounding totally different. Entering the male singer-songwriter arena isn't going to be easy, however talented you are. People like Rice and Ed Harcourt have raised the bar to where it's not enough to strum a guitar and tell the world how much your heart bleeds over your lost love. Not that Britt does much bleeding. He's too tough for that. His songs have a power and muscularity that makes you think this is a group recording; One Day I... has a cohesion and identity. Sheffield-born, Manchester-raised Britt's voice is straight out of the classic rock singer school - bluesy, yet melodic and in places reminiscent of Paul Rodgers. Indeed, Britt acknowledges his debt to sixties power trios like Cream and the Jimi Hendrix Experience. And to his drummer dad's vast record collection. The results can be heard on this immensely satisfying debut. Britt might admit a fondness for Cream and Hendrix, but there are no guitar pyrotechnics here, no heavy grandstanding. Just a bunch of solid songs - each one featuring immaculate playing, breezy choruses, solid hooklines and no little star quality. An honest-to-goodness slab of Britt rock. - john stacey

Cheese on Bread, Maybe, Maybe, Maybe Baby (Luv-A-Lot Records)

Maybe, maybe, maybe there is a band out there without lyrics of teen anguish or cliché rants of growing up in a ghetto. Maybe that band will dress up in red short-shorts and basketball shirts while performing their uber-peppy hand-clapping foot-tapping form of pop-anti-folk. If such a band exists, they would call themselves Cheese on Bread and their freshman release would be entitled Maybe, Maybe, Maybe Baby. And perhaps their references to modern artist Mark Rothko or turning the mating-habits of the frog into a metaphor for true love would make you want to sing along bobbing your head left and right. Those songs titled " Biological Romance" and "Step Out of Ketosis" keep you privy to a few science lessons along with the knowledge your eardrums will gain. And there could be lead singers named Sara and Dan who harmonize with their voices and feelings transported through their words. And no matter what mood you'd be in you'd automatically feel ten-times better once you've listened to those jingles. The part-Philly raised, part-New York born musicians could have the power to entertain a basement full of hipsters and help you realize that if happiness were a sandwich—it would be Cheese on Bread.-eric m. hoover

Colin Clary, Sweater Weather or Not These Are the Songs I Got (Asaurus)

"You're supposed to listen to it like each song was written for you or for one of your friends," Colin Clary writes in the pocket notes for his brief but completely charming and infectious album Sweater Weather or Not These Are the Songs I Got. "Pocket notes" because, well, the notes are folded up inside the pocket of the sweater that makes up the inventive album cover (handmade, as are all Asaurus releases). The unique packaging is just one tiny way that the album feels like the way Clary describes it, as a gift from one person to another. Clary might come off as aggressively nice (his motto: "being nice IS a political act"), but he's so sincere about it that I can't imagine anyone but the cold-hearted not finding his songs to be filled with genuine emotions that anyone with a heart (that is, anyone) can relate to. Whether they're about love or song-writing or dancing or consignment shops, he injects his catchy pop songs with a sense of understanding – for human failings, for hardships, and most of all for the importance of individual quirks, personalities, and stories. The songs here feel casually but also lovingly written and recorded; they're simple and sparse, yet you're always aware of how much he enjoys writing songs and sharing them with people. Perhaps most importantly, though, Clary's sense for what makes a great pop tune is impeccable. Sweater Weather or Not… quickly breezes through 15 truly catchy songs. That word "catchy" is easily thrown around, but these songs – whether slow or fast, tender or goofy – are the absolute epitome of catchy. The brevity of the songs, and the CD (about 26 minutes), somehow makes it feel even more special, like a magical moment that you immediately want to happen again (the good news here is that it can; just press play). – dave heaton

The High Dials, War of the Wakening Phantoms (Rainbow Quartz Records)

The Canadian rock band the High Dials' second album War of the Wakening Phantoms has the look of a psychedelic rock epic. The band's logo is elaborate; the cover art includes drawings of knights, dragons, and sword-wielding skeletons; and the songs have titles like "Master of the Clouds" and "Your Eyes Are a Door." And indeed, the High Dials debut album A New Devotion was a concept album. Press play on War of the Wakening Phantoms, though, and you'll be greeted with a bouncy pop-rock song with a distinctly retro yet infectious and fetching energy to it. War's outward surface is high-concept, but inside it's just a strong pop-rock album, often reminiscent of bands like Teenage Fanclub and Sloan. The 'Fannies' feeling is at least partly because of the High Dials' love for that airy harmony vocal sound of the Byrds, but also due to the love of super-hooks that jump out of your speakers and attempt to grab hold of your brain. Some grab hold better than others, but all make a valiant effort. What eventually sets this album apart from many of the other '60s-influenced, hook-filled pop-rock albums is how it slowly reveals itself to be much more musically diverse than you expected. Psychedelia does touch ground a little bit on some of the ballads, and the ghost of the 1980s is occasionally lurking in the background. And "The Last Explorer" hearkens back to the Beatles and the Zombies covering R&B slow-dance numbers. And there's also some great mystical folk ballads, stripped-down songs with simple circling melodies which carry with them much more complicated feelings. The beguiling love song "The Drum" is one; the album-closing "Dust in the Sun" is another. That song closes the album on a graceful, gentle note – grounded but still floating upwards, drifting around the sun like the mystery fantasy object that the album perhaps secretly wants to be. – dave heaton

The Kallikak Family, May 23rd 2007 (Tell-All Records)

As the Kallikak Family's album May 23rd 2007 begins, an organ drone conceals conversations underneath. Is this the sound of a room? Of a house? Of a city street? Whatever it is, there's a sense of place and time conjured up in that mysterious opening piece, and in the album itself. That sense is accelerated by the album title, by the pencil drawings of suburban scenes on the cover, and by the song titles that bear dates and place names (the three-part "Portalnd, Oregon" and tracks like "March 6th 2003" and "November 22nd 2003"). But it's in the music itself, which is continually setting scenes, both familiar and strange, present-day and futuristic. By genre, this is "ambient"/modern composer-driven music, I suppose, but it's been cut up, dressed up like a robot, given a halo of sunshine, a glow of translucent singing, and beats that suggest the future, or at least the now. The album is always on the move, though, always ten steps ahead of you. The music conjures up places, sure, but the places are never what you expected them to look like, and you're hardly sure exactly where you are. The album's layers of sounds sometimes feel like overlapping layers of time and space; it's trajectory like time traveling (or air travel when such a thing felt new). Five tracks into the album, there's a break from the spaced-out spliced-up mood music, into "Guitar 1", a lovely, tender acoustic guitar instrumental. From there the album traipses through the sounds of church bells (set to an ominous tone), field recordings (or are they?), the near-silence of being outdoors ("are you listening to the wind?", I was asked while playing this CD), telephones ringing, voices singing patterns of ghostly nothings, and mish-mash of hip-hop laser beams that dance with, and then yield to, that comforting guitar. "Final Phase" ends this intoxicating head-trip with sounds both peaceful and slightly unsettling. Is the silence that ends the album (on May 23, 2007, presumabely) the sound of someone reaching a long-sought after peace, or is it the apocalypse? That's for you to decide. – dave heaton

Kobol, Broken Ebony (Static Discos)

Kobol's Broken Ebony has the warm, loose feeling of classic jazz, yet it sounds constructed, more like a film score than an improvisation. It's electronic music, percussion-heavy and occasionally with a serious low end to it, yet it shuffles and stomps along like someone sneaking around the yard. It's the sound of after-hours city streets, eerie but still stylish … but is this now or the future? Kobol – the Mexican duo of Nashio Chavez and Argel Medina – creates music that sounds utterly unique, even as the components have a calming familiarity about them. Their tracks feel open-ended, but sound crisp and smoothly put together. There's intelligent design at work. They'll turn a simple melody inside out, mutating into a near melee between hip-hop, dub reggae, and atmospheric jazz. Or they'll chop up an organ solo, and turn it into a quiet interlude (cue footage of a couple strolling down a city street after hours). Broken Ebony seems at first to be an exercise in mood, and a completely riveting one at that, but there's much more going on here. Romance and science are meeting in exciting ways, and exploding into a new style of jazzy futuristic mood music. – dave heaton

The Quarter After, The Quarter After (Bird Song)

Groups that feature brothers is a fairly common phenomenon in rock - the Gallaghers, the Davies and the Everlys are just three examples. Add to that list Rob and Dom Campanella, the mainstays of self-confessed psychedelic pop magpies The Quarter After, whose self-titled debut album is released on Bird Song, the label set up by Ric Menck, of power pop kings Velvet Crush. The Campanella siblings' instrumental and lyrical rapport has produced a head-spinning album that nods towards Northern California's New Paisley Underground of yore. Sure, there are touches of The Byrds (the layer upon layer of 12-string acoustic guitars), The Kinks and (inevitably) The Beatles, but The Quarter After are not entirely derivative. They merge the best of these classic bands and throw in some sublime vocal harmonies for good measure, while all the time churning out the sort of jangling, drone-like raga rock that hypnotises and gets the head nodding. Rob Campanella is an in-demand producer, having twiddled the dials for The Tyde, Beachwood Sparks, the High Dials and the Brian Jonestown Massacre. His loving touch is all over the record. Bring on the next quarter please. - john stacey

Rollerball, Catholic Paws/Catholic Pause (Silber)

Each release from the Portland, Oregon-based collective Rollerball seems like one more pointed attack in the war against the disposability of music. There's a uniqueness to each Rollerball album. With art and typeface pressed on quality paper, Catholic Paws/Catholic Pause, the group's latest release, looks like a special-release work of art. And it sounds like one too. As the album opens, we're tripping through sludge while unusual, barely intelligible vocals circle around. From there we're on an adventure through a mysterious mix of moody jazz with experimental pop songs, a gothic vibe, and who knows what else (therein lies the mystery). For some reason I always come back to Halloween as an image for Rollerball – their habit of mixing slow, dreamy free jazz with wickedly odd pop melodies feels for me like the work of some nefarious beings from a Grimm fairy tale. Catholic Paws/Catholic Pause doesn't feel quite as focused or compressed as their last album Behind the Barber, and that only accelerates that eerie Halloween feeling. This album meanders, but that's also part of its charm. The music growls, snakes, maneuvers, and expands into sonic storm clouds. With edgy art there can be an intimidation factor, and that's true with Rollerball too. It can be hard to grasp your mind around, that is, until you bear with what they're doing and let your ears discover the myriad of moods that their avant-garde style of pop music conjures up. – dave heaton

Skyline Rodeo, Long Drive to Iceland (Mightyming)

With a combination of psychedelic 60's-style guitar riffs and sounds of 70's and 80's punk rock, Skyline Rodeo brings an interesting combination to genres of the past. Their release Long Drive to Iceland, on indie label Mightyming, fills the speakers with energy usually found while you're jumping off the stage-edge of an overcrowded club. Tracks such as "Trim the Fat" and "Clichés Work" have a funky-reggae sound flashing you back to old Bouncing Souls and Sublime albums, while "Fire in the Hole" is a clear homage to the sound of anti-icons Dead Kennedys. Singer Steve Bumgarner comes to tell his account of corrupt corporate yuppies and self-aware paranoia. His voice is reminiscent of Cobain, but the true spirit of the group comes forcefully from Matthew Chen's guitar, from Mike Alfano's bass, and then can only be molded by the timing of Joe Dingerdissen's drumming. The drive to Iceland or anywhere else may be long but the experience is quite enjoyable with Skyline Rodeo. -eric m. hoover

Snow & Voices, Snow & Voices (Bird Song)

You stick the CD into the player, and out of the speakers pops a fully-rounded album. Guitars (jangly), bass, drums, swelling hammond, a touch of synthesiser, a little percussion, topped off with whispy little girl vocals. And the opening track, "Carry Us Home", seems pretty standard fare .. Until you realise that this a perfect pop. Not standard at all, simply classic. Two tracks in, and you're hooked. Forget the fact that singer Lauri Krantz sounds like Margot Timmins of Cowboy Junkies fronting a pop band instead of wearily singing cowboy noir, or perhaps Mazzy Star lite. Ignore the lovely melodies and grab 'em choruses, Snow & Voices are deceptively deep. Initially this comes across as a pretty pop album; you know, probably inconsequential in the big scheme of things and seemingly very clever aural wallpaper. But wait, what's that etheral mellotron doing there, or that huge, squelchy dollop of bass synthesiser, or the funky chicken guitar and sub-Garbage wailing? This is pretty, yes, like a model with Robert Smith-style lipstick all over her chin. Golden, sunny and lovely, but streaked with a scintillating dark undercurrent that captures you, seduces you and spits you out. - john stacey

The Supahip, Seize The World (Big Radio)

Imagine a world where overblown, over-produced, over-hyped rock music has been banished. Where producers who bend and warp and transform a musician's original vision to (and for) their own ends are locked away forever. Then, perhaps, we'd have the sort of music The Supahip play. This Sydney band is a side-project of Aussie producer/songwriter Michael Carpenter and fellow tunesmith Mark Moldre, of Hitchcock's Regret. Both had come to the conclusion that a lot of stuff these days is over-wrought and over-produced and decided that they would strip the recording process back to the wood and try to write and record tracks in a single day. The idea was that they would arrive at the recording studio with maybe only the barest idea for a song and see where the day would take them. A nice idea, if it works. Thankfully, it does. Seize The World has a refreshingly uncomplicated feel; it's not simplistic - far from it, as Moldre and Carpenter know their way round a good tune and how to improve it in the studio - but it is direct and lean. A trace if keyboard, the odd jangle of percussion, a concise guitar solo all embellish but do not detract from the album's 11 diverse tracks that are the result of 13 days' work spread over 14 months. The result is a nifty little CD packed with McCartney-esque ballads (when he was good), a touch of indie, a little country and some epic pop. Oh, and a nice 'n' sleazy cover of Nic Kershaw's "Wouldn't It Be Good." And, in keeping with the retro feel, you also get to hear the tracks again - in glorious mono. That's pretty hip. - john stacey

Wild Strawberry, The Gods Are Shining (Luna Records)

If you are looking for something to listen to and enjoy this summer, try the Wild Strawberry's latest The Gods Are Shining. Formed in 2002, the Wild Strawberry is Ross Cockburn (guitar), Gordon Macdonald (vocals), Mike McCann (bass) and Stuart Mclean (drums). The band has recorded two albums -- The Crush Of Summer (2003) and The Gods Are Shining, the latter just recently released by Luna Records, a record label connected with the Beanscene cafes. Produced by Boo Hewerdine, a name often heard in connection with Eddie Reader and KD Lang, The Gods Are Shining has won the band comparisons with The Doors, Echo & The Bunnymen and Johnny Cash among others. The album is actually testimony to the different backgrounds of the band's members and to the various influences that other bands had on them. Opening track "Faster" is energetic and charming; "Long Time Man" and "Boolean Boy" are pure pop, while "The Gods Are Shining" ventures into rock and the delicate "But That Was Not The Best Part" reminds of Malcolm Ross' solo stuff, with Gordon singing in a warm and soothing voice. Enjoy the sound of summer, enjoy the Wild Strawberry. - anna battista

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