erasing clouds

5 Music Reviews

Animal, Sawn Creator (Executive Bird on a Judicial Stamp)

I don't play a musical instrument on a regular basis, or sing, or write songs. Yet I firmly believe that anyone can write and sing songs, and that everyone should. The preponderance of DIY musicians is exciting; I love musicians who aren't proficient by "professional" standards yet have the wherewithal to create and release music. Judging by his CD Sawn Creator, Animal - aka A. Nemec - would never be confused for the next American Idol, or for a skilled session musician even. He doesn't have a technically "good" singing voice and doesn't show signs that he's a pro at any instrument. Yet he taps into his thoughts, feelings and inclinations, and forms them into songs that are unique and easy to listen to. There's a certain category of low-fi pop-rock music, I don't have a name for it really, which Animal fits into. He play guitar and synthesizers, uses drum machines for support, keeps the sound fuzzy and the melodies catchy, and writes songs that come off as personal - both hand-crafted and autobiographical. The lyrics are formed from thoughts both contemplative - death and mortality emerge as a theme - and playful, reflecting the almost random ways our minds seem to work. Sawn Creator has a lot to offer music fans who value heart and creative energy over professionalism and uniformity.
- dave heaton

The Capstan Shafts, Unreconstructed Lo-Fi Whore (Ladder the Christmas Monkey Records)

It's seriously awe-inducing, the number of fantastic songs released by The Capstan Shafts in the past year. The one-man-band has been releasing CD after homemade CD of music that is resolutely, almost stubbornly lo-fi. That's a sign of independence, but he also no doubt loves the feeling that exists when a timeless melody emerges out of fuzz (as do I). Capstan Shafts songs are deceptively simple: take a concisely worded emotion or puzzle, with a creative title that suits it, and marry them to ragged guitars and an unbelievably catchy melody. The Unreconstructed Lo-Fi Whore adds six more memorable and intriguing pop-rock songs to the Capstan Shafts catalogue. It starts with "The Days Don't Pass in Wonder," which captures feelings of jaded resignation while filling your speakers with exactly the feeling of wonder that the song proclaims not to exist. Then there's quick spark-filled songs like "Half-Drunk and Assless" (as in, "I'm half-drunk and assless again) and "Anniversaries of Genocides," before the EP ends with the great "World-Hater Company Song." It nicely closes the circle by rejecting feelings of negativity, at least for now.
- dave heaton

Ryan Doyle, The Crowd' Train Takes the Form (Monotone)

Ryan Dole's cover of The Beatles' "I Should Have Known Better" recasts the song as a "lazy afternoon on the front porch in the country" sort of tune, stretching it out, slowing it down, and throwing in a harmonica. It works beautifully, with perfect slow-motion harmonizing and atmosphere both of longing and comfort. Just as beautiful, his cover of Pants Yell!'s "The Gate's Open, We're Going In" has a more stately demeanor, like it was recorded in the spare room of an old mansion. The rest of the CD The Crowd' Train Takes the Form is devoted to Doyle's own songs, and proves his own songwriting to be just as perceptive and smart as his interpretations of other people's songs. The overall mood is somewhere between that of the two covers, somewhere between graceful pop balladry and daydreaming in the country. The lyrics are about people's lives - their memories, loves, and losses - and feel genuine. It's a lovely album, with thoughtful, melodic, cliché-free songs which should make other songwriters jealous. - dave heaton

Maximilian Hecker, Lady Sleep (Kitty-Yo)

Despite a title which would perfectly fit a brand of tampons, Hecker's third album Lady Sleep (released on cool Berlin-based Kitty-Yo), follow up to Rose (2003), reconfirms him as one of the most talented German musicians around. Hecker's music is usually a crossover between Sigur Ros, Radiohead, Grandaddy and Kraftwerk, but for this album he has definitely decided to go classical, with just a touch of pop-rock. Most of the tracks on Lady Sleep are sad, silky and melodic heart-rending lullabies performed with (an occasionally spectral) piano, guitar and violin. The opening track, "Birch," begins with a long instrumental introduction verging between the dramatic and the classical, then, after four minutes or so, the track bursts into epic mode and literally turns into an anthemic song. In the ethereal "Summer Days In Bloom", Hecker's voice becomes a soft whisper that can barely be heard, while "Full of Voices" is a pop ballad best savoured on a sunny Sunday afternoon. Lady Sleep is the sort of album that can melt even the coldest and hardest hearts. {} - anna battista

Nagisa Ni Te, Dream Sounds (Jagjaguwar)

Nagisa Ni Te means 'on the beach' in Japanese, and I guess that would be the ideal place where you could listen to this band's music. Osaka-based Nagisa Ni Te, that is Shinji Shibayama (of The Hallelujahs fame) and his partner Masako Takeda, represent what they call in Japan the folk-psyche genre, a movement that also includes Maher Shalal Hash Baz and Naoki Zushi (artists featured on Japanese label Org, founded by Shibayama). Dream Sounds is a sort of 'best of' of Nagisa Ni Te, the tracklist mentions only four songs, but the CD runs for over forty minutes and contains previously released material and old tracks, all re-recorded, re-mixed and re-mastered. The album is a sort of summary of the main themes that haunt Nagisa Ni Te's dreamy music: nature, love, childhood memories and emotions recollected in tranquility, all the tracks are usually melodic hymns (sung in Japanese) sometimes broken by guitar solos. A while back Maher Shalal Hash Baz's Tori Kudo said about the band, "Nagisa Ni Te's … songs … fill a blank somewhere between underground hi-fi and overground lo-fi." Dream Sounds is definitely Nagisa Ni Te at their best. - anna battista

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