(Record Label Records)
reviewed in issue #336, April 2012
As is its wont, Record Label Records has created one of the geekiest and most sublime series I've come across. Pick a few crazed electronic artists and ask them to create soundtracks for imaginary Sega Genesis games.
This sounds just like you'd imagine, only ten thousand times better. While I guess it might help if you love old school video games, that's certainly not a requirement. I've never been much for video games, myself, and I found this album utterly irresistible. The shiny, edgy melodies and throbbing rhythms are more than enough to make me smile.
More to the point, Brian E adheres to both video game soundtrack and pop constructions. The result are insistently bubbly electronic songs that could serve as the most awesome video game soundtrack ever.
If this music doesn't find its way onto a video game, that would be a shame. We'd simply have to adore it for what it actually is: One hell of an album. Unrestrained joy.
reviewed in issue #108, 5/6/96
Well, when you want to change gears...
John Napier, most recently a guitarist in Nitzer Ebb, and more famously the singer for Ethyl Meatplow, leads this trio through the paces. Of what, well, I'm still not sure.
There are traces of that thing called "emo-core", but honestly, e.coli's sound is too lush for that. And anyway, where much of that stuff appeals to me, this really doesn't. It's not that e.coli sucks. Not at all. The band can play and the songs are competently written.
I just don't find them that interesting. Well, except for the couple of songs that sound just like '79 Buzzcocks. Those were kinda nice. But all the plodding, fuzzy stuff? Napier's voice just clashes with the whole concept.
Not cheesy enough to accuse of cashing in on a trend, e.coli isn't good enough to rise above whatever it is attempting. Merely middling fare.
reviewed in issue #154, 3/9/98
The last flamenco album I got from Tinder, Los Activos, focused almost exclusively on the rhythmic center. Ea! takes the different tack, concentrating on the melodic and lyric sides of flamenco. The one connecting point is that both bands bring in many outside influences, from Latin rhythms (come home again) to Arabic melodic styles.
Ea! is much more expressive, working each song as tightly and completely as possible. The devotion is to the song and not the form, and that attention makes each song sing with vibrant power.
The lyrics are presented in Spanish and English, for those who worry about such things. Honestly, the presentation is such that there is an effect much like opera, where the emotion of the songs comes across even if the words don't quite make sense.
A somewhat folkier approach to flamenco than I've heard before. The playing is freer, even while technically precise. An odd contradiction that intensifies the music. Arresting fare.
The Eames Era
Heroes + Sheroes
reviewed in issue #283, March 2007
The sorta vaguely disjointed--yet almost unbearably lush--pop songs that have a way of completely distracting me from the issue at hand. Which is to say that the Eames Era has just ended.
Not the band--at least, I assume not. Rather, I'd like to note the recent passing of Alan Eames, a cool beer scholar. He roamed the earth in search of beer, and he sent back a missal every now and again when he found something. That has nothing to do with these folks, but the name kinda made my mind wander a bit.
But, right, the Eames Era (the band). Pretty songs that break down at what have to be described as utterly cute times. The breaking down thing is intentional; the hooks are always in place. And while often quite involved, those hooks are as sweet as anything out there.
If these folks were a bit more, well, refined, I'd say they were a perfect fit for Minty Fresh, those Chicago-based purveyors of extreme pop. But maybe a slightly more eclectic label like Merge would be better. I dunno. I'd be proud to have them on my roster, if only because I got to hear their new stuff first.
reviewed in issue #178, 3/15/99
Just yer typical band with a sax replacing the vocals. Well, it's a bit more complicated than that (imagine Iceburn playing pop music and you might begin to grasp the sound), but not really. While there is a bit of jazz theory in the compositions, this isn't jazz.
And no one asked it to be. Ear Goggles plays Ear Goggles music. A very fine sort of tuneage, stuff I really dig, even with only three songs to hear and a somewhat low mastering level on the cassette.
Ah, but what would a demo be without demo-quality production? I'm not gonna hold it against the guys. I can hear what they're doing, even if the sound isn't pristine. And what's going on is something else. Simple-sounding, but fairly complex. Just the sort of dichotomy which characterizes good music.
Another Early Evening
reviewed in issue #277, August 2006
Listening to this on the heels of the Dr. Octagon, well, I'm a bit underwhelmed. But only a bit. That's how good Earmint is.
Stellar collage beatwork is the centerpiece here. Folks like Diverse, Murs, Longshot and Psalm One (reviewed in "Also Recommended" in this issue) drop by to add a little flow--good work, too, not just yer usual guest shot crap--but Earmint doesn't let up even when an MC is hanging out.
The sound is more crunchy than smooth. Some of that is the collage technique, but more than that I think Earmint wants to keep an aggressive sound. I like that. Always keep the listener on the defensive.
Not pretty, but quite possibly beautiful. There are sounds here I'd never imagined before. Which is why I listen to music in the first place.
reviewed in issue #41, 10/15/93
More of what has become standard: Rollins-style rants and slow, pounding chords. Except that I actually really like these guys's riffs, and things progress at an acceptable speed. Fairly tight, actually.
Four songs with no clunkers. This is brutality that makes me smile. I would not have believed it if I hadn't heard it, but I do like the way these guys put the brakes on hard core. Amazing.
Destroy the Machines
reviewed in issue #77, 5/31/95
These boys are certainly extremists (the album is dedicated to the "Vegan Straight Edge", not exactly a group Phil Gramm is courting at the moment), but why bitch when the music is this fucking good.
Yes, fucking good is the only appropriate term. Earth Crisis plays hardcore with a small (but shiny) metal inlay, omitting most of the cheese that plagues NYC metalcore acts and leaving the monstrous attack and mean sound.
And the boys manage to play this music without getting dull (a real feat). Each song reels you into the pit, chews you up a bit and then expectorates you back to the bar (juice bar; EC is straightedge, after all).
The strongest heavy hardcore album I've heard this year. Earth Crisis has a great rep, and this album should only advance the cause.
Breed the Killers
reviewed in issue #166, 8/31/98
A natural move for the band. Earth Crisis always had a metal sound to the "straight-edge vegan hardcore" it plays, and that sharp edge to the guitars has been increasing over time. Why not move to a label with lots of metalcore bands (more cash and better distribution probably don't hurt either).
And unlike most bands with a doctrinaire message (Christian rock comes to mind first), Earth Crisis pays attention to the music. Yes, the lyrics are extreme, in an unusual way (how many straight-edge vegan hardcore bands have you heard?), but the band keeps everything in a proper balance. Which, by the way, is the message of veganism. At least, that's the theory as the band expresses it.
This album is much more assured and crafted than earlier ones I've reviewed (I haven't heard the last couple). More metal (certainly more anthemic in the lead guitar lines), but with an increased emphasis on the hardcore rhythms. Tight and tasty.
Oh, that was a cheap one. Sorry. Earth Crisis is one of my favorite sinful pleasures. The band just does the shit so well. One sample and you'll know what I'm talking about. Lots of bands try, but they cannot achieve the proper balance. You know, maybe there is something to the whole vegan theory, after all.
reviewed in issue #201, 6/26/00
Another flavor of the month that didn't quite taste right in Roadrunner's mouth, Earth Crisis returns to the Victory fold, but this is not your father's (well, your older brother's, anyway) Earth Crisis.
The buzzsaw riffage has stepped back a couple notches in favor of an increased focus on the vocals. Vocals which are clearer and often spoken or sung (as opposed to shouted). Some of the singing brings to mind the gothic wail that Fear Factory introduced years back.
In fact, this whole album reminds me a bit too much of Fear Factory. I mean, Earth Crisis defined the extreme for five years. To step this way is to step backward. A long ways back.
You know, it's not even like it does this sound badly. Earth Crisis attacks this style with the same vehemence as before. It's just that I've heard it too many times already. Earth Crisis probably needed to evolve a bit in order to keep the fires burning. But the talent here is too huge to simply become a retread. Please guys, reconsider.
reviewed in issue #56, 6/15/94
Some old-school punk types decide to cash in and record a commercial record.
Um, well, sort of. If your idea of commercial is early Bowie with a lot of distortion and riffage, then it is. It certainly is a long ways from Void and the Meatmen, at any rate.
Good? It is, in a cheesy sort of way. This isn't anything great or original, but I've always been somewhat attracted to the spacey glam kinda sound (remember, I really dug Star Star, and still do), and this fills a nice craving I've had for that sort of thing. But I'm also the first to admit that Velveeta just might be the perfect food (at certain times, anyway).
Crafted for pleasure, this works.
(Crippled Dick Hot Wax!)
reviewed in issue #166, 8/31/98
There's a quote in the enclosed press that describes Earthlings? as Roky Erickson meets Can. And, you know, I can't argue a whole lot with that. For once (well, it has happened a couple times before), the press is right.
Lots of unusual electronic trippages through the basic pop form, with some seriously spooky lyrics. Let's face it. There's a ton of pop albums wandering about today. It is the sound of the year. Not that there's a huge big monster hit to prove it, but the three-chord garage band is all the rage. Earthlings? is plying the same ground, but from a whole different perspective.
From the sky, or even outer space. A grand vision of what pop music can be. The incorporation of wonderful ideas and lots of 'em. Songs which challenge and infuriate and inspire. Music that challenges the concept of the norm.
The sort of thing one might call revolutionary. Superficially, this sounds like any number of pop bands. And then something slowly creeps in from the back. That little something overwhelms your mind in no time flat. And you realize you were looking at the whole thing from the wrong side. You're the one who's inside looking out, not the other way around.
It'll fuck you, it will.
Alms of Morpheus 2xCD
reviewed in issue #327, May 2011
There are some things I don't ask questions about. Like, say, why a person with a perfectly weird stage name like Peat Bog would decide that he needed another weird stage name like Earthmonkey. The answer to that (not exactly) unasked question probably explains the music on this album.
Earthmonkey delves into just about every possible electronic sound around, with the general attempt to make it all as funky as possible. There are echoes of Joe's Garage in the guitar work and a general feeling of disconnectedness in the arrangements.
Two full CDs worth of this tripped-out stuff. Despite the excess, I never found myself bored. Annoyed? Once or twice, but that always happens when people push boundaries. After all, if you know how an experiment will work out, then it's not an experiment, is it?
Long, engaging and utterly mind-warping. I need to dig up my blacklight and velvet posters. I know they're hiding somewhere in my attic.
reviewed in issue #338, June 2012
I liked Better Things, the first Easter Island release. This one is tighter where it needs to be tighter and moves more where it needs to do that. In all, a superior effort.
The ringing tones are still omnipresent, but the gorgeous melodies have more bite here. Better Things tended to fade for me, but Frightened has a tougher bite.
Stronger hooks, more attention to songcraft and that sort of thing. And, truly, better songs in general. What was merely pretty has become beautiful.
These Athens boys seem to have really locked in. One more step like this and the results could be legendary. Most impressive.
Eastern Conference Champions
Santa Fe EP
reviewed in issue #319, August 2010
Wonderful pound-and-fuzz rockers that sometimes are able to bludgeon their way with great subtlety. Not many bands can turn their sound on a dime like these folks.
And yes, this is self-released. ECC is no longer part of the Universal universe. Losing that tie certainly hasn't hurt the music, if this EP is any indication. Of course, the band also managed to get a song on the latest Twilight movie soundtrack, so it's not like they folks have no connections. In any case, the sound of this EP is impeccably brilliant. Each song rings though with vigor.
The new album, Speak-Ahh, is due one of these days. This EP may be just an appetite-whetter, but it is easily good enough to stand on its own. Breathtaking.
reviewed in issue #325, March 2011
Six more songs from this band that seems to keep getting better and better. If this and the previous EP are any indication, next month's full-length, Speak-ahh, is gonna be a monster!
It's Not Our Responsibility EP
reviewed in issue #309, August 2009
Speaking of a band on the fringes of electronic music that has created its own sound...Eat Sugar gloms a bit of distortion and throbbing rhythm from the digital hardcore scene and drops it into a more poppy construction.
Which does make these songs catchy and occasionally maddening as well. Eat Sugar isn't interested in making happy songs for pleasant foot tapping. This is intense music for those who want to discover the depths of sound. It's not all crashing and burning, but there's a whole lot going on here nonetheless.
Quite the melange. The EP doesn't quite pull itself together--and neither do a couple of the songs. But I like the way these guys are pushing the envelope. I have a feeling they just might find a northwest passage through their influences one of these days.
reviewed in issue #320, September 2010
Remember how INXS took basic rock and roll and added a variety of dance-y grooves? Yeah. Eat Sugar wants to do the same thing, only from a different perspective.
So the "rock" element is more of a raggedy indie thing, and the "dance" is drum and bass and other techno derivatives. The sound is ultra modern and decidedly addictive. The throb is almost unbearable.
This does have that certain commercial sheen, but I don't hear any way around that. After all, while the title means "stand up," this is music for moving. And if it doesn't move you, then you ought to find something other than music for inspiration.
Perhaps you can find fault with some of these songs. I'm a bit too occupied flying around the room. Life's too short not to dance when music such as this impels. Join the frenzy and let loose, baby.
All of Eater
reviewed in issue #80, 7/15/95
Brit punk band best known for the youthful nature of its members (though 13-year-old drummer Dee Generate was sacked in favor of Philip Rowlands soon after the band recorded its first 7"), Eater had a short-lived career in the mid-to-late 70s.
This is the most complete collection of one disc ever released. The sound is pretty good, particularly when you consider the small amount of studio time these guys put in.
While contemporaries the Clash and Buzzcocks have (deservedly) garnered more attention and praise, Eater's take on the pop punk sound is still worth checking out, particularly considering the current musical trends. That couldn't have anything to do with the timing of this release. Ya think?
reviewed in issue #322, November 2010
Absolutely outstanding peppy downer pop. Imagine Shonen Knife with all the happy-happy-joy-joy scraped off. Same perky drumming. Same simple structures. Same aggressively sparse production. Just, you know, not so blissful.
I've always held that pop music is the perfect format for the blues. Eux Autres seems to have the same opinion. These aren't ruminations on death and dying. Just frustration and disappointment. Death by small cuts, if you like.
Power pop can be utterly irresistible, but I often prefer the more open feel that Eux Autres uses. Each instrument and voice is clear in the mix. In a way, all that space between the sounds makes the overall that much more powerful.
This third album from Eux Autres offers more than enough proof of mastery. Yeah, a lot of these songs are downers. And they'll make you feel so damned good. Genius.
reviewed in issue #167, 9/14/98
The music is certainly trans...fixing. Ebeling Hughes (that's Bob and Chuck, respectively) works through many different moods, from sparsely populated minimalist gems to shimmering, flowing symphonies.
All done with deliberate motion and finely-crafted accumulation. These are not the warblings of some spirited garage band, but the fully-constructed dreams of two guys. Always gorgeous, no matter the particular sound.
There is no adherence to any particular theme. Ebeling Hughes simply wanders wherever the muse might lay, and I'm happy to skip along behind. The lyrics are that rare example of simple words expressing complex ideas.
Simply a wonderful experience. Contemplative and intriguing, the music doesn't let go until the final note sounds. Can't say any more; I want to go back and listen.
reviewed in issue #166, 8/31/98
The record label describes the band's sound very well. The band (Equator, get it?) runs heavily distorted beats and bass lines, draping truly whiny (and equally distorted) female vocals over the top. Today's music of angst and alienation.
The beats are actually a bit more accessible than most adherents to this style. In fact, I can detect some serious club potential here. Oh, it's not particularly seductive, but there is a nice subversive undercurrent.
Thoroughly enjoyable, particularly when you consider the potential of hardcore electronic music to fall into generic noise. Ec8or moves nicely between merchant of pain and purveyor of pleasure. A cool set of agro tunes.
Singing in Tongues
I'm always amused by folks who insist on "purity" in their music. As if.
There is no such thing, of course. Look at cooking. Central American cooking would be lost without cumin, which is from Asia. Can you imagine Italian cooking without tomatoes? Before trade with the new world, that's exactly what you would get.
Music is the same way. Is jazz the one true American sound? No, but it was assembled in America from parts that originated in Africa, the Caribbean and Europe. Appalachian folk music, some of which sounds like little else in the world, is a descendant of the European folk tradition.
Yes, there are still sounds that we associate with certain regions, but good music has a way of making itself universal. Compounding this are people like Andrew McPherson, who leads the Eccodek collective.
The band originally focused on African sounds, but this album marries ideas from around the globe (increasingly Asian, particularly) to dub, electronic and hip-hop beats. The result is a worldly sound that creates its own unique niche.
Speaking in Tongues is an exploration of Jah Youssouf songs. The African bare bones of the originals remain, but the sound is expansive and adventurous. This approach mirrors Eccodek's general motif of extreme fusion.
McPherson has produced polymathic acts such as Transglobal Undergound, Delhi 2 Dublin and Dubmatrix. These are artists who take what they like from whatever they hear and spin it into something new. Eccodek fits nicely into that mix.
You'd think we would understand that "purity" is not a goal worth searching out. Do you really want a partner who is "pure?" Do you want to live in a neighborhood that is "pure?" Is a "pure" society a good idea? Of course not. Music is the same way. Adventures beat purity every time.
reviewed in issue #226, February 2002
So, Jason Newsted: You've just been fired from Metallica. What do you do next?
Pull a Foo Fighters, that's what. Newsted has assembled a three-piece band for the purpose of playing 70s-inflected power pop-rock. And it shouldn't surprise anyone that the stuff is really good.
Newsted has always been interested in more than basic loud music. After his annointment as a metal-god-in-training, he convinced Metal Blade records to sign and record Thought Industry, one of the great underappreciated bands of all time. And he brings that ear for the unusual to Echobrain. The songs here stray from the margins most of the time, but they always return home.
Jim Martin (once of Faith No More) and Kirk Hammett (um, you know) guest, but the star of the show here is Echobrain itself. These songs build from basic rock sounds into immediately arresting sonic sculptures. There is a prog influence, but it's so subtle I almost didn't catch it. These songs are so catchy that the band's technical prowess almost goes unnoticed.
More than anything, Echobrain is fun. Yeah, there are some serious ideas and some loud rockers, but these guys enjoy playing with each other. There's no need to prove anything to anyone. And so the guys just get up and play. Echobrain may get some initial pub due to Newsted, but the songs are the stars. They merit all the praise. Merited praise at that.
Find North EP
reviewed in issue #330, September 2011
Eight songs is generous for an EP, and likewise, Echorev is generous with its use of sound and ideas. These largely understated songs are chock full of interesting loops and rhythms, elements which coalesce into modestly dramatic pieces.
A bit counterintuitive, I suppose, but the method works. And while the music is largely assembled, its mellow musings sound quite organic. Echorev has created a striking reality.
This one won't hit you upside the head, but after a few songs you just might feel that way. The quiet power of this disc is undeniable. Quietly impressive.
reviewed in issue #135, 5/26/97
The clear attraction here is Eck's mastery of the acoustic guitar. He picks with aplomb and abandon. The delivery is smooth, and the sound impressive.
The songwriting, particularly lyrically, is a bit forced. Eck has a style somewhat similar to Richard Thompson's, complete with pop culture references and tossed off vocals. Plenty of spiritual reflection as well.
But when he tries to get deep, Eck too often comes up trite. The guitar work is stunning throughout, and that makes up for many problems, but eventually it's impossible to get past the weaknesses.
Man, I wish Eck could write words the way he plays his music. That would be something else.
reviewed in issue #109, 5/20/96
If you're an aggro industrial pop act from Vancouver, you really have only one choice of producers. If you're any good, that is.
And so Rhys Fulber of FLA added his considerable booth talents (and a few keys) to the proceedings. Econoline Crush is a bit too enamored of that whole "monster riff" concept, I suppose, but Fulber's hand keeps the songs varied and interesting.
I'm not impressed much by the songwriting, but the band and Fulber have found a reasonably good sound. And I can hear more than a few FLA inferences, which is almost always a good thing.
Without the keys and strong guiding hand, I'm not sure where Econoline Crush would be. But this is a decent album, if nothing spectacular. The guys should get off that reliance on the heavy guitar sound and try and write more diverse stuff. But that's what artistic evolution is all about.
reviewed in issue #42, 10/31/93
These poor bastards have been toiling in Austin so long, you wonder what it will take to get wide attention.
Then again, if they got wide attention, they would sound like the Melvins do today, and I wouldn't be able to listen because my heart would be broken.
Ed Hall has not really changed much in the years I've known of its existence. Heavy, groove-laden tracks with almost psychotic viewpoints on society. Everything that makes me smile, really.
Lots of people will tell me things like "This isn't metal, I won't play it." Don't be a shithead. Nirvana and Pearl Jam aren't metal bands either, and I bet a lot of you are playing them. Get off your dumb stance and pick up on the really great heavy music out there. Like Ed Hall.
Eddie the Rat
Eddie the Rat
reviewed in issue #178, 3/15/99
Sonic collages which occasionally make sense. A lot of found sound and other strange recordings pasted together and (sometimes) laid on top of pleasantly mutant electronic fare. Not really soundscapes; there isn't a coherent sonic vision at work. Which simply makes all the quirks that much more interesting.
Intriguing, certainly, and sometimes even astonishing. There's a lot of weirdness here (this from a person who prefers eccentricity, mind you), and it sees to get worse the longer the disc plays on. Best not to try and make sense of it.
Like I said, though, I don't think sense is the point. Eddie the Rat just might be a fairly pure expression of the chaos of our world. Or I might be thinking way too much about stuff like this again.
Ah, hell, that's what I'm (not) paid to do. Highly entertaining, if you like your brain bombarded with all sorts of ideas. I do, and I have to say that Eddie the Rat has one of the more stimulating approaches to sounds I've heard in a while.
Food for the Moon Too Soon
reviewed in issue #234, October 2002
Something of an abstract adventure into the spiritual subconscious. Eddie the Rat is a collective of people who play all sorts of instruments and make all manner of rackets. Calling this music abstract is probably accurate, but that doesn't really paint the full picture.
Part of the reason is that Eddie the Rat often uses a coherent line (generally in the bass, but sometimes guitar or percussion or something else) to hold the pieces together. Another reason is that the music is, itself, utterly compelling and instructive.
There are vocals, and sometimes they get in the way of really allowing the ideas to evolve completely. There's a beat sensibility to what lyrics exist (they really crop up on only a couple of songs), and that doesn't excite me. I'd rather hear the music explain what the lyrics can only hint at.
No matter. This journey of spiritual exploration is as breathtaking and exciting as any I've taken in some time. Eddie the Rat is constantly surprising and engaging. The musical avant-garde never sounded so appealing.
Lip-Synching at Zero Gravity
reviewed in issue #237, January 2003
Another piece of the ongoing construct, this episode from the file of Eddie the Rat finds Pete Martin and friends in a most convivial mood.
The songs are decidedly noodly for abstract fare. I detect something of an unintentional nod to prog in the way the lines have been drawn in these compositions. These waves left me feeling that there was more substructure to these pieces than really exists.
Because, in actuality, this stuff is surprisingly adrift. That's not a bad thing; I kinda like meandering now and again. And I really like where these pieces wander. Whenever I think an idea has been exhausted, I'm always pleasantly surprised by new insight.
This is the sort of abstract experimental album that might well appeal to a more mainstream crowd. There's enough "normality" (whatever that means) to keep the easily distracted from wigging out. And those of us who like to set our minds free from time to time will set sail on this tidal wave of thought.
Drop Me Off in Denpasar
reviewed in issue #261, February 2005
The concept of the pieces here is to use the piano as a drummer uses the set. Head Rat Pete Martin put these pieces together as an exercise, but they do work outside of that context. And since the songs themselves wander through all sorts of ideas and moods, the feel is exuberant, not clinical. Another fine outing by Martin and pals.
Once Around the Butterfly Bush
reviewed in issue #282, February 2007
Pete Martin (Eddie's composer) has been sending me his stuff for a while. I'm glad to see he's hooked up with Edgetone--that's a nice fit for his meticulous work. These songs are somewhat abstract, but there's not a lot of improvisation going on. This set is a bit more stripped-down and restrained than some of the earlier albums, and that seems to suit the songs well. Another solid set.
Insomnia Sound Bible
reviewed in issue #292, December 2007
I've been listening to Pete Martin's Eddie the Rat project for years. He's always been able to find people who can translate his written (if sometimes loosely) music into enthusiastic moderately-improvised works.
Always less improvised than you might think (which is something I'm pretty sure I said about EtR in the past), but with all the anarchic spirit that sort of endeavor inspires.
On the whole, these pieces seem more like songs and less like compositions. A lot of this album feels steeped in the same sort of blues that entranced Captain Beefheart, though without the rigorous wigginess. Each song contains a surfeit of ideas, far too much for the ears to digest in a single listen. Even so, just a few seconds ought to be enough to attract plenty of attention.
In many ways, this is the most conventional EtR album I've heard. It's probably not a coincidence that it's probably my favorite as well. The sort of album I can curl up with next to the fire--or shoot straight into my veins for a pure rush. It's really cool when an album can do so much at once.
Out Behind the 8-Ball
reviewed in issue #302, November 2008
The most straightforward release I've heard from Pete Martin and friends. There's actually some rock and roll in this avant groove, and the songs here are more songs than pieces, if you know what I mean. Less inventive than usual, but good as always.
Gateway to the Mysteries
reviewed in issue #8, 2/29/92
Oddly enough, the band that this reminds me of most is one called Outback, on Ryko. What's really weird is that those folk are also from Australia. But this isn't really that close. This coheres much more to European folk tunes than anything from the dark continent.
This is some cool music. Sorta like Clannad pared down. Not nearly so much synth or Enya. But with a little more diversity. Oh, why do I keep comparing bands to other bands?
It is the easiest way to describe an act, I suppose. But not very fair. Eden deserves a rep all its own, and this album may very well get that for them. I sure hope so.
Sunrise in Eden
reviewed in issue #218, 6/25/01
Just about everything here is controlled by an Austrian named Lanvall. He wrote the songs, played the guitars and keyboards, produced the album and put the band together in the first place. The press notes call this "new age/symphonic" metal. More symphonic than new age, thankfully.
While Lanvall's hands are all over this album, the key to the sound is Sabine Edelsbacher's voice. She's not yer usual metal chick. Her vocals are restrained and almost ethereal. And they fit right in with the concept of the songs. A perfect match.
Lanvall's crafted himself a fine album. The sound is grand, but not excessively so. And he's laid Edelsbacher's vocals into the perfect spot in the mix. She doesn't have to scream to be heard over the music. Creates a unique sound.
You know me. I'm a sucker for this kinda thing. So maybe I'm not the most objective listener. Still, Edenbidge does the Eurometal thing a little differently than I've heard before. I really like it, too.
reviewed in issue #227, March 2002
Manic, melodic Eurometal with soaring female vocals. Edenbridge's sound is very technical and dry, but the wealth of sounds in the mix gives these songs more than enough soul.
And actually, I kinda like hearing the lines this distinctly. Lanvall (songwriter, guitarist, keyboard player and producer) has a knack for crafting some astonishingly beautiful melodies. He's more than willing to slow things down for a quiet ballad and then leap right back into the fray with a speedy rocker.
There's just a hint of the gothic in this symphonic style, but mostly the feel is grand and operatic. Many folks would consider Edenbridge well over the top, but not me. I prefer to call the sound expressive, not excessive.
It's all in the ear of the beholder, I guess. I've liked this style of music since I was a kid, and that love refuses to die. Edenbridge is as classy as they come.
Edge of Sanity
reviewed in issue #18, 8/15/92
Some claim death metal bands lose their purity when they bring in outside influences. So they won't touch My Dying Bride or even Tiamat. Poor saps. They don't realize what they're missing.
Soul-wrenching music. And if you happen to be among the legion playing MDB, then by all means find this disc and jam. I've got to stop this "finest death album ever" bullshit, because as soon as I say that, another rivals it. Better than, well, the two albums do approach death from different perspectives. Of course, they are both European...
All my yapping won't do this disc justice. You MUST sit down and listen. And be damn impressed. Pray for the death trade imbalance to slack off sometimes in the future. But be happy with the present.
The Spectral Sorrows
reviewed in issue #50, 3/15/94
Something for everyone here. While they still have a lot of the adventurous spirit I really dug on their previous albums, this is a little more straightforward than those.
But even when they play it straight it kicks ass. These are great musicians who can evoke many moods (unusual among death metal bands) beyond mere anger and gloom.
I'm a sucker for quality, and Edge of Sanity come through once again. I could delineate how fine every part of this album is, but they best test is for you just to listen. These guys are head and shoulders above most of their peers, and it's obvious from the first song.
Until Eternity Ends
reviewed in issue #64, 10/15/94
As the liners so accurately point out, these don't particularly sound like recent EOS output. And the new album won't sound like this stuff either. Hmm... so what to do?
Well, enjoy, for starters. This is what Cathedral would sound like if it was cool. But those boys cheezed out long ago, leaving a big void. The three originals are good, and then there is a cover of "Invisible Sun" that is remarkably close to the Police original. It actually sounds really cool, but you'll have to remind yourself that, indeed, this is Edge of Sanity.
I'm all for expanding horizons. And even if Edge of Sanity never passes this way again, I'm glad I got the holiday snaps.
reviewed in issue #70, 2/14/95
Sometimes you listen to a disc and just gasp: "Now that's a fucking album!"
"Twilight", the first track, is worth the cash for the disc. Seven-plus minutes of beauty and fury. Despite protestations to the contrary, Edge of Sanity has moved more toward melody and other doom conventions, but there is plenty of the old school viciousness to keep the purist fans happy.
Whine if you want about keyboards and such. That will carry no truck with me. If you can listen to this disc and say it sucks, then you live in another musical world than I do. Edge of Sanity has always been one of the more experimental death metal bands around (particularly for one from Sweden), and Purgatory Afterglow keeps that legacy alive. So you can actually hear musical thoughts and compositional progressions. This isn't blind chaos; it's music at its most advanced form.
The songs are all solid. The playing has gotten better, if that's possible, and Edge of Sanity is still out there pushing the boundaries of death metal. It may be loud, heavy and fast, but I get the feeling more than a few in the mainstream will be discovering Edge of Sanity this time out.
(Black Mark Production)
reviewed in issue #106, 4/15/96
Forty minutes. One song. Dan Swano and company are setting themselves up for a big fall...
And this didn't need to be one song. There are numerous spots where song-length interludes break up the general musical theme. This could have easily been banded.
But that's a minor bitch. I mean, when a band pulls such influences as Iron Maiden, Sisters of Mercy, Napalm Death, Judas Priest, Tiamat and, well, all the other stuff Edge of Sanity has ever put out (a nicely diverse lot), then there's no reason to whine. Is it a death metal opera? Well, as close as I've heard. And, of course, Edge of Sanity has sampled opera before...
Not quite a masterwork, but damned close. There are a few seams that folks like me can hear, and those detract just the slightest bit. Much like the last Pan-Thy-Monium (which included EOS members Benny and Dan), you simply don't notice the length. This is a great album, and conversely, a great song.
I'm not sure I'd ever advise such a career move, but Edge of Sanity pulls off the single-song concept album as well as anyone I've every heard. Astonishing work.
See also See also Nightingale, Odyssey and Pan-Thy-Monium.
Edge of Sense
Return to Cure EP
reviewed in issue #119, 9/23/96
Three songs on a tape that suffers from the worst case of demo-itis that I've heard in some time. Muffled and baffled and almost totally lost.
And the music is not terribly inspired, either. Somewhere in that whole R.E.M.-U2 melodic college pop thing. Better than Toad the Wet Spigot, but that's not saying much. I'm not much for cloying lyrics, myself.
All in all, one of the least interesting demos I've heard in some time. Wish I could be nicer, but even the sound on this is dreadful.
Moment of Clarity
reviewed in issue #189, 10/11/99
Might as well get this puppy out before the new Rage disc hits stores next month. Oh, I'm sure that didn't have a whole lot to do with the release strategy here (it's silly to worry about what megastars do), but EDL does drop down with a little straightedge metalcore. Somewhere between Earth Crisis and Downset, these guys actually bring some new ideas to the table.
Like some slammin' digital hardcore beats, and plenty of space between the sounds. So instead of merely overwhelming, EDL provides more of a complete emotional impact. Why simply destroy when you can build up? That's the trick here.
There is still a bit too heavy of a reliance on strident riffage, but even there EDL does a pretty good job of integrating more ideas into its moshing moments. Let's just say I didn't get bored listening to this disc, and that happens way too often when I'm listening to many bands like this.
In fact, the more I hear, the more I like. EDL has an easygoing take on this most intense of sounds (that's a relative comment, mind you), and that really takes some of the dreadful pretentiousness out of the mess. Wow. This is something worth a spin or few.
reviewed in issue #338, June 2012
Edmund Pellino (he prefers "the second," which seems silly but is otherwise fine by me) had been rolling around the periphery of modern indie rock for more than a decade. After taking some time off, he has emerged with this poppy concept album.
And the story is a fine one. Better yet, the songs stand up on their own. That's the sign of an artist who knows how to do this sort of thing. Edmund II stays in pocket for the whole album, keeping a tight focus on the tale.
The sound is lightly ringing, that sort of early 70s folky pop rock that can get cloying fast. Edmund II keeps the songs moving so that there's never a temptation to dip into distress. The songs remain lovely and engaging.
And the songs just keep rolling in. This album is easy to love and almost criminally accessible, to boot. Drift along with the current, and all will be well.
The Everlasting Belt Co.
reviewed in issue #61, 8/31/94
This almost came out on Jawbox's DeSoto label, and you can hear a lot of post-punk influence going on here.
Not out of place with such folk as Girls Against Boys and other D.C. noise types, Edsel use creative percussion rhythms and a crashing guitar sound to set the table for nice pop melodies. It takes a while to peel through the sounds and figure out where everything is at, but that's just part of the fun.
This does fit in somewhere among the pop minimalist school, I suppose, but Edsel occupy the creative end of that spectrum. For starters, the songs are not limited to simple meandering. They often completely transcend their origins and cross over into a whole new pop plane. Very spectacular at times.
Jams, jams, jams. This isn't exactly easy music, but is sure is good. Edsel will worm its way into your brain.
reviewed in issue #61, 8/31/94
Much the same as their album, also reviewed in this issue. Minimalist pop expanded into the universe.
For each song, Edsel finds some little kernel that can be exploited and made great. This is kinda hard to explain without playing the music, so why don't you just throw this thing on the turntable and find out for yourself?
Both tunes are gems; Edsel is truly cool.
Perched Like a Parasite 7"
reviewed in issue #107, 4/22/96
Edsel has been making a name for itself as one of the better post-punk pop acts. The a-side here find the guys experimenting with all sorts of odd string sounds (even a violin!). All part of a glorious pop gem.
And how could you expect less? Edsel is one of those bands not to be missed, whether live or recorded. The two songs here are just a further example of the rule.
Oh, the flip? "Bela's Corvair" has that spooky-ooky feel that such a song needs. And, again, the Edsel touch with the songwriting. No lyrics, just a way-cool load of sounds put together in juicy fashion. Sounds oddly like latter-day Fall, actually.
I've said all that needs to be said here. It's Edsel. You should know by now.
The Toronto Sessions
reviewed in issue #225, January 2002
Recorded in 1986 while the late Archie Edwards was in Toronto for a concert, this album showcases some of the finest rural blues guitar picking I've heard in a long time.
Edwards hailed from Franklin County, Virginia (just south of Roanoke), and his style of the blues is indicative of that area (and, indeed, the area where I live right now, the Carolina Piedmont). He picked a single line--more expressively than quickly--and sang along in time.
This may sound simple, and in theory I suppose it is. But Edwards and other masters of the sound figured out how to make that basic style sing gloriously. Like many blues artists, Edwards spent most of his life working a day job. After retiring in 1981 he began to tour and teach.
Which is what this album does. The liners are copious and contain Edwards's own descriptions of the origin of the songs he played. Giving neophytes like me the opportunity to do a little musical sleuthing of our own. Quite the gift.
reviewed in issue #341, October 2012
Jessi Phillips is the voice and the songwriter, and she's abetted by a fine set of musicians. These deceptively delicate songs betray their power with repeated listening.
Phillips moves from straight folk to more rollicking americana (and back again) as the album rolls on. I prefer the more uptempo fare, as Phillips voice takes on a harsher edge when she holds her notes for a while.
Indeed, at times I thought Phillips was going to slip into a full-blown mannered style, but she always pulls back at the last moment. That little bit of tension is perhaps a bit nerdy, but it works for me.
Fine songs played with precision and sung with tempered gusto. Eight Belles is hardly the band for your next celebration, but there's plenty here to celebrate.
Eight Bit Tiger
Parallel Synchronized Randomness
reviewed in issue #332, November 2011
If Big Black Delta epitomizes the "big" 80s, Eight Bit Tiger is a conglomeration of the "small" 80s. Well, if you consider New Order or early Human League small. Relatively minimalist, perhaps.
To be perfectly honest, there's plenty of 70s krautrock lolling about as well. The melodies have been processed within an inch of their lives, that that sort of chilly ambience does have a certain charm.
Especially when the songs are put together expertly. Eight Bit Tiger rarely deviates from the formula, and that modest bit of comfort helps to ward off frostbite.
The 80s have been coming back ever since 1991, but these days the trend seems a bit stronger than usual. If bands this good keep coming along, I might actually turn into a teenager again. Yikes!
Eighty Mile Beach
(Om Records-World Domination)
reviewed in issue #163, 7/20/98
Very much imbued into the ambient side of the trip-hop scene. Funky grooves, sultry vocals and a very nice sense of laid-back style. Not at all serious, but more contemplative and generally genial.
Just a nice to flow to it all. Plenty of nice organic touches (piano, clarinet and a wide array of other cool sounds) all swirled together in a swell natural setting. Yeah, this is highly assembled music, but the band's talent (this disc is self-produced and self-mixed) has crafted a great sound.
If you think you have an idea of what this sounds like, think again. As soon as I started to get a handle on what I was hearing, the folks (Christian Jones and Beth Custer) tossed out another brilliant snippet. That all of these little bits work so well together is simply amazing. I'm just kicking back, appreciating.
Settle in an expect to be wowed. This is an album that most anyone will find utterly amazing. Accessible and yet so textured even the most demanding fan will be won over. Highest praises.
True Life Songs and Pictures
reviewed in issue #206, 10/9/00
"Choke the chicken" country music. Curtains of distortion, a whaleload of punk attitude and astonishingly earnest singing. Reminds me a lot of Enormous Richard, a great St. Louis band back in the late 80s and early 90s.
The lyrics aren't terribly jokey, but they are laid back and often have a pretty lilt to them. The music simply refuses to be serious, though again the novelty factor is about zilch.
No, these songs just lurch forward in a two-step stagger, kinda like some of the Mekons' rootsier moments. The production is fairly crude, but all of the elements (at times the basic line-up is joined by violin, cello, accordion and more) blend well, even if the sonic effect carries with it something of a bludgeon.
Fun, though, and terribly involving. I found it impossible to sit still listening to this. There's just too much energy, joy and intensity to meekly slump in my chair. Nope, I had to get up and jump around the room a bit. Which is always a good sign.
(Touch and Go)
reviewed in issue #89, 10/9/95
A 15-track retrospective (with plenty of testimonial action from punk and alternative luminaries) that presents a good picture of the band.
Obviously, I wasn't around when the Effigies ruled Chicago, but I can hear where the Chicago punk sound (later characterized by Naked Raygun and its progeny) came from.
Like you are gonna find any Effigies stuff in the local used bins. While referring to the band as godlike may be going a bit far, anyone interested in a complete punk education should stop off for a class here.
reviewed in issue #73, 3/31/95
Punchy old school death metal that keeps creeping up on you. Effluvia changes speeds and moods a bit much for my taste, but the playing is good.
The production really emphasizes the percussion, which leaves an interesting sound, but the guitars and bass are completely left in the muck. Wish I could hear that more.
A little more attention to song flow (and better management of the middle sound ranges) would garner Effluvia much more attention. But in all, this is a good effort.
Write a New Song
reviewed in issue #338, June 2012
Much more solidly rocking than earlier efforts, Efren channels a rough-hewn version of southern rock. There are still a few of the rootsier elements that fans are familiar with, but this album is much more about moving. Loudly.
The transition feels seamless, though it will probably be jarring. That's okay; progress always comes at a price. This album isn't necessarily better, but it is an evolution.
The lead guitar work takes center stage on these songs, but Efren never descends into jammy madness. Rather, the arrangements of these songs are streamlined even as the band adds a loose feel with its playing.
A joy, pure and simple. I think Efren has at least one more step to take with this music, and then it just might find a sound all its own. For now, solid songs and exceptional performances will have to do.
reviewed in issue #130, 3/17/97
Yep, another of them Brit electronic bands. The Egg is a lot more commercial than folks like Stereolab and Chemical Brothers. In fact, the egg would play a nice New Order to those acts Kraftwerk (ignore the time and country shifts, please).
On the other hand, if you want moderately funky, well-textured pop music that's pretty damned near perfect for dancing, the Egg should work just fine. In fact, this is one electronic act with real commercial possibilities. More songs need vocals (and three here with lyrics have an odd Pet Shop Boys feel; not bad, but not as inventive as the rest of the stuff), and probably to have a big single some time will need to get chopped off a song or two.
But hell, this is electronic pop that is just cheesy enough to excite the average mall dweller. The more I listen, the more I hear the Pet Shop Boys (I guess that wasn't an accident).And that's not horrible, I suppose.The Egg isn't anything great, but easy enough to please most mildly adventurous types.
with The Search for Saturnalia
(Has Anyone Ever Told You?)
reviewed in issue #203, 8/7/00
I'll start off with Egon, whose track is punctuated by punchy, almost martial rhythms and just off-pitch vocals and harmonies. "Blowing Trumpets" is actually driven by a meandering lead guitar line, which along with the vocals does lend a vague emo feel to the song. But if I had to, I'd lay this more in the general alt. pop category. Solid, but not a starmaker.
The Search for Saturnalia is at once more poppy and more emo. The guitars are strident and assertive; the song is also much more conventionally constructed. The whole package is a bit better conceived and executed. While this, too, isn't a song to make me stand up and shout, I can hear a lot more in it that makes me curious what else the band might do.
Not the most far-reaching music or even the greatest stuff in the world. But both songs are solid and provide an interesting picture as to the evolution of emo.
Behind the Curtain
(Has Anyone Ever Told You?)
reviewed in issue #212, 2/19/01
I wasn't so knocked out by an early Egon effort on a 7", but that just goes to show you how difficult it is to make a real judgment on a band from just a song or two. Because this Egon I rather like.
The pieces are punctuated by strident, almost martial drumming, but the other side of the band is almost maniacally understated. Remind me of Drunken Boat, and I still love that band.
Egon simply keeps working until the songs finally come together in a near frenzy. Standard old school emo construction there, though Egon gets wacky in a somewhat more loose way. There is an almost omnipresent meditative feel about these songs.
In the end, that contemplative nature is what sets Egon apart. Not only does it make the band sound thoughtful, it provides a welcome depth. An album that seductively invites repeat listens. It's worth that extra time.
El Calefon featuring Coqui Reca
reviewed in issue #143, 9/15/97
An Argentinean pop band that incorporates plenty of Latin and South American melodic and rhythmic ideas. And then dumbs them down into stuff palatable for the masses.
As a counterpoint, the Rumba Club (which I reviewed last issue) takes the same ideas and makes something greater than the original. El Calefon wants to sell lots of records, so it strips the rhythms to the bone, taking out most of the nuance (and thus most of the bounce) and then adding in very basic melodies.
Yeah, there are horns and quite a few other nice bits of window dressing. But even horn-thick tunes like "Burbujas de Amor" and "El Burrito" sound a lot like late 70s Chicago (with a psuedo-Latin groove). Sure, it's easy on the ears, but I'm waiting for the challenge.
Uncomplicated, and in the end, unsatisfying pop music. I'd much rather hear the inspiration and not this result.
Texas Rockers 7"
(Sin City-Cold Front)
reviewed in issue #163, 7/20/98
Some relatively well-known musicians (who populate or once passed through Hagfish, the Reverend Horton Heat's band or Mess) decide to get together and play down and dirty stupid music.
Don't get me wrong: I like sleazy punk tunes as much as the next guy. The first song, "Sure As Shit", is about strippers. And the subject matter goes downhill from there.
Not a problem, really, if the music wasn't so derivative. I've heard this sound a thousand times, and so El Diablo comes off as just a cold rehash. Too bad, because if the guys had been a bit more witty this ZZ Top meets 7 Seconds sound would have been alrighty.
The $6.66 EP
reviewed in issue #179, 3/29/99
High-speed punk rawk. No frills, no extras. Just revved-up riffage and songs which, upon any reflection, have no redeeming social value.
Well, that's not right. They're amusing. Kinda. I'm not knocked out here, but I did have a laugh or two. I just got a whiff of something cheap and rancid. Is that character? Dunno.
The sound is mastered a bit low, and everything isn't as clear as it could be. Yer basic low-rent recording, I guess. Which just might what they guys were going for. You never know.
Middling to bad. Just doesn't excite me in the slightest, and honestly, there aren't any technical merits to applaud. This is an all-or-nothing sorta disc. For me, it's nothing. Happens every once in a while.
Hamza El Din
reviewed in issue #180, 4/12/99
Sounds True is a label devoted to "traditional" world music artists. Hamza El Din is a master of the oud (an early fretless version of the lute) and the tar (a kind of drum). He's played with a number of western music stars (from Joan Baez to Bob Dylan to the Dead to the Kronos Quartet).
His music isn't exactly traditional. He has merged Nubian music with other Middle Eastern forms, creating his own "authentic" style. The songs on this album feature the oud and the tar, with some coloring from the nay, cello, piano, other percussion and vocals.
El Din's goal on this album is to keep the memory of his homeland, which was washed away behind the Aswan High Dam, alive and living. Thus many of the songs do have a haunted and wistful quality. Some of that, certainly, is just the way the music sounds to Western ears. Some of it, though, is also the emotional impact these songs carry.
His playing is wonderful, and while I'm not a very good judge of how "traditional" this might be, I don't hear many Western influences. El Din is quite skilled at making a huge impact with not very many instruments. This is an album which will easily leave a big impression.
Slave to Thy Master
(Ever Rat-Red Light)
reviewed in issue #45, 11/30/93
What can you expect from a disc whose liners list a "studio whore" and from a label (Ever Rat) that is dedicating its latest releases to G.G. Allin.
This effort from the leader of the Mentors is just another chapter in that book. It's kinda funny, but the misogyny gets a little heavy at times.
As for the music, it's oddly exactly what you'd expect for such lyrical content: down and dirty riffage that goes on and on, much like porno soundtracks.
I can honestly say I haven't heard anything like this in a long time. It's pretty hard to disgust me, but this stuff comes close at times. Entertaining as a joke, but I have the feeling these folks are serious.
See also Gardy Loo.
reviewed in issue #71, 2/28/95
The liners note: "We produced ourselves." No shit, guys.
Of course, El Flaco plays a form of noise blues that lends itself to self-production. The real focus is on visceral thrill, not technical prowess. Thub is a natural antidote to those who have jumped on the Jon Spencer bandwagon. Yes, we all remember when...
Now that the Pussy Galore alumni are getting their due (10 years late), we can revel in the glory that bands like El Flaco produce. Waves of distortion and just plain noise, punctuated by an occasional burst of real blues power.
I'd call that cool, my friends. This is one of those "play all summer" discs. And since I'm in Florida and it's 80 degrees out, my summer starts now!
reviewed in issue #217, 6/4/01
So I've listened to this album, and I still don't know what to write. El Greco is one guy, and he's got an Adam Sandler-esque way of meandering through the silly music of the last quarter century. Borrowing from a number of styles, including hip-hop, death metal and hipster rock (often in the same song), El Greco doesn't flinch from throwing a batch of crap into the mix.
His concepts seem better (and funnier) than the results. The bio in the press kit (which may or may not have been written by the man himself) is a scream. It's quite apparent that El Greco doesn't take himself or his music particularly seriously. This is a good thing.
Because for all of his efforts, the stuff doesn't sing. It's not terribly funny and I think it would be difficult to characterize any of his musical ramblings as "inspired" or even "particularly intriguing." In short, I got annoyed.
But I was curious enough to listen again, to hear if I missed anything. Couldn't find it if I did. El Greco isn't bad in the normal sense. He seems to be a creative guy with a lot of ideas to express. He's just expressing them in a way that I can't quite grasp. Maybe it's my fault. I always have to admit that possibility. There is, however, the other side of that coin. Maybe El Greco's admittedly far-ranging excursions just don't work so well.
Stepfather Factory 12"
reviewed in issue #227, March 2002
A truly clever satirical look at the absence of fathers in too many children's lives. Need a dad for your child? Just go down and buy the latest model.
The chorus is a wonderful collage-style mess of sound. I wish the verse had a bit more of that to it. But then, the thoughts in the rhymes demand to be heard. Always a tough balance.
I love the concept. The rhymes are funny and a little frightening. I wish the beats and backing music could be a little more infectious, but this here's one time I'll let the message take center stage.
reviewed in issue #228, April 2002
El-P, one of the powers behind Def Jux, steps out on this disc and dares anyone to follow. This album is anything but a collection of singles. Rather, it is a complete thought expressed in 16 movements. The songs are self-reflexive, dropping references to each other throughout.
But that's not what's most impressive. What I like is that the music is as innovative as the rhymes. The songs have a serious flow, and El-P never drops out of the groove. He just keeps laying down the thick beats. Wonderfully complex and creative loops, powerful and throbbing or subtly subversive. It's easy to get lost simply within the tunes.
That wouldn't do justice to the rhymes, however. These are clever songs that turn societal conventions on their head. I wrote last month about "Stepfather Factory." That song is one of the more mundane ones here, in terms of concept and execution. I liked that song, but I wouldn't call it stellar. The rest of the album easily outshines the single. There is greatness here.
A frenzy that is concentrated and then allowed to explode from time to time, FantasticDamage is the best hip-hop album I've heard since Azeem's Craft Classics. To be perfectly honest, the creative ferment on this album is probably higher than anything since Fear of a Black Planet. The ideas, both musical and vocal, are packed so tightly into this album that it almost collapses under the weight of its own density. But that's not what happens. Rather, this disc takes that fuel and burns a course to a new star, writing its own legend as it blazes brightly across the sky.
reviewed in issue #69, 1/31/95
Fairly moody prog-rock. I'm not sure if it is intent or just the way things happened, but the production left things just a little muddy, and I like it. It gives the music a human edge that a lot of overly-technical bands don't have.
Highly reminiscent of early Fates Warning or early Rush (I know, a little redundant). Lots of mystical and medieval imagery in the lyrics, and the guitar references some Celtic and Irish lines (along with the more traditional scale runs).
At times Elan overreaches the current level of talent in the band. Two guys performed this entire project, and at times the seams show. Michael McCormick is a good singer, but he tries to get above his range from time to time.
Once the guys manage to play within themselves (and add some more people, to get a more "live" sound), Elan could really have something.
Nothing to Lose CD5
reviewed in issue #146, 10/27/97
Yet another band trying to be the next Oasis, which was the next Blur, which was the next... you get the idea. Following the current trends well enough, Elcka trips out nicely textured pop anthems. Sounds a lot like Tears for Fears just before everything got out of hand.
And I'm sure that makes for some fans across the ocean. While I have to admit the songs are well-written and perfectly performed, there's something missing. Soul, perhaps? I dunno. I just can't find a personal handle to this stuff.
Three songs is not enough to really get a handle on a band. Elcka certainly has the musical ambition and arrogance required to do great things. Time will tell as to whether or not the guys will make it big.
reviewed in issue #149, 12/8/97
Elcka uses all the latest technology to create some really inventive songs. Loads of sampling and dubbing, and some songs do seem rather overloaded. Elcka hasn't quite figured out how to incorporate all its ideas in a seamless fashion, but this disc is much better executed than the recent single I reviewed.
Yes, Brit pop in all its fury and glory. Elcka doesn't take the easy road to the hook, though. Most of the songs have tortured melodies, at least until the chorus kicks in. Wild disparity in sound elements is a particular vice (strings floating over dissonance, for example), and that works much better than I might have imagined.
The sort of album that most Yanks find maddening. I mean, a band like Oasis is content to rehash the Beatles and grab the U.S. cash. Elcka utilizes the same studio tricks, but instead whips out a set of unusual songs. No, we're not talking Captain Beefheart or anything, but still.
As much as anything, Elcka sounds like a better-formed version of the early 80s synth-pop bands that we all love so much. The improvement in technology has led to a much fuller sound, but the roots are the same. Tears for Fears, eat your heart out.
reviewed in issue #85, 9/4/95
Subtitled "Angst for Fun and Profit". Elder also includes lots of warnings about stealing his songs and such. This might seem awful pretentious (and it really is, even if the notes are funny), but the music is definitely worth stealing.
Yeah, he has a rather tinny drum machine behind him, but Elder cranks out pop music a la Minneapolis (since he lives there, that makes sense) that has the energy and occasionally the riff concepts of 1984-era Replacements. Much cleaner though (I noted the drum machine earlier).
Really, this is just demo quality stuff production-wise. Of course, the songs are just great. Any punk band out there today could smash through the video wave by covering one of these songs. I like the lean sound and feel of this disc (and since that's kinda trendy anyway, it shouldn't hold Elder back at all), and as noted before, the songs are just amazing. Ten seconds in and you know you're listening to a genius songwriter. Genius don't happen often, my friends.
reviewed in issue #208, 11/20/00
So the first sound from this album performed by the band Electramone is an acoustic guitar. What the hell does that say?
It's gonna be a bumpy ride. Electramone plays a really loud version of jangle rock, but that's not even the half of it. There's a mid-60s Stones feel, and plenty of Stooges in there as well. Power chords blasting all the way to hell.
I suppose the best way to describe the sound is post-garage. I mean, Electramode's members can write, play and sing, but they don't necessarily show off all those talents at the same time. This is a rough, ragged album (and the sound reflects that spirit nicely) that leaves little room for conventional niceties.
What there is room for is conventional acclaim. Electramone blasts a huge hole in the world of generic rock. A throbbing, reeling attack on the idea that rock only works when all emotion is stripped out of the sound. Simply blistering.
reviewed in issue #212, 2/19/01
Open-throttle full-bore punk rawk. Electric Frankenstein believes in two things: loud guitars and breakneck speed. Even the idle here would take the roof off yer average pretender.
The guitar sound is utterly heavy and would be ponderous if the songs didn't move at a fair clip. And, in fact, when things move toward a mid-tempo groove, I begin to wonder if the arteries are thickening up a bit too much.
But no, another song about dead people (just about every song here has at least a reference to life's release) comes on down the pike. And I resume the position, compelled to take as much of a beating as Electric Frankenstein is willing to dish out.
This is a bruising effort. These guys understand that you can't tame rock and roll, you can only ride it. This 12-cylinder attack rips off the brakes and just lets the spirit of youth fly free. The rush is, indeed, something else.
The Buzz of 1000 Volts
reviewed in issue #222, 9/24/01
Apart from the gimmicky nature of the song subjects ("Dead-on Beauty," "Prey for Me," "Dead by Dawn," etc.), Electric Frankenstein rocks out in the style of the Stooges or early Kiss (with Gene singing, of course).
Rough, ragged and surprisingly tuneful. Once again, I find myself getting lost within the spell cast by the songs, no matter how silly the lyrics are. Some types of music are irresistible.
But that can be ruined in many ways. Electric Frankenstein takes great care to keep the sound fresh and, um, electric. These songs simply broke free from my stereo and have taken up residence in my house. They're kinda makin' a mess of things, of course, but what's life without a monster party every once in a while?
This kinda stuff could get painful quite quickly. Instead, these boys give that early punk sound a real infusion of life and style. Bliss is the result. Turn it up. And play it again. And again.
reviewed in issue #262, February 2005
Cheap, sleazy, fast and loud. Electric Frankenstein is punk music distilled to its hedonistic purity. There's not a lot here, but it sure is an awful lot of fun to hear. Ear candy of the sweetest kind.
Electric Hellfire Club
Satan's Little Helpers
reviewed in issue #66, 11/15/94
Amazingly sparse gothic pop. The usual layer-upon-layer style of production for this sort of thing, but every sound is remarkably distinct, without the de rigeur wall of distortion mucking things up.
It can still be hard to keep track of everything going on (and the lack of speaker hum forces you to locate every track of music), and Electric Hellfire Club doesn't have much of a coherent concept of songwriting.
This is perhaps the first real gothic sound sculpture band I've heard. The emphasis is on concept and art, not melody and bliss. EHC requires a good bit of work to even start to understand.
To sell records, most acts condescend to their audiences. EHC refuses, instead compelling us to search within ourselves and find the resources necessary for our journey. Highly imaginative; highly recommended.
Kiss the Goat
reviewed in issue #76, 5/15/95
The second outing from the Club is just as silly as the first. If you take any of the imagery or lyrics or anything propagated by this band as serious, then you're missing the joke.
As for the music, it is a pleasant compendium of dance styles, sticking to a generally industrial vein but with a few side glances to techno and other dance sub-genres. Again, this is intended to be fun. And I think it succeeds.
Certainly the stuff is rather danceable, and it's funny to boot. Electric Hellfire Club is not a genius band, but simply one that makes the party much more fun to attend. When these folks are around, people have a good time. So where's your invite?
reviewed in issue #161, 6/15/98
Not really an album, not really a single. "Unholy Roller" is a new song, and there are plenty of remixes and unreleased tracks as well (bringing the number of tracks on this disc to 10).
And finally, the trends have caught up to EHC. They like to call themselves electronic glam metal. Or something like that. And, guess what? It's finally a coming trend. Too bad this band isn't really that great.
Chock full of cheese, though. There are four remixes of "Prince of Darkness", new takes on "Hellfire", "He Who Holds the Lightning Rod" and "Book of Lies" and two other unreleased tracks, a cover of "Shout at the Devil" and a sample-heavy song called "The Root of All Evil (Bring Me the Head of Bob Larsen)", which digs at a fairly obscure radio preacher.
EHC has plenty of fans. I'm not one of them. How these guys could actually fuck up an amazingly good song like "Shout at the Devil" is beyond my comprehension. I mean, there are three chords, and they're right next to each other. You don't even have to sing well. And still, a horrid mess. Kinda sums up my feelings for the band.
Empathy for the Devil 2xCD
reviewed in issue #190, 11/1/99
Finding the band at something of a crossroads (the liners promise a heavier, more guitar-driven sound on the next album), this double set brings out some five covers and a new song on the first disc and the previously-released (on a limited-edition 12" and an even more limited-edition promo CD5) "Halloween Medley".
Well, the covers are silly ("Killing an Arab" and "Devil Inside" as Halloween tracks?), but the new songs are heavier, though still processed through the EHC familiar goth-industrial sheen. Actually, I like this stuff much better than just about anything I've heard from the band before. It holds together better, or perhaps more precisely, it has more of a point than the other stuff.
The rest, well, is pretty good Halloween fare, even if the "satanic" content is a bit lacking. I used the "Medley" to great effect a few years back on some little kids in Florida (they ran screaming from the door). I might use it again this year.
I've slagged these folks plenty in the past, but hell, I'll give credit where credit is due. This is a perfectly goofy enterprise, but it gives me a big-ass smile. And that's definitely a good thing.
reviewed in issue #298, July 2008
Ah, the pleasures of 80s electronic cheese guitar pop. There's nothing subtle or particularly original about what these folks do, but when you combine bouncy bass with kick-ass riffage, keyboard washes and raggedy hooks, well, I flash back to freshman-year keggers. Such good times.
These guys probably weren't potty trained when I first latched onto this sound, but never mind. If you can reference Tears for Fears, Blondie (the band, not Debbie Harry's vocals), New Order, the Lightning Seeds and P.I.L without sounding like a complete ripoff, you're doing something right in my book.
Oh, the hooks are often blindingly brilliant. And there's a bit more guitar than I might have indicated. I've always loved dancing to songs with serious guitar, and these folks do it right.
Out of time, but maybe just right for the sensibilities of today's kiddies. I won't speculate about that--I'm dreadful at assessing commercial viability--but I do know good music. And so does Electric Touch.
reviewed in issue #254, June 2004
Electrified? Surely. Electric? Yep. Electro? Well...
I know, only lame critics rip on band names. And I'm not complaining. But I am curious. These folks blast out some fine late 80s/early 90s vintage distortion-laden pop. As I've noted many times the last year, this stuff is coming back with a vengeance, and this time I don't think it sucks.
It didn't suck then, either, but I was a bit of a philistine in this area and said a few nasty things about said sound. Take a look at some early reviews in the A&A archives and you might see what I'm talking about. In any case, Electro Group has a fine handle on the stuff, loading up delicate melodies with all sorts of extraneous noise. The key is the core of the songs. And these folks know how to write a good song.
Now, I do wish Electro Group had updated the sound just a bit. These songs could have come out of a time warp, down to the indie rock roughness of the basic lines. Still, when the songs are this good, I'm just not going to complain. Not very loudly, anyway.
Electro-Magnetic Trans-Personal Orchestra
Electro-Magnetic Trans-Personal Orchestra
reviewed in issue #233, September 2002
Four pieces, each titled by its particular key. Aaron Bennett leads this sizable ensemble, the make-up of which is string-heavy. In other words, the orchestra part of the name isn't exactly off-target.
A jazz orchestra, actually. Bennett penned these songs, in a way. He set up a method of organizing improvisation so that the songs flow the way he wanted them to, but which left plenty of room for the many players to make impressive contributions.
In general, the songs meander much the same way as John Coltrane's later work. I suppose it helps that George Cremaschi's bass playing reminds a whole lot of Jimmy Garrison. I dunno. Still, the presence of the strings lends these pieces an otherworldly quality all their own.
Exceptional musicianship is what drives these pieces. I like the structures laid down by Bennett, but by leaving the door open for his collaborators to move around, he ensured greatness.
Nothing to Lose But Change
reviewed in issue #328, June 2011
The rhymes are utterly intoxicating, a vicious brew of political analysis and raw outrage. And then there's the music, which is among the most varied and exciting as I've heard on a hip-hop album in some time.
Zazan collaborated with a large crew of MCs and producers, but the results here are fully integrated into a singular sound. The fertility of the music and the lyrics is breathtaking. There's simply no letup, either intellectually or viscerally.
In other words, you can feel this, think about it or (if you're crazy like me) do both a once. It's a rush to feel all the senses excited at once, and few artists manage the trick. Zazen seems to do so effortlessly.
A full-bore stunner. Track after track of blistering rhythms, rhymes and ideas. If nothing else, capitulate and let it wash over you.
In the Wreckage of the Morning 7"
reviewed in issue #140, 8/4/97
Cool pop music that generally does exactly what isn't expected. The a-side has a chorus that almost echoes the title, though not quite. The b-side combines a wispy ska beat with a bouncy Britpop bass and what sounds like Pianosaurus echoing somewhere in the background.
Too fun to really bitch about (that ska stuff is a tad annoying at first, though it wears well), the utter catchiness of the choruses is too much to get around. Sounds a lot like Squeeze recorded in lo-fi, with a lot of unidentified extraneous noise floating about. Or maybe that's just my needle.
Elements of Life
reviewed in issue #347, 4/7/13
Louie Vega and friends kick out a wide-ranging array of hippie jazz, latin funk and plenty more. There's a heavy flower child influence hanging over this, but the Caribbean rhythms and layered sound bring these songs into a decidedly modern context. There's a lot to digest here (24 songs and remixes over 2 discs), but if you can wrap your mind around it, then pleasure awaits.
reviewed in issue #345, 2/10/13
More Canadian pop goodies from the Hidden Pony folks. Elephant Stone is folky, conceptual and yet still devoted to the hook. These boys do take their time getting to the sweet stuff, but that slow windup kinda makes the payoff that much tighter. There's the occasional psychedelic affectation, but this is nowhere near BJM territory. If you want to really know where their heads are at, there's a cover of "Masters of War" here. It sounds very Byrdsy, which is probably the point--despite the fact that the band is generally much more indie rock than 60s pop in general. A fun outing.
The Three Poisons
I didn't pay a whole lot of attention to Elephant Stone's last album when it came out. But as soon as I started listening to the songs on my short-lived radio station, I came to really love the album. Last August, I saw Rishi Dhir and the boys tear down the Black Cat with their interpretation of 60s-ish psychedlics, and I was stoked to grab the new album.
And it didn't do much for me. The songs seemed so ordinary compared to what had come before. But I wondered: Was this another album that needed a few listens to find its way into my head?
The answer is a qualified yes. What's more key, however, is the use of headphones.
This album sounds pedestrian coming out of my Big Jambox. Which is a little strange, because the last album sounds great that way. But while I was pretty meh about the stuff when hearing the tracks in the open, the subtleties of the production just pop through the phones.
It's also possible that I was not listening loud enough (a one-year-old crawling around does limit the sonic trembling of our household), but still, I'm struck by the difference. What originally sounded like nice, inoffensive 60s-esque pop songs have a whole new edge when heard up close.
Thinking a bit more about this conundrum, I realized that the production and mix are not the only subtleties here. Dhir is incorporating his influences much more confidently here, and so there is less obvious aping and more of an organic Elephant Stone sound. The drums sound electronic much of the time, and I think the percussion is programmed on some of the tracks. That nod to modern thinking strips a bit of bombast from the songs, but it also brings some of these tracks more into a New Order sphere. Well, if New Order were to venture into sitar-driven 60s psychedelia, that is.
But nonetheless, that feel is there right next to plenty of nods to the Beatles, the Zombies and such. I also hear a little Love-ish pop-rock-psych action, which is pretty cool.
So. Rather than really tear the ears off listeners, Dhir and the rest of Elephant Stone are evolving in a direction that will serve them well in the future. And if you're a fan having a bit of a difficult time warming up to this album, just pop on the headphones. Everything will be revealed.
The Camera Behind the Camera Behind the Camera
reviewed in issue #279, October 2006
Four guys who play stark, yet supple, rock and roll. At first blush, these songs sound like they were ripped off a sound board from a live set. Then the first hints of studio work bleed through.
Maybe it was just my ears, because the more I listen, the more I hear the fine work done assembling this album. Producing and mixing is an art, even when you're dealing with music that's one step from the garage. The trick is to make it sound good without stripping out all the energy.
Sure worked here. Elephone isn't a balls-out, take-no-prisoners kind of outfit. But the songs are relatively minimalist, and that sort of stuff requires a patient hand.
Hard to make the claim of being basic when you've got as much electronic content bubbling in the background. But Elephone is just that. And this album does a fine job of bringing the sound out into the open.
reviewed in issue #137, 6/23/97
A lot of noise. Crashing guitars, slogging drumwork and bass lines that would make Geezer Butler cringe. Combined with vocals that have more than a bit of that Rage talk-rap style.
When things calm down (and they do, after a few anxious moments), the music still has one of those "impending doom" feels. Not a bad thing, but the guys don't deliver. The songs stay stuck in a rut all the way through.
Almost as if these guys really don't like this kind of music, but they feel the need to play it because they think that's what sells. I can't be sure about this, but there is such a lack of feel here I have nowhere else to turn.
I read a review of Leaving Las Vegas that called it "an art movie for people who hate art movies". This wasn't a compliment. I'd call Elevate a noise pop band for people who hate noise pop. Except that those folks won't like this, either.
I'm stopping before I get as confused as the music here.
A Taste of Complete Perspective
reviewed in issue #206, 10/9/00
The songs are segued together with outdoor ambient sounds (which sometimes also occur in the middle of the songs proper as well). The music itself is sort of a post-modern take on the Doors, an emphasis on poetry and poetic music. You know, I'm not exactly sure what "poetic music" means, either. But I'm sticking with it.
I kinda go the same way with the band. The songs are often mere fragments, thoughts flitting into space. Yes, they're connected by the segues, but perhaps they also connect to each other. Maybe the whole unifies some of the less-complete pieces.
Maybe. I've wended through this a couple of times, and I generally like it. Unfortunately, I'm not particularly able to express why. I think the music and the lyrics connect on more of a subconscious level. That and the kinda glam (you know, like T. Rex) sheen some of the songs take on. That I know I like.
Not so much fun as entrancing. I just have this compulsion to listen. One of these days I'll figure it out, I suppose, but for now I'll just hit repeat once again. Take care of the fix.
The Elevator Drops
reviewed in issue #146, 10/27/97
Wonderfully schizophrenic, the Elevator Drops flit about playing whatever sort of song they like. The first three songs are, in order: an Abba-esque groovehound, slash-and-burn garage pop and a moody ballad. To call these folks conceptual is an understatement.
Now, a lot of these tunes are damned close to their inspirations (tell me "Proto" wasn't taken directly from the Sweet), but there's enough variation to keep them safe, both artistically and legally. And the Elevator Drops bounce about stylistically so much it's hard to complain about a similarity here and there.
As would be expected, the sound on this disc is utterly precise. The band has so many ideas, the man behind the board has to be unobtrusive while he brings out the best in the songs. That's what happened.
The biggest surprise is that this is an LA band. Never mind that often enough the lead vocals have a distinct Brit accent or that this sort of sonic mayhem is usually perpetrated by them overseas types. This is a glorious domestic product. One we should be happy to export.
The Elevator Division
reviewed in issue #194, 1/24/00
Guitar-driven atmospheric fare. Somewhat understated grandiose rock. Or something like that. I'm not doing very well describing this, I'm afraid, and that's too bad. It sounds much better than my powers of description are doing.
Alright, imagine if U2 had gotten into emo instead of just about everything else. The U2 reference is to the grandiose parts. The emo mostly describes the lead guitar. The rhythm section is often rolling and tumbling in slow motion. Sorta apocalyptic if you think about it.
Just a bit too arrogant for my taste, but only barely. I was rather captivated by the band's internal interplay, and the way that the vocals dance in the music is pretty damned good. I don't want to say that this is too cultured for my taste; more like the Elevator Division is always leaning toward, rather than away from, convention.
Still and all, this is solid stuff. The album holds together quite well. Now, if the band really wants to grab major attention, it simply has to make a couple more steps toward "regular" music. Or it could stay where it is and shimmer. Just without mass appeal. Nothing wrong with that.
(New and Improv Music)
reviewed in issue #245, September 2003
A few years back, I happened to catch a performance of a band called Spaceheads, which consists of a jazz trumpeter and a jazz drummer who also man keyboards, drum machines, sequencers and the like during the live show. The result was an entrancing melange of funky grooves, ace jazz licks and cool beats. Eleven Eyes plays around in much the same vein, except that these boys use a number of real players as well as a turntable man.
And geez, is this stuff addictive. I suppose it manages to still qualify as jazz, but this is dance music first and foremost. There's always a fine beat (even if slower than your average club grind) and the rhythm section is rarely out of pocket for more than a few seconds at a time.
A journey to the center of the groove, without compromising anyone's integrity. There's nothing simple or cloying about these slinky moves. This stuff is dirty, damned dirty, just filthy with the funk. George and Bootsy would be proud.
The jazz take simply adds to the enjoyment for those of us who like complicated music. There are so many layers to these songs that even ten or fifteen listens down the line something new will pop up. I'm just breaking out in smiles.
The Soundtrack to Drowning Missouri
reviewed in issue #222, 9/24/01
Jangle folk-pop featuring mostly acoustic guitar. With more than a few exceptions. If you hadn't guessed, this isn't really a soundtrack of any sort.
Rather, it's an impressionistic way of telling a story. Using all the tools at the hands of the musical artist. Elevenland (the band spells its name both ways) doesn't settle into a groove, but rather it approaches each song from a slightly different angle.
The songs don't quite stick to a single theme, either, but there are lots of film references--both lyrically and musically. Still, the band wanders down too many side alleys to really make this a concept album.
"Inspired by?" Nah, not even that much. The songs are somewhat crudely recorded, despite some of the special effects. But that is endearing more than anything else. And the songs are more than good enough to make their own impact. I'm not sure this quite accomplishes what the band wanted, but it's pretty good.
The Winter Is Coming
reviewed in issue #206, 10/9/00
You know, when you use the Crimson Tide Drum Ensemble (I'm assuming that would be made up of Alabama band geeks) to help fill out the sound of a quirky fuzz-pop tune (by the name of "Embrace the Crimson Tide"), you're getting out on the edges of rational behavior. Especially when you're based in Athens, home of UGA and the Bulldogs.
Maybe I'm just taking this whole collegiate rivalry thing a bit too far. The songs themselves are quite cool, idiosyncratically unable to sound alike. Nope, each piece jumps off from a completely different promontory and lands in a new, verdant valley. Kinda hard to pin down a band sound that way, I know, but it sure makes for a fine album.
Particularly when the songs themselves work so well. No clunkers. Clunky, some of them, but with enough motion to set the hooks. The production is basic, kinda bass heavy (particularly on the fuzz tunes), but well within accepted parameters.
Britpop, except that these pieces are influences by the likes of Husker Du and Sonic Youth and folks like that (ahem). You know, just another cool Athens band. With a wonderfully wide-ranging musical scope and impressive ability. The sort of ingredients that make for a great disc.
Walking with the Beggar Boys
reviewed in issue #252, April 2004
If you've been wondering who stole all yer old T. Rex records, I'd suggest paying Elf Power a visit. These folks play fuzzed out power pop with such a bite as I haven't heard in ages. Where's the time machine, folks?
Not a straight rip, of course. That would be dull. Elf Power adds in some modern touches--the production is sharper, the songwriting is much more diverse and the lyrics are a more clever than poetic--so that it can rightly claim this sound as its own.
Man, this is lovely stuff. I'm a sucker for Bolan and the boys, so this kinda album is always gonna make me smile from the get-go. But as I said, Elf Power isn't content to simply take a fab old sound and replicate it. The newer mutations fit in nicely, helping to create something new.
Something great. This album is engaging from the first note, and Elf Power proves that it has the chops to sustain its ambition throughout the disc. Quite a ride, and not just one through time.
Back to the Web
reviewed in issue #275, June 2006
Hey, Elf Power hits the big time! And what do you know? The music is as eclectic and wide-ranging as ever.
And while the stylistic nature of the songs is still radically incoherent, the folks at Ryko made damn sure there's a central theme to the sound. The production keeps this almost anarchic album together. There's a full and rich feel to every song that overcomes any other differences.
All Elf Power is trying to do is channel the history of rock music through a vaguely-60s filter. There are plenty of proggy bits, a few hippie-drippy bits, parts where you'd swear you could hear a sitar (but can't), a dash of americana and some serious big rock boulders as well. All stirred into the aforementioned lush carpet of sound. Very nice.
Sometimes good things happen to good bands. And sometimes a bigger label can convince a band to tone down the eccentricity just enough to make a great album. I think that's what happened here.
Always the Light
reviewed in issue #334, February 2012
Evagelia Maravelias and Brian Wenckebach drive this electronic pop machine. Maravelias's vocals are just lush enough to take the chill off the highly artificial sounds on this album.
Mind you, I'm not against programmed pop. And Elika doesn't actually stick to a program. These songs venture far and wide, touching on any number of sounds on the ambient side of the universe.
The vocals are what makes sense of the noodling, though, and they give these pieces their personality. Maravelias isn't a wailer or a shouter, but her cool aplomb is just the ticket for these adventures.
The ideas just keep burbling along. There aren't a lot of high or low points, but Elika keeps things varied all the same. I like the way this album explores the edges.
Calvary Song 7"
reviewed in issue #196, 3/6/00
Thoreau talked about lives of quiet desperation. Elliot isn't a quiet band, but that's the general feel I get from these songs. Yeah, they can get raucous, but it seems like desperation is driving the chaos.
I think I'm just not making any damned sense. Well, I could also talk about the great sound. The music is wrapped up inside a sonic shell, so that a filmy filter separates the band from the ear. Almost a symphonic sound. It is so grand that a disconnect is required.
This fits the pieces well, particularly "Calvary Song." Some bands just seem to know what they're doing from the beginning. Elliot sounds like one of those. One amazing little slab of vinyl.
reviewed in issue #202, 7/17/00
So it took me four songs just to begin to get a grasp on this puppy. It seems to me that most emo bands have been heading in a pop direction. Elliot, too, has been honing its craft. But instead of heading into tight three and four-chord territory, we have this.
This is highly technical, grand pop music. The beats are as likely to be from drums, something sampled or a machine. The chords echo with purpose and intent. The lyrics are epochal. This is seriously pretentious music.
So it had better work, right? Well, it sure does. These songs shimmer with true brilliance. At times throttling, at times delicate, the songs slice through pretense. Sometimes, dressing music up is the best way to get to the heart of things.
Sure worked for Elliot here. Very few bands even consider making music like this, and fewer succeed. This is easily one of the best albums of the year. There's no question about it.
Song in the Air
reviewed in issue #241, May 2003
Elliot is one of those bands that seems to be incapable of writing a mundane song. The sound is generally understated, but the impact of these pieces is immediate and intense.
Maybe its just me. I've passed around that first CD to a few friends, and all of them were decidedly ambivalent. Perhaps I'm one of those music critics who falls in love with bands no one else understands (or wants to understand, for that matter). Well, hell, I know I'm one of "those" critics, but still. Elliot makes music that sounds rather universal to me.
Okay, maybe the rush isn't quite so immediate on that first album. Maybe you've gotta let the greatness sneak up on you just a bit. Not here. The pieces are midtempo more often than not, but they've got more energy and fire than most extreme bands I hear these days.
Another stellar album. Elliot makes the kind of timeless rock music that few dare attempt these days. Contemplative and yet compelling at once, an exquisite blend of sense and sensibility. Hey, if you listen to this album and aren't blown away at once, there's nothing I can do to help you. Not a damned thing.
(Digitalis Industries/Unread/Stentorian/Public Eyesore)
reviewed in issue #287, July 2007
Eloine is a quartet led Bryan Day, who is Public Eyesore. Day is heading out on tour soon, and he wants to make sure folks know he has discs out there. He tells me that he's reissuing these discs, but whether or not they have the official PE imprimatur, I'm sure you can get them through him.
And the average Public Eyesore fan (whatever that means) will want to do that. Judging by the variegated PE releases, Day's taste in music is eclectic, but he tends to favor contemplative improvisational fare and really messy Japanese stuff. Eloine is straight out of that first category.
Contemplative, but not dull. Each piece on each of these discs has at least one--and generally many--exceptional ideas. Day's intriguing use of percussion and (occasionally) guitar often sounds like rats scraping at the inside of your brain. And once these pieces get in there, you'll never be able to get them out.
I'm not sure how all this translates live (I love this kind of thing when safely within my house; not so much on stage), but these albums are proof that some folks not only know good music, they know how to make it as well.
When I Live by the Garden and the Sea EP
reviewed in issue #276, July 2006
Take a cryptically-named band and add cryptic song titles (in addition to the leading name of the title track, the first piece is "I Will Not Forget that I Have Forgotten") and you get folks (or in this case, one folk: Matthew Cooper) who must be trying to be obtuse. Well, yes. And damned if it doesn't work out for him.
Eluvium (my dictionary doesn't have the word, though I'm guessing it has little to do with effluvium) produces soundscapes (that awful word which many of my music critic friends have sworn off using), but that's really beside the point. These are achingly pretty songs, and relatively short ones at that---the title track is the longest, and it clocks in at barely seven minutes. The four pieces here are frighteningly good, enough to make just about anyone cry.
I'm not exaggerating. The press has a couple of reviews that compare Eluvium to Brian Eno. Kinda, except that this stuff has much more soul--not a dig on Eno, but a complement to Cooper. These songs not only paint the landscape, they flesh out the story as well. Wowsers.
reviewed in issue #282, February 2007
Ah yes, abstract electronic music that truly evokes a mood. Confusion in some, I suppose, and dread in others. I go more for wonder. There's an all-encompassing feel to these pieces that seems to peel away my brain layer by layer.
Queen of the Meadow
reviewed in issue #205, 9/18/00
It's always interesting reading press notes that predict large fame and fortune for band, particularly when it doesn't work out. Elysian Fields recorded an EP and an LP for Radioactive in the mid 90s, and critics loved them. A few fans did, too.
Then Jennifer Charles and Oren Bloedow recorded an album with Steve Albini. Not surprisingly, the label didn't dig it. After some protracted name-calling, Elysian Fields found itself free again, at the cost of the Albini record (which is now owned by whoever holds the Radioactive catalog these days).
Thing is, this disc fulfills the promise. Charles' breathy chanteuse style is more entrancing than ever, and Bloedow's music is amazing in its own right. These songs trip and roll along in a leisurely fashion, not too concerned with how much emotional capital they're spending.
This album is a stunner. Well, duh. I coulda written that without hearing the thing. At least, that was my anticipation. The reality surpasses my high expectations. An album that will be played for a long, long time.
reviewed in issue #222, 9/24/01
Insistent, lushly decorated acoustic guitar pop. Elza sounds like a lot of young women who want to "make it big" with their music. Her songwriting is good, no doubt about it. I just wish she hadn't added so many accouterments.
The excessive production (which the liners say she led, so I feel just fine pinning that on her) wipes out any originality the songs themselves had. Every piece is turned into a potential AAA anthem, and the album seems to run in place.
It is too bad, because I think these songs would have worked much better with just her guitar and voice. There are still some flaws, of course, but at least this would have sounded like "Elza" instead of "Elza who sounds a whole lot like a thousand other singers."
There's a fine line to walk between being too original (and thus not getting anyone to listen to you) and too copycat (where lots of people may listen, but they have no idea who you are).Elza erred on the side of the supposed mainstream desire. That may work. Who knows? I just wish I heard more of her.
(My Pal God)
reviewed in issue #214, 4/2/01
The Embarrassment was a band from Wichita. Kansas. Broke up in 1983, briefly reunited in 1990 and then gave up once again. Around the halls of my college radio station at the University of Missouri, folks spoke of the Embarrassment with wistful awe. What should have been.
In terms of hits, that is. In terms of legend. And, well, now that the band has more retrospective releases (including one called Retrospective) than actual albums, maybe there is something of a legend out there.
In any case, this set of songs is intended as a companion to the Bar/None compilation Heyday, which did a pretty good job of packaging the band's "official" output. Studio outtakes, live recordings from radio stations and clubs and the like populate this disc. The recording quality is rarely great and often somewhat below average. What does come across, though, is the weird aura of the band, the thing that has created so many crazily devoted fans.
Anyway, if you've got any questions, just listen to track #2. It's called "Podman," and if that doesn't hook you, forget about it. You're not gonna want to join the cult. The rest of us can laugh at you and practice our secret handshakes. And play the sacred recordings over and over.
The Embedded 12"
reviewed in issue #223, 10/15/01
Embedded is producers Ese and Hipsta. The three tracks here (in various forms) feature Vast Aire (from Cannibal Ox and Atoms Family), Zion I and Lodeck. Each of the three tracks ("Building Blocks," "Tippin' Dominoes" and "Hyperventilation") will be on the forthcoming Bedford Files, an underground hip hop collection.
Embedded does have a fine touch on the beats. Not only that, each track matches the creative style of the MC in question. There's definitely some solid collaboration going on.
One 12" that's chock full of goodies. Each of the three tracks is solid, tending toward outstanding. First rate all around.
Emergency Broadcast Network
Behavior Modification/We Will Rock You CD5
reviewed in issue #26, 1/15/93
As industrial dance music goes, this stuff is boring. The beats are moronic and what music exists really doesn't. On the other hand, the idea of sampling the (as you read this) ex-president and new president to say "We Will Rock You" is a bit of political inspiration. As for the other track, "Psychoactive Drugs," everything is a little better.
Emergency String Quintet
On the Corner (Market and Sixth)
reviewed in issue #236, December 2002
Four pieces, five players, fifty some odd minutes. Unlike most Public Eyesore releases, this puppy doesn't sound improvised. The music is most definitely avant garde, using "noise" (in this case, plucking, thwacking and scraping bows on strings, among other things) as well as traditionally cultivated sounds to illustrate the ideas of the composer.
You either really dig this music, or you sit around and say things like "turn that shit off." I'm in the former group, and my wife is in the latter. We're still happily married; disparate views of what constitutes music isn't a barrier to a good relationship. Still, this isn't the sort of album you toss in the discer for a blind date.
Looks like I'm dancing around here without saying much about this album. Well, I like it. I like the way the five members of the quintet play around with the music and each other. There is a very strong sense of the group in these pieces. That sense, and the composing, is what keeps these pieces woven tightly together.
Music of sonic exploration isn't for everyone. I know that. But if your tastes run to the avant garde (you know, as in classical and such), then this just might pique your interest. There are more than a few ideas here worth hearing once or twice.
Emerson, Lake and Palmer
Then and Now 2xCD
reviewed in issue #173, 12/14/98
A bit more than 40 minutes from the band's performance at the 1974 California Jam, and substantially more from live shows the past couple of years.
The liners point out that the California Jam introduced the band to a wide audience vie the ABC late-night program In Concert. Judging by the quality of sound here, I'm guessing the stuff barely even came across on television, which is hardly the best medium for presenting music.
Anyway, while the Jam performances are typical ELP (virtuosic, self-absorbed and arrogantly lengthy), the sound sucks. The newer live performances sound a lot better, and the members haven't lost a step talent-wise. They're still doing what the audience seems to want: play loud and long, with lots of pyrotechnics.
Many rock critics have laughed at the band's attempts to utilize music from the classical canon. I'm not gonna chunk that brick, but I will say that ELP's take on "21st Century Schizoid Man" (complete with a sloppy interpolation of "America" from West Side Story) is so over the top even Lake's old mates in King Crimson would cringe. ELP, for better and worse, is up to its old tricks.
reviewed in issue #74, 4/15/95
Kinda poppy, kinda punky, definitely anthemic stuff with cool ideas for the rhythm guitar (read: riffs).
Toe-tapping and axe-grinding, Emory Swank has a nice feel for writing songs that sound like they're important. But not too important, you know?
Lots of bands try to do this, but Emory Swank has put out a great two-song 7". Two different sounds for the band, and yet enough to get the full idea. Sounds like a winner to me.
In the Nightside Eclipse
(Century Black-Century Media)
reviewed in issue #72, 3/15/95
Even as the original concept of black metal sinks slowly into the sunset of (relative) mainstream acceptance, U.S. folks are just getting their first tastes.
This disc sounds a lot like the first Darkthrone record, which I liked. The music is pedantic (pretty much the same riff over and over again) and the vocals are sorta yippy, but as a mess of noise it satisfies reasonably.
Nothing to wet your pants over, but this is about as good a black metal album as I've heard. It's not scary at all, but then again, that's better than being completely silly.
See also Mortiis.
Shatter the Illusion of Integrity, Yeah
(My Pal God)
reviewed in issue #180, 4/12/99
More trips into the world of the "new electronic". Kinda imagine an organic electronic attack fused with a noisy Chicago pop sensibility. Samples and loops all the way, with a good chunk of the "no wave" thrown in for good measure.
Hey, hey! I mean, what a fucking brilliant notion. There are pieces here which follow the dirty hip hop grooves of yer average (which, of course, means way above the mean) Wordsound disc. There are songs which sound a bit like U.S. Maple or Mount Shasta. And there are songs which can only be described as "Emperor Penguin music".
The breadth of the sound and the complexity of the pieces is stunning. It's so easy to get lost in the various mutations and sonic warps. That is the point, certainly. This is hypnotizing far all the way. And, by the way, it's really damned good, too.
Nowhere near the mainstream, but very little good is. Emperor Penguin has put forth a singular vision of the potential and possibilities of electronic music. The form need not be sterile or boring, but can also inspire and amaze. That's what this disc does.
reviewed in issue #185, 7/26/99
Got a nice note and this slab of vinyl in the mail from the band. I liked the full-length I reviewed not too long ago quite well, and this release seems too be following in a similar way, pop songs created out of usual and unusual sources.
Actually, both of the songs here sound a bit more "normal" than much of the stuff I heard on the album, though the part I liked best, the scratchy electronic undercurrent, remains. Not really an evolution, but just an extension of a couple ideas from that set.
Nothing here to turn me away from the group, and indeed, plenty to cause my praises to be sung even louder. Emperor Penguin has the tools to really make a statement in the long haul.
(My Pal God)
reviewed in issue #189, 10/11/99
There isn't any such thing as a "regular" Emperor Penguin track. A few loops, some regular playing and lots and lots of weirdness. I mean, when you kick of an album with two minutes of keyboard noodling called "Phantom of the Gay Opera," absurdity is only a moment away.
Absurd and intriguing. On this disc, the Penguin lays some funky jams over the trippy electronic base, managing to fuse the two sounds in a rather unimaginable way. I mean, this really works. The sound is lush and full, and the fat grooves really spice up the Penguin's inherent goofiness.
In fact, some of this is so wacked it almost ventures into Wordsound (the label, y'know) territory. Yep, that inventive and that visionary. And while this certainly has to be considered much more commercial than anything the band has done before, it's still invigorating.
Emperor Penguin never hits the same spot twice. This disc is just the next step in a continuum of musical experimentation. This particular venture is most rewarding. Great stuff from a band which never ceases to amaze.
(My Pal God)
reviewed in issue #195, 2/14/00
Emperor Penguin is a band that rather likes to jump around and take chances. Still, Mysterious Pony finds the folks plying a stream similar to its most recent releases. That's not bad; playfully experimental artists are difficult to find and almost impossible to breed in captivity.
This disc is just plain fun. No two ways about it. The beats are pleasantly shaken and stirred, and the sampled and looped melodic elements have just enough of an organic feel. Comfy music, indeed.
I'm always dead solid ready to hear something new from EP, and if the folks keep dishing out groove-laden efforts like this one, my addiction will only intensify. Hearing stuff like this makes me believe in love at first hearing.
Yeah, yeah, yeah. Jon loves the Emperor Penguin. Big deal. Well, perhaps not. But if I might, I'd like to give these folks as big a push as possible. Even then, it's not nearly enough.
split EP with Knodel
reviewed in issue #209, 12/11/00
I think anyone who reads A&A with any regularity now how I feel about Emperor Penguin. To put it succinctly, I'm pretty sure there isn't a more creative and fun band plying the "vaguely electronic" trade these days. The three songs here don't do anything to change my impression.
Knodel is a band from Portland, and one of the reasons it's on this EP is that it has much the same attitude as Emperor Penguin: Anything goes, as long as it works. Knodel's pieces are a bit more technical and not quite so loose as Emperor Penguin, but only by the slightest of margins. Quality-wise, the Portland crew gives the Chicago folks a run for their money.
Which means that this short set will give you a full return on your investment. The unexpected makes more than a few appearances, and that's always a good thing. Play this at your next party and see how many people go, "Hey, that's kinda cool. What is it?"
(My Pal God)
reviewed in issue #214, 4/2/01
As in, "Damn, there's only four songs here!" I think my Emperor Penguin jones has been on the table for quite a while. This far-too-short disc does do something important, however. It proves that Emperor Penguin can jam live.
With all the studio tricks and "assembly required" work that goes into the usual Emperor Penguin tuneage, I wasn't sure how the stuff would translate live. Or if the guys could really anything resembling the studio sound in a live setting.
The arrangements are somewhat stripped-down. The funk comes out a lot more, and I don't think that's a bad thing. There's a definite Parliament-Funkadelic feel to a couple of these songs, more than I'm used to from these guys. Indeed, the live shows must be just as incredible as the albums.
And, hell, this disc is impressive in its own right. Probably more for the hardcore fan than casual listener, but that's usually how it is with live sets. My fix is satisfied--but not for long.
reviewed in issue #347, 4/7/13
More "back to the 90s" fare. Emperors have that post-grunge sheen down quite nicely, and they temper the anthemic tendencies of their hooks just enough. A pleasant bath for those who miss the days of flannel and PBR.
The Emperors of Wyoming
The Emperors of Wyoming
reviewed in issue #344, 1/21/13
Resplendent heavy roots rock full of hooks. Probably a bit too crunchy for the americana bin, but that's cool. The Emperors surf early Tom Petty territory in a most satisfying way. And y'know, if you're going to borrow from AOR, that's a good way to go. Big smiles.
Editor's note: This is a second review published after the 2013 format change. I'm pretty sure this is the longest A&A review I ever published, especially for just one album.
The Emperors of Wyoming
If you're like me, when you were a kid you obsessed about music charts (present and, even more importantly, past) and wondered why albums such as the South Pacific soundtrack and The Button-Down Mind of Bob Newhart ruled the roost in the late 50s and early 60s.
Okay, you're probably not like me, and most likely you never wondered about any such thing (in case you did, however, it turns out that both of those albums are pretty outstanding examples of their genres and fully deserved their massive popularity). But I often wondered how it was that Little Richard or Chuck Berry never scored a big album. Even Elvis's albums didn't do much, chartwise.
The plain fact is that the 33 1/3 long-player was a format without form when it was introduced commercially in the late 40s. Before the LP, "albums" were collections of 78s housed in cumbersome book-like bindings. My grandma had a bunch of those (and I have them now). The LP condensed a five-piece set into one convenient package, but pop artists weren't used to recording that way. Pop artists recorded one song at a time, and they lived and died on singles sales.
I was one of the last people on earth to purchase major label-issued 45 rpm vinyl singles back in the mid-80s (this was before Superchunk and the SubPop singles club made those little pieces of plastic cool again). And I did it for a good reason: A single cost $1.69. A tape cost $7.99 or $8.99. And a lot of bands had just the one good song. In these days of instant digital downloads, free streaming of deep tracks and all, it may be incomprehensible that at one time major record labels released just one great song from a crappy album in order to scam millions (or at least thousands) into spending eight or nine bucks on a steaming pile of poop. But that's how it worked. After being burned one time too many (I can't recall if the tipping point was the Power Station album, but it should have been if it wasn't), I started buying singles in earnest.
I had a simple system: If the b-side sucked, I didn't buy the album. This rule had one iron-clad corollary: If the b-side was a second version of the a-side, I definitely didn't buy the album. Although such singles sometimes illustrated how invaluable a skilled singles mixer was. If you ever heard the album versions of T'Pau's "Heart and Soul" or Men Without Hats' "Safety Dance," you'll know exactly what I mean.
I loved Sly Fox's "Let's Go All the Way." Okay, the song sounds horribly dated today, but as a 16-year-old boy I was the ultimate target audience for the song. Quality (or lack thereof) was no bar to my devotion. I LOVED that song. So I bought the single with a serious eye toward buying the album. I played the song I loved a few times, and then, with some trepidation, I played the flip. The song was titled "Como Tu Te Llama," whose title told me everything I needed to know. I mean, I went to high school in New Mexico and had four-plus years of Spanish under my belt. I knew that was just wrong. But listen I did, and my ears still bear the scars. Here's the chorus:
Como tu te llama?/Tell me what's your name
Good God almighty! Awful awful awful awful awful. I felt like Chekov after Khan slides in the Ceti eel. A few weeks later, I was at a party and someone was playing the Sly Fox tape. It was terrible. It's a miracle that the follow up, "Stay True," actually reached #94 (I told you I paid attention to the charts; in true dork fashion, I even subscribed to Billboard for a few years). Anyway, the Sly Fox album is the perfect example of album-length filler. And filler goes back to the beginning of the album format itself.
Like I said (way up at the top), pop artists of all types were singles-driven. Frank Sinatra didn't record albums. He recorded songs, often one at a time. After enough songs had been released to popular acclaim, the label might collect a few of the good ones and throw in a generous helping of the not-so-good. There wasn't much in the way of sequencing, other than to stick the best songs up top and hope no one flipped the disc. This is why South Pacific sold loads more than any Elvis album. There's also the fact that the songs on South Pacific are loads better than just about anything Elvis--oh, wait, you probably don't want to hear that. Sorry.
There were a few artists who recorded albums as albums, even back in the 40s, but most of those were vanity projects. Labels were singles-driven and treated albums as bastard stepchildren. It took the British invasion to really establish the album as an important format in pop music. The Beatles, Stones and the Who set the table, and then everyone from the Beach Boys to the entire Haight-Ashbury scene followed. By the end of the 60s, singles were merely marketing tools for album sales. Led Zeppelin famously never authorized the release of any singles, even though pop radio played plenty of Led Zep hits.
The demise of the album (or CD, or whatever) as a format has pretty much destroyed any reason for filler, but that hasn't stopped the practice. Sometimes the results can be jarring, as with the recent Emperors of Wyoming album.
There are four great songs (and one good one) on the album. And there are five bad to terrible songs as well. I haven't heard an album with this much disparity of quality among the songs in ages.
I will start by saying that "The Pinery Boy" might well be the best song I've heard during the past year. It's one of those creepy Romeo and Juliet-themed ballads about a girl who sets off in search of her love and ends up drowning herself in order to be with him. Yerg. But the lyrics are exceptionally skillful and the song has a propulsive rootsy churn that drives everything to the inevitable end. Here's the start of the song:
Oh Father, Father/She said/Build me a boat/Down the Wisconsin River so/I may float
The inverted syntax is a wonderful device, and I really love the way "She said" is just dropped in there. It immediately brings the listener into the song. Also, ending one line with "so" is positively brilliant. Anyway, I've heard this song more than a hundred times, and it still gives me the chills. It's awesome.
More interesting is that this song dates back more than a century and has been recorded many times. Nick Cave did a version a few years back. But the Emperors have a completely new arrangement (and more importantly, a fresh lyrical edit which added the syntactical flair I love so much) that gives the song some real punch. In every way, this version really brings out the best in the song. It's a great example of how a fresh approach can turn an old object into something shiny and new.
"Avalanche Girl" and "Brand New Heart of Stone" are wonderful Tom Petty-ish rockers, and "The Bittersweet Sound of Goodbye" is a cool, Byrdsy roller (differentiating the Hearbreakers and the Byrds can be difficult, but that's why I'm here). The final track, "Bless the Weather," is a solid, if not spectacular, acoustic bluesy country love song.
Then there's the rest of the album, which is largely mid-tempo or slower and completely devoid of the punch that the good songs have. The production is generally just as solid and inventive, but the songs themselves aren't nearly as good. Perhaps the Emperors of Wyoming were simply trying to mix things up. The bad songs sound as if they were recorded by a different band. But these songs have too much of a by-the-numbers feel to make me believe that they were simply changes of pace.
Of course, five pieces of filler would have been completely acceptable to the high school version of me. Three good songs on an album were enough to make me feel justified in a purchase. Ratt's Invasion of Your Privacy has maybe three good songs (more like one-and-a-half, if I'm really being honest with myself), but I thought it was great way back when. These days, however, there's a higher bar.
As it is, this is still one of the better albums of the last year. There are a handful of truly great songs here. I just wish the rest of the album came even slightly close to matching that excellence. Oh well. I guess I can program my own EP. The digital age has its advantages.
Now we get to our Paul Harvey moment. The Emperors of Wyoming consists of Phil Davis, Frank Anderson, Peter Anderson and Butch Vig. Davis and Vig have worked together off and on for decades, and the Anderson brothers and Davis also have a long history. These aren't starry-eyed kids hoping to make it big. They're seasoned pros (and yes, their name does come from the Neil Young song) who know good from bad. These are largely old, unfinished songs that Davis came across while cleaning out his attic. He decided to get his friends to help him shine them up. Thus the wide discrepancy in quality and style.
So maybe my rant about filler is a bit off topic. Sue me. But first, listen to "The Pinery Boy." Once you've heard that, you'll be in no mood to sue anyone.
reviewed in issue #167, 9/14/98
The thing I like most about the current electronic trend is that some folks use the technology to do some seriously innovative beat work. For me, the percussion is the key, particularly in electronic music. As he has shown innumerable times, Alec Empire "gets it".
He cycles through a number of styles on this disc, though all of them fit the hardcore notion, more or less. And each song presents a wondrous exploration of the furtherance of the groove.
I love dancing to this shit. When created by a master like Empire, beats can be interpreted many ways, at different speeds and different moods by different people. Makes for a chaotic and exciting dance floor. Each track here is something that would draw me right out into the fray.
When he recorded this in 1996, Empire worried it might be too much. Well, it sounds just great today. and that's all I'm gonna worry about.
reviewed in issue #278, September 2006
"For the avoidance of doubt all the music on this record is comprised of sounds originally created by the musicians involved." Well, sure. No one else would claim them. Not is they were sane, anyway.
Which isn't to say Empire and company play for shit. They play fast, loud and mean. But not many folks are willing to pin the needles like this. The distortion levels are freakishly high.
Ah, punk for punk's sake. Fine by me, especially when the songs are as dizzyingly brutal as these. Empire and pals simply never let up off the gas. That sort of approach does wonders for masking inferior songwriting, but in point of fact, these are good songs. They're played past the point of recognition at times, but what serves the quality of the album isn't always best for the song.
Which is to say that this is best listened to as a unit. The individual pieces are wonderful spikes of pain, but the set is simply incendiary. Play it loud. Then play it louder. And let the eardrums bleed.
El Sonido Magico
reviewed in issue #343, December 2012
Slowly but surely, the D.C.-based Empresarios are making a name up and down the coast. The band's brand of Latin, R&B and funk fusion sounds comes together naturally. And the fact that these boys sing in Spanish certainly doesn't hurt.
The polyglot nature of the sound is slinky, but rarely smooth. These are songs for moving. Even if you think you can't dance, I bet you'll be itching to shake your butt after hearing a song or two.
The sound is just shiny enough to bring a general brightness. But I like the way the low end creates a lugubrious friction with the floor. It's almost as if the bass lines are rumbling across the floor on their own.
Maybe they are. What I do know is that there's really no way to put this album down. Once it's coming out of the speakers, it's gonna stick around for a while. Yeah, I'm giving a shout out for some D.C. homeboys, but they deserve it. First rate, and then some.
reviewed in issue #176, 2/8/99
Electronic, to be sure (Apple Computers are thanked, among others). But Emptyhead (a.k.a. Eric Salazar) doesn't dress his music up with complicated rhythms or other extraneous things. Like, say, vocals.
No, these are extended keyboard explorations (with the occasional drum track). Not ambient, really, because the keys are playing what might be played on a piano. This isn't mellow fare. At once there is a feeling of new wave and classical influences.
And I like that. Pretty cool. These are involved pieces, at least as far as the keys go. Salazar takes advantage of a few technological tricks, but mostly, he simply cranks out his ideas and lets them roam.
Unusual, but certainly intriguing. There's a lot here in a short package.
reviewed in issue #176, 2/8/99
The latter of the two discs, and something completely different. Well, it starts off that way. "Deodato" is a sample hackfest, a cool funky piece. And even the other, more "traditional" (at least when compared to the first disc) pieces have more outside stuff in them. The beat work is more complex, the keyboards are called on to make noises as well as melodies.
So some of the unique qualities of that first disc are lost here. What I can hear, though, is a guy who is still working out just what it is he wants to play. Where he wants to take his music.
And what can't be denied is the quality of his vision. No matter the production values or execution, this stuff is good. There is a lot lying behind the notes.
Which is what I can say for both discs. I don't know where Eric Salazar is going to take Emptyhead, but I like where he's been.
A Blueprint of the World
reviewed in issue #85, 9/11/95
Hyper-clean production emasculates the guitars and drums, transforming what could have been a real Rush rip-off into something else.
The song structure and melodic style are still quite reminiscent of Rush, but everything seems a little more technical and lighter. I'm still not sure I dig it, but the performances are quite decent.
The main difference is the emphasis on the instruments as opposed to the lyrics. Enchant wants you to know that the players are good. Rush has a message it wants you to hear.
Compare and contrast is done. Enchant is good enough to stand on its own merits, even if those prog-rock merits are not among my favorites.
Dance the Marble Naked
reviewed in issue #54, 5/15/94
Playing the doom/death card to a T, Enchantment bring thoughts of greatness to my mind.
If, perhaps, you found the new My Dying Bride too mellow in spots (for shame!), then this just might be more up your alley. More of the death metal aggression than real musical experimentation, and lots of fun double bass work.
I really hate making a comparison like that, because Enchantment are not trying to rip off anyone. I can say I haven't heard a disc quite like this on before. And Dance the Marble Naked is a great album. Just plain great.
reviewed in issue #150, 12/29/97
You know, like, if Black Sabbath were, like, an industrial band and, like, if Type O Negative gave up on the cheesy keyboards and just sang, like, nasty songs about how, like, the world is all fucked up. And shit like that.
Reminds me a lot of the old band Dead World. Godflesh-style pile-driving beats combined with epic guitar riffs and dreadfully mean-spritied lyrics. Songs that go on for ages, and yet you don't mind a bit. And then after all hell breaks loose, one of those acoustic metal passages breaks out.
Yes, the sort of thing I craved in high school. And since it seems my general appraisal of life has been regressing, I simply want this more. Pain, anger, frustration and sin, all presented with style and mind-numbing sonic destruction. The mainline to agony can be tapped here.
A full-on rush. Like if you had your very own live power line to chew on for kicks. Mania of the highest order.
reviewed in issue #200, 6/5/00
Another more "traditional" emo band from Congregation. Raucous bashing pitted around more contemplative moments. I told you this was traditional, didn't I?
Despite the rather familiar formula and sound, End Transmission manages to excite. The execution of this fare is simply dead on. At its purest, emo was intended to be a conduit for emotions, and when bands like this let everything loose, well, it's bound to work well.
Better than that, even. These boys have let fly with some serious angst, and it bounces off my walls well. Naw, the guys aren't breaking any new ground, but this is as fine an execution of this sound as I've heard in a while.
Breathtaking, really. End Transmission just doesn't let up. There's a big wad of power in these songs. Tap in and see where you end up when the disc finishes.
(as Endino's Earthworm)
Endino's Earthworm (advance cassette review)
reviewed in issue #11, 4/15/92
If Seattle-style grunginess is the monster musical force that it seems destined to become, then it needs a father figure. A godfather. And who better than Jack Endino, who seems to have produced at least one thing or another for every band in the area. And he hasn't let up, even with the royalties he must be scoring of of "Bleach".
This is basically another solo outing for the master of the knobs. And it wanders around just like that album did. Very guitar oriented, but then, should that surprise you? I think not.There is a little more motion in the songs, showing the new-found pop sensibility that is sweeping Seattle. You don't have to pound it into their heads any more, folks!
Jack Endino would have earned a spot int he Seattle Hall of Fame for his work in Skin Yard. And now that he and Shimmy-guru Kramer are THE hot producer properties around (rumors from Guns `N' Roses to U2 to Public Enemy), he has the power and prestige to pick and choose. And he chooses to spend more hours in the booth than I have spent in five years of college classes. Very cool. Listen. And enjoy.
Permanent Fatal Error
reviewed in issue #272, March 2006
As the guy who did as much as anyone to create the grunge sound, Jack Endino has a right to stick to his guns. And that's what he's done here, create something that sounds a lot like a more refined Skin Yard album. Me, I'm pretty happy with that. You can make the call for yourself.
reviewed in issue #259, November 2004
Good, old-fashioned Britpub punk from the heart of Texas. Ah, well. What matters is how the stuff sounds, not its point of origin.
Not that Austin is such a bad place. But sloppy, slap-happy stuff like this sounds like it belongs in some seedy London club. And yeah, it's good enough to make that comparison valid.
Like most Dirtnap bands, the Ends do not craft their songs. There's no pretense or subterfuge. What you hear is what you get, and what you get is a solid blast of loud, fast, messy music, delivered with panache.
Don't ask me to explain why this stuff is so fun. If you don't have a soft spot in your heart for raggedy riffage and half-hollered vocals, that's cool. I like to feed off the energy in stuff like this. And there's more than enough juice in the wire.
The Ice in Me
reviewed in issue #208, 11/20/00
At first, I thought Enemy Mine might just be another extreme hardcore band. Well, a pretty good one. But still, nothing unusual like I generally expect from Up. That thought passed when the second song started.
Enemy Mine is an hardcore band, and on the extreme side as well. It also borrows heavily from the emo and noise rock movements, sliding non-linear melodic ideas and other concepts into the powerful riffage. Not unlike Snapcase, one of the great modern hardcore bands.
These guys, however, really stray from the formula. There's nothing "regular" about these songs. Indeed, just anything can happen, though Enemy Mine does a great job of keeping the "groove" (I use that term extremely loosely here) in pocket.
Not quite so technical as Refused, but a comparison can be made there as well. Enemy Mine wields its big stick with awesome authority. Sometimes, absolute power simply produces great music.
reviewed in issue #35, 5/31/95
One of those discs that you wonder what the right speed is (at first). I eventually decided on 33 (hope that's right), and discovered the b-side ("Treasure Chest") has about the same structure as "Astronaut".
A weird melding of the pop psychedelia movement and grunge, I really don't get this. I wish I did, because there seems to be some message somewhere.
Maybe it's really supposed to be 45. That might explain a few things.
reviewed in issue #37, 7/31/93
Their seven-inch was the first C/Z release I ever did not like. And the first two tracks from that are on here, so I'll just skip them.
I was the first to rejoice in the apparent slowdown in the pop psychedelia revolution. No new Ride and My Bloody Valentine and Blur (pronounced bleah) for a year or so. Thank God.
This stuff is pretty slow, mostly quiet and kinda interesting. If I were drunk (as it is physically impossible for me to get stoned) and contemplating the universe, perhaps I might dig it more.
They dig out the grunge for a cover a Neil Young's "The Needle." And they even try to sing, something notably absent from the other three tracks.
Um, I still don't like 'em. Life goes on.
Bear Catching Fish
reviewed in issue #41, 10/15/93
Engine Kid walks the fine line between brilliant and pathetic. Any fool can pick out the right three chords and plow them to (fleeting) platinum fame. But it takes real inspiration to do something rather strange, and that's what we have here.
I don't know how to vote, except that with each succeeding release, I seem to be getting these guys a little better.
The obvious radio pick is the bizarre cover of (Rocky) "Mountain High", but again, it would take an innovative soul to delve even deeper. You should. There are a few treasures within.
reviewed in issue #62, 9/15/94
Perhaps the two most creative bands to emerge from the nasty world of grunge music, Iceburn and Engine Kid are so far removed from their sonic starting points that that particular reference may seem obscene.
Engine Kid does its usual take on the pianissimo to fortissimo in two beats school, pleasant and meandering one second, pulverizing the next. I keep hearing the band improve as the guys keep struggling to define their sound. These three songs are more than nice.
Iceburn has two (lengthy) takes on Stravinski's "Rites of Spring" (remember Fantasia?). Stunning would be an understatement, so I'll just say I was speechless. If you have yet to really experience Iceburn's musical genius, then get on now. The line will be out the door before you know it.
reviewed in issue #75, 4/30/95
Finally, Engine Kid writing real songs!
It had to happen someday. While many were enamored of the way Engine Kid could string along a single music idea in near-silence for a couple minutes before just ripping everything to shreds in a sonic fury, I longed for a little structure. Just a little.
The dynamic extremes have been toned down a bit (the absence of Albini probably helps there), and I can hear real evidence of song construction. Amazing.
I'm not sure if this is a step forward or back artistically, but I like Angel Wings a lot better than the tracks on the EP split with Iceburn (and I liked those pretty well). One step in from chaos for Engine Kid leaves the band still firmly in the sea of musical anarchy. But you can see the shore from here.
Three Fact Fader
reviewed in issue #313, December 2009
Four Brits mildly wigging out. Kinda like Radiohead meets Spiritualized, except much less pretentious. Indeed, the burbling feel to the songs is almost infectious.
So, y'know, these songs are almost poppy. They're not at all, of course. First, they rely on decidedly complicated song constructions. Second, there's just a bit too much going on past that. Nonetheless, there are some fine hooks in the fuzz.
There are a number of ways to use a prog influence. Engineers has decided to go with the technical brilliance and shy away from the overly-involved melodies. This simple complexity (or is it complex simplicity?) makes these songs oh-so-accessible.
Easy to love, really. These folks don't get particularly aggressive, but there's a lot going on behind the curtain. A few listens only make this one sound better.
Engines of Aggression
reviewed in issue #36, 6/30/93
I understand this is their demo. Not rerecorded or anything like that. Just slapped on CDs.
Sometimes that can be a good thing. If someone were to pick up the Boorays CD, for example, I can't think of a thing to change. But here, these folks are trying to do too many things in every song. The first one is alright, but all of the influences and noises seem to contribute to a general crowded effect.
These boys seem creative, and I hope they put a little more work into their next release. Maybe try to stick to just two or three things at a time.
Inhuman Nature (advance cassette)
reviewed in issue #60, 8/15/94
For starters, this isn't a demo. Improvement already. The potential shown earlier is somewhat realized. Nice heavy, funky industrial grooves.
(Record Label Records)
The third producer project in a row in this set of reviews. Guess what overloaded my mailbox this month? And yet, all three are quite different. Brian English is much more of a composer. He does some nice beat work or happily settle into a groove, but electronics are his domain.
Rather, he's out to create entire worlds and tell stories. And each of the 21 pieces here does that. Even the fragments have arcs. I can't tell you how impressive that is.
The sound is marginally on the sterile side. English isn't afraid to go organic, but he seems to prefer a bit of an icy edge. And that doesn't distract from the pleasure of the pieces. Just focuses the mind, you know.
Well done from conception to finish. English is in complete control, and he uses that to make his work utterly compelling. Fall in and let the music move your mind.
Bow to None
reviewed in issue #65, 10/31/94
Limey punk that reminds one of bands like Motorhead.
Personally, I wish I was listening to Motorhead. The music is poppy and accessible, but it's merely run-of-the-mill stuff. The lyrics are as just as uninteresting as snotty aging punks can create.
The production and playing are acceptable as far as punk goes, but there is no energy. Bow to None sounds like something they just wanked off.
Just because punk is the new big thing doesn't mean people are dumb enough to buy everything.
(Flat Five Press)
reviewed in issue #197, 3/27/00
Utilizing an insistent, slow burn bass line, English Earl (aka Earl Bland) and his band of merrymakers roll through a set of love songs (and other things). Reminds me a bit of the Bludgers, though without the awe-inspiring lyrics.
Even if English Earl is a bit more down-to-earth, that doesn't mean he's insipid. Hardly. These songs are earnest pieces of a heart, emotions laid out unprotected.
The sound is just a bit cluttered, with the instruments straying from their bounds a bit. Works very well with the sound, that sorta cool rock thing. Adds an extra dimension to the songs, fleshing them out a bit more. I like that.
An enjoyable disc. The band doesn't quite leap out from the everyday, but it sure does what it does in a more than solid fashion. And perhaps this stuff doesn't need additional style. Perhaps just a bit more soul.
Space Eternal Void
reviewed in #164, 8/3/98
ENIAC, of course, is one of the first computers. And Derek Taylor (along with Scott Stine and some other friends) has decided to take his multi-instrumental talents and attack the notion of Euro space rock.
Sort of a merging of the Hawkwind and Gamma Ray styles (and since we're not talking about light years of difference here...). Maybe it's just because I'm a sucker for this sound, but I think Taylor has finally wrapped his considerable talent around an idea which properly shows off his skills.
Certainly, Taylor keeps the tangents to a minimum, preferring to kick out long spacey jams and trading licks with Stine. Sure, the pyrotechnics are extreme, but both Stine and Taylor are capable of imbuing speed runs with soulful style. That they do so here is just another reason to dig this stuff.
Again, I'm pretty sure my personal prejudices are working in favor of this disc, but I'm knocked out. Some great work lies within this disc.
reviewed in issue #339, August 2012
I may be wrong about this, but I think Enola Fall is the first Tasmanian band I've ever reviewed. What's even more interesting is that this album didn't even make the cut back in June, and here it is with a full review. Why?
Sometimes stuff grows on me. And Enola Fall is not particularly assertive. Sure, the rhythms are deft and the guitar lines are bright and fluid, but these songs do not immediately jump out of the speakers.
It's the second and third and tenth listens that really help to bring out what's great about this album. Enola Fall is almost impeccably deliberate, and the album is constructed like each song, one piece fitting perfectly into another. Rock and roll generally doesn't hold together this tightly, and it takes a while to get used to the idea.
Nothing crazy. Nothing bombastic. But these boys are astonishingly ambitious and even more amazingly successful. This album is a clockwork, and it wears better every time it is rewound. I missed it the first time around, but luckily I didn't make that mistake again. A true wonder.
(Touch and Go)
reviewed in issue #230, June 2002
The second effort from John Schmersal's post-Brainiac band. And, yes, Schmersal's trademark bruising guitar is featured on many songs. But what may surprise those who didn't catch Enon's first album (or later Brainiac, for that matter) is how subtle that guitar can be at times.
The songs here range from rumbling bashers to near-electropop. The versatility of the band is impressive, though hardly surprising. Each song creates its own reality, its own version of Enon. Put them all together, and you might question how they fit at all.
But, really, there is a core sound here. It revolves around Toko Yasuda's (generally) fuzzy bass and the percussion (man or machine). These are pop songs, and while Enon does travel to the edges of the sound, it pushes the limits without tearing through them.
Which leaves this shimmering, throbbing album most accessible to even the casual consumer. Those who followed the arc of Brainiac wouldn't be surprised by the deft scene changing on this album. Top-notch technicians, Enon cruises the grooves masterfully. Intense fun for the discriminating popster.
reviewed in issue #132, 4/14/97
A collection of work, religious and folk (a nice catchall description) songs sung a cappella and with minimal accompaniment by 13 vocalists.
Strangely I was already familiar with the first track, "Odoia", which Billy Joel featured on his live album of a few years back (don't even ask why I remember this). The liners try to explain the purpose of the various songs, though it becomes quite clear as you listen more. The work songs are very rigid and structured (quite unlike an American equivalent, the spiritual), while the folk songs are much more free-flowing.
Using equivalencies like the spirituals, though, really negates the whole purpose of music like this, which is to provide a snapshot of Georgian culture so that we can understand this part of the world a little better.
Like its neighbors Armenia and Azerbaijan, Georgia is European, Asian and middle-eastern, and yet it is also none of the above. It has been influenced greatly by the Russians (neighbors to the north who are equally confused about their place in the world) and the Turks (neighbors to the southwest), but these songs easily predate the Soviet Union or modern Turkey.
As much a political and geographical statement as a cultural one, the Ensemble Georgika has put together a disc that should help people understand and appreciate a small corner of the world.
Voices from the Black Sea
reviewed in issue #154, 3/9/98
A companion to Ensemble Georgika, the women's side of Georgian (that would be the former Soviet republic thereof) music. The 39 songs are listed by category (cradle songs, work songs, dirges, dance songs, etc.) rather than strict order. The liners are rather explicit and descriptive. All very educational.
The musical traditions which have influenced Georgian music (particularly singing, as this is an almost exclusively a cappella album) are many and varied. Russians to the north, Turks to the southwest, Persians to the southeast. Georgia combined those and other cultures into a style which is melodic, but still severe by our standards.
While unusual to the Western ear, these songs possess a power and a beauty unique to their origins. The liners particularly help bring a bit more light to this pivotal, yet largely unknown, part of the world.
A complete package. Intriguing music and enough information to make sense of it all. Perfectly completing the mission of education through music.
reviewed in issue #42, 10/31/93
Leave it to the Swedes. I heard this was a little commercial, but I wasn't expecting a cleaner version of Kiss.
Not to slag, because I think this is pretty decent. It's not even close to death metal, but people move on. And I know now why this is distributed through Columbia. All those kids who worship Metallica and want something just a little heaver can dig this. It sure is accessible.
The underground's loss is MTV's gain.
reviewed in issue #47, 1/31/94
I knew this was going to be a hot album when a friend of mine whose tastes run more to James Brown and Marvin Gaye told me he thought the advance sounded great. I figured this was an extension of the death-lite found on Hollowman, and that was that.
Oops. While there are some commercial riffs flying around, and the production is immaculate, this is still a real-live death metal record. And a good one, to boot.
Once we've all given up our fantasies of a new grindcore paradise and accepted the current trends in death metal, then this record starts to sound even better. Yes, L.G. enunciates much of the time. The bpm drop under 200 most of the album.
BUT-a big but-this has been coming on for a couple of years. If everyone was so enamored of grindcore, more folks would have played the Anal Cunt record. And comparing the two is absurd. They aren't even in the same time zone.
Well, I haven't heard any bitching from you folks about this record, so I'll just assume part one of my soapbox was unnecessary. Jam this.
reviewed in issue #132, 4/14/97
Or, "Let's get all this crap out the vault". Now that Entombed has left Earache, it's time for that label to issue forth some odds and ends.
Not a greatest hits, but more collected bits and pieces from harder to find releases. A lot of covers, from "God of Thunder" to Roky Erickson's "Night of the Vampire", but the real good stuff here is contained in the originals.
The monster fan will have most of this stuff, But the average fan might be interested. Let me warn you: this stuff is amazingly uneven, great songs and terrible covers blenderized into this set. But even in the worst moments, Entombed manages to wring a little amusement value out of the proceedings.
I've seen lots of these sorts of packages, and they're released for one reason: cash value. I'm not calling buyers of such things suckers (I've bought plenty myself); just be forewarned.
DCLXVI--To Ride, Shoot Straight and Speak the Truth!
(Music for Nations)
reviewed in issue #147, 11/10/97
Continuing the commercialization of its classic sound, Entombed slashes out another load of hook-heavy metal riffage. A lot closer to Iron Maiden on steroids than death metal (though L.G. Petrov's vocals are still thick enough), this stuff has a nice Euro-metal feel with plenty of aggro for the kids.
It's cheesy, sure, and probably will scare off the mass market types (so as to piss off both sides of the pill), but what the hell. It sure is fun to take the ride.
The production is treble and bass heavy (with a big drop-off in the middle ranges), which leads to a very thick tinny sound. It works, oddly, mostly in that it most easily differentiates this from, say, early White Zombie (and yes, it wouldn't be hard to slide this album into that territory).
Goofy, sure, but still with a hell of a wallop. I have no idea who will buy this, but it's amusing enough for me. The future? I wouldn't bet on a long one.
reviewed in issue #280, November 2006
Guest shots on major label albums are often exercises in self-promotion. Guest shots on self-released efforts tend to say something or other about the artist in question. So, that said, Jarboe drops by on one track here.
Yes, indeed, we're talking about elaborate songs--almost art pop, really--and an affected singing style. Not the sort of thing that usually pricks up my ears. Except that Envie does this stuff so, so well.
That's my usual excuse in these circumstances, and I can't find any fault with it. These songs contain all sorts of dramatic flourishes and intense arrangements, but they also flit around simple cores. So, if you like, it's pretty easy to break these songs down to their (exceptional) bare bones.
One of those albums that surprised me. It's rare for an album to grow on me as fast as this one has, but then, that's why I'm talking about it here. Immensely enjoyable.
One Stands Alone
reviewed in issue #38, 8/31/93
I'm not sure what it is about the upper mideast, but folks up there haven't forgotten how great bands like Iron Maiden, Judas Priest and Helloween used to sound. Makes me glad to be heading that way. Those were the folks really getting on the Iced Earth bandwagon, and Environmental Hazzard is a great example of such a band.
I realize this stuff is sorta dated, but I love it. And they really mix things up to boot. I'll have to live with my early Queensryche and the like to relive the era gone by, but this is worthy successor to that great sound.
reviewed in issue #293, February 2008
Envy is yer typical Temporary Residence band, which is to say it's about as atypical as it comes. Lots of noise, walls of guitar and vocals that are more death metal than, well, sung. Check, check, check.
That would be my pleasure meter clicking. Envy does have a fine grasp of melody in its music, even if that melody sometimes disappears for moments on end. Gorgeous interludes are blasted to smithereens by fusillades of guitar, bass and drums. And, of course, the "singing."
I'm not making fun! I'm not! I like Envy's style. On the surface it can seem like a mess, but there's so much structure underneath that it is hard to appreciate in one or five sittings. I can't quite get my head around this one. Most often, that's a very good thing.
Off Kilter EP
reviewed in issue #189, 10/11/99
Sludgy groove rock, with an idiosyncratic bent that's hard to identify. It's just that when the band might be expected to zig, it wheags. Knowhutimean? Given two options, Epic Adventure picks the fifth.
And so what might have been a reasonably accessible sound is plunged into seeming chaos. The songs are uniformly disjointed and stumbling, though after a while they start to make a little sense. Obviously, this is what the guys were after.
Though the overall reasons for this approach are a bit more difficult to decipher. I do like the meandering approach to the songwriting, but honestly I'm not entirely sure why they're the way they are. Except, of course, that's how Epic Adventure wants them.
Interesting, without a doubt, but kinda frustrating, too. Hey, I'm more than willing to hang out and try and understand what's going on, but my patience can get exhausted. After these four songs, I'm not closer to understanding Epic Adventure than before I laid the disc in the player. Oh well. Some things must be left a mystery, I guess.
reviewed in issue #59, 7/31/94
They found a real punchy sound in the studio, but the music is still out at sea somewhere.
This is so bombastic with so little substance. I love the feel Scott Sargeant got in the booth, but the songs just don't grab me. Only that fat, thick, whomping sound.
It really is a shame to waste such talent twisting the knobs behind these songs. But it happens. I don't think I've even been quite so taken by a production job and yet disappointed by the music itself. Hunh.
reviewed in issue #229, May 2002
The new wave had to come out of punk music. The emphasis on musical simplicity (not to mention a reliance on three chords and a dream) was a reaction to seventies hard rock excess and disco, to be sure, but it sure helped that a few freaks with weird hair led the way.
The Epoxies bring those heady days of the early new wave back, but with an almost self-conscious punk sound and attitude. Yes, there are tinny synthesizers, but Roxy Epoxy (even the name screams punk) growls as much as sings. She holds the tunes with power.
And when it really matters, the Epoxies drive the songs faster and faster, eschewing melody for more basic instincts. Gloriously frantic and wonderfully pretty to boot.
Um, yeah, this is one of those ear candy moments for me. The Epoxies update the new wave with some real style, but I'm not worried about specifics. I just love the way this album sounds.
Two Sides of the Blues
reviewed in issue #82, 8/14/95
Not the ex-Buc, current Colt quarterback. Just so you know.
I hate it when labels do this to me, but this album is the perfect counterpoint to Little John Chrisley's album. When Chrisley's band faced an opportunity to play things safe and rip off a decades-old riff, the boys chose the path less traveled. Erickson, on the other hand, cranks up his guitar sound (as a guitarist/producer is wont to do) and simply starts churning out cliched lyrics and tired lick after tired lick.
If you think Gary Moore plays great blues, then this album is for you. But if you prefer your blues a little more steeped in feel and emotion, then turn somewhere other than Craig Erickson.
reviewed in issue #120, 10/7/96
Adding more than a little punch and boogie to his old sound, Craig Erickson has crafted a nifty modern blues album. Yeah, plenty of nods to ZZ Top (80s version), but that infusion of infectious funk sure does wonders.
The production gives Erickson's voice a throaty feel which is almost a dead ringer for Jeff Healy. The styles are similar, though Erickson prefers to wield his axe with a bit more flash.
The songs are obviously crafted, but interesting enough to keep the excitement going. Erickson hasn't completely escaped the formula, but this effort is far ahead of anything he's done in the past. Plenty of fun.
Sure did surprise me. Erickson has re-discovered that soulful blues 'n' boogie and added a few personal touches to complete the package. Alright, then.
Never Say Goodbye
reviewed in issue #174, 12/28/98
A couple of facts behind this disc. First, these are raw, ragged recordings, songs which have never been released before. Second, Erickson owns all the rights to these songs, so he¹ll finally get paid in full. And anyone familiar with his situation knows he needs all the help he can get.
For the most part, these songs were recorded between 1971 and 1974 (the final track is taken from a video tape shot in 1983). Sometimes at the state hospital, sometimes at home. Generally unfinished, though it can be hard to figure out exactly what a "finished" Erickson song might sound like.
Taut strings of pure emotion. One of the reasons Erickson has been hospitalized so often is that he can't manage his feelings and actions very well (this is not a psychiatric diagnosis or anything). The recordings may be bad (or dreadful, even), but the songs are amazing. Erickson lays his soul bare, as always. And these "new" songs are just as compelling as those in the recognized Roky canon.
This sort of "emptying the vaults" is awfully trendy these days. The thing is, the more ragged the recording, the greater the sense I get that I am closer to Erickson's core being. A scary place, but also a place of awe and beauty. Revelatory and astonishing.
reviewed in issue #214, 4/2/01
Rock and roll with some Latin flavor. The verses are generally sung in English, but most of the choruses (and titles) are in Spanish. There is a bit of a Santana feel (more on the pop than the trip side), but the guys manage to craft their own feel, particularly when they venture out more heavily into vaquero territory (my own word for west Texas rockabilly, a la Buddy Holly or Charlie Sexton)
There's commercial potential here. Ernesto takes the edge off ragged rock and smooths the corners of the Latin beats. Even so, the stuff has a fresh sound and doesn't feel derivative or dumbed down.
Well-designed and performed well, to boot. Personally, I like the rougher-edged tunes better, but the poppier stuff has greater mainstream potential. Figuring out how to play things is always the toughest call.
What's Up Bro? split EP with Gameface
reviewed in issue #197, 3/27/00
A very appropriate pairing. Both bands are on the melodic side of emo (or what used to be known as the raucous side of power pop). Both bands can find a tasty hook and make it stick. And each takes three shots at that ideal here.
Boy, and do they. Gameface leads off, and its relatively understated style sets up the disc well. The songs are thoughtful and tuneful, in that nicely raggedy sorta way. Cool stuff.
Then Errortype:11 takes over, shifting the music into overdrive. It's the same, really, just more. More speed, more distortion, more oomph! All in the best ways, of course.
Six really great songs. These bands have never been in better form, and that says something right there. Most worthy of mass perusal.
reviewed in issue #264, May 2005
More of that searching, yearning, high lonesome stuff that has found a new home in Montreal. By and large the work of Beckie Foon and Bruce Cawdron (with a few friends chipping in now and again), Esmerine builds its songs around cello and unconventional percussion.
Okay, so maybe the percussion used isn't so odd, but the way it is played creates some really cool tones. When those are combined with the cello, the effect is damned spooky.
A lot like Dirty Three--if you replaced the fiddle with cello and dropped the guitar. The sense of rolling motion is quite similar, as is the pervasive mood of slight unease. The sound on this album is quite stark. My ears tell me that this was recorded live in a miked room. I think the cellos may have been miked separately, but they mix in so well that I'm not entirely sure of that.
One of those wordless albums that speaks most eloquently. Aurora is a haunting work, one that challenges and ultimately rewards those who complete the journey. Life is beautiful, but it's not without pitfalls. Esmerine knows all about that.
Tiny Lights EP
reviewed in issue #171, 11/9/98
My discer didn't like this disc. The puppy kept skipping all over the place, no matter what I did. Not enough to call it a defect, but just enough to piss me off. The thing of it is, the music kept me listening, even when my machine failed me.
Nicely fuzzy pop, vocals of extreme falsetto and lots of little bells and whistles. I dug through the press, and it seems the band might be British. Though the contact info lists an Oklahoma address. I don't know why any Brits might live in such a dreadful place.
Okay, that personal prejudice aside, I'll get back to how damned much I liked this shit. Five cool songs, all reasonably similar and all reasonably amazing. It's bands like this that give pop a good name.
If eclectic pop stylings appeal to you, then search this thing out. I will attest to the greatness within. Hold me to it. This stuff is wonderful.
Weightless Dreams of the Last Astronaut EP
reviewed in issue #192, 12/6/99
This is actually a 1996 EP, which predates the one I reviewed last year. And, contrary to whatever silliness I wrote in that review, these guys aren't British. They do live in Norman, Okla., and their sound resembles that of one of the few famous bands from that area, the Flaming Lips.
Throbbing, incandescent pop. Chunks of glory left all over the place, with plenty left to spare. The songs simply burst out of the speakers, wailing with desire. There's just no way I can resist stuff like this.
Mainstream it's not. But the ESP Allstars do know how to condense a few tunes into a single thick cord of distortion. Fiberoptic? I dunno. In any case the ESP Allstars are well worth searching out.
TV, Church & Bars
reviewed in issue #30, 3/15/93
I was trying to get a handle on what these folks were trying to do, and after the first four songs I gave up. Not that there's a problem here. I dug all four tunes (and the rest, to be fair). But I warn you: this is truly strange.
Strange means fucking incredible, by the way. Sure, understated pop might begin to describe the sounds that reached my ears, but then you think it's this collection of nice, sweet tunes, and there ain't none of that going on here.
Like I said, this is strange, and I can't think of anything better to say about it. I can say I have never heard anything like Ether, and that makes me smile.
You'll just have to hear it to believe it. It's darn near amazing.
Music for Air Raids
reviewed in issue #202, 7/17/00
The song titles are geographic points as designated by latitude and longitude. The music, well, it's some of that really tasty orchestrated noise.
Music that is incredibly easy to get lost in, if you let yourself go. Lotsa loops, lotsa variations on a theme, all played out in longform. Ether is creating sonic descriptions of the points in the song titles.
And so each song, while consisting of similar elements (distorted and clean guitar, drums, bass, manipulated noise of all sorts), has a completely different character. It's still pretty easy to hear an Ether ethos, but the range is quite breathtaking.
Not quite around the world, I suppose, but close enough. These pieces simply latch on to the subconscious and don't let go. Get lost. And then you'll get found.
reviewed in issue #110, 5/27/96
Ether Bunny is Daniel Vahnke, best knows as the guy behind the samples and drum programming for Vampire Rodents. This project has that feel (which, of course, I dig immensely), though Vahnke is mostly sampling old jazz records (not to mention plenty of the Carl Stalling Project cartoon tunes) here. Hoo boy.
I have no idea what the legality of all this is (though I'm sure someone checked it out), and I won't comment on that any further. The trick is the music. And what was lost is now found in a wonderful way.
Just as jazz folks were split over the whole US3 thing, the same people would divide on how to interpret Ether Bunny. The stodgy would call it theft and unworthy, while the innovators would recognize the artful way Vahnke splices solos and even full compositions into the same song, creating whole new improvisations. And a sound that just won't let up.
I'm not sure how I can take this off the discer. Each tune rolls out, demanding to be heard again and again. As he does with Vampire Rodents, Vahnke has created an amazing sonic world in which to play. Perhaps the beats are a bit derivative and two dimensional (I wouldn't say so, but I know folks who do). The astonishing, seamless editing work has paid off here handsomely. This is one of those "Do Not Pass Go" albums. Ignore at the peril of your eternal soul.
Andre Ethier with Christopher Sandes featuring Pickles and Price
reviewed in issue #252, April 2004
Now, it's possible that the entire name of the act is the same as the title. Hard to say with any certainty. It does seem likely that Pickles and Price is one person, but then again, maybe not. Like I said, it's hard to say.
What is obvious is how fine this music is. Ethier wrote all the songs here (Sandes assisted on one), and the style is gold rush music hall. Seriously. Sandes plays this twinkly piano, and Ethier just belts out these great songs, occasionally breaking them down with a ukelele solo. I suppose there are folks that would call this "Americana," but as these guys are Canadian, I'm not sure exactly how appropriate that appellation would be.
Whatever. This is the sort of music that must be played with utter conviction or it will sound contrived. Ethier and company must be channeling some mighty old souls, because it sounds to be like they've been possessed by this music.
Just a stunning work. I could throw another dozen superlatives on the fire, but there's no need. One listen to this album should be enough to sell anyone on these boys.
Sun Is Sunk EP
reviewed in issue #335, March 2012
Nothing complicated. Nothing subtle. Nothing intricate. Just delicate pop songs played and sung with punchy grace.
Not much of a progression from Broken Bow, but then, why should there be any? That album was chock full of blissful wallflower pop, and so is this EP.
The usual, which is pretty damned awesome. Few bands have the confidence to restrain themselves the way Eux Autres does, and even fewer have the songwriting chops to make it work. And believe me, this works.
reviewed in issue #104, 3/25/96
Merging some classic jazz styles with current hip-hop beats and attitude, a healthy dose of funk and 60s pop, Bill Evans (and songwriting cohort Jim Beard) try and pull off the trick that worked for Us3 and, to a lesser extent, MC 900 Ft Jesus (particularly on Welcome to My dream), who appears here as a guest.
Plenty of guests, though the vocals sometimes move this sound a bit too close to the "happy jazz" feel I hate. But generally Evans keeps things on the better side of taste, and the album simply rolls along.
Evan's playing is good enough, not terribly impassioned or of the genius quality, but he has put together a very enjoyable album. Candy corn, perhaps, but perfect for just about any party. Light enough to keep the mood good, and interesting enough so as not to insult anyone's intelligence. Works for me.
Starfish & the Moon
reviewed in issue #148, 11/24/97
Fusion, but not in the rock sense. Pop jazz, but not exactly in the Kenny G sense. Bill Evans doesn't push his playing or his music too hard, but he does manage to come up with songs with just enough inventiveness.
In particular, Evans relies on a variety of ideas from the rhythm section (whatever that might be), floating his saxophones (soprano, mostly) on top. It does bug me that this stuff sounds so... nice, I guess, but at least it's not cloying.
And finding a quality mellow sound is a pretty decent achievement. A lot of that comes from the instrumentation (lots of acoustic guitar, for example), but some of the credit certainly falls on Evans' shoulders.
On the better side of middle-of-the-road. Evans isn't out there taking huge chances, but he does what he does pretty damned well.
Live at the Desert Inn
reviewed in issue #181, 5/3/99
Evans' shtick is doing Frank Sinatra. Even if Sinatra never actually recorded the songs Evans sings, he does a nice job of replicating Frank's style and phrasing. If that's your thing.
Here's the deal: Even if you're doing Sinatra, you're still a cover act. You're imitating the performance of another. And while that's sincerest form of flattery (not to mention a good way to make a buck), I'm still not that interested.
But putting those biases aside, I will note that Evans sounds about as much like Sinatra as Harry Connick Jr. did on his first couple albums, except that Evans is a much better singer (I know, not high praise, but still). The songs are very much arranged in the style of Nelson Riddle, who arranged most of Sinatra's best-known stuff from the fifties and early sixties. The band sounds good, if not particularly inspired.
For what this is, it's a good package. I'd rather hear the original, though if I was in Vegas and really wanted a dose of Sinatra (two unlikely premises, but still), I might stop by Evans' show. But that's about it. Cover acts still don't get me hard.
Eva & the Heartmaker
Let's Keep this Up Forever
reviewed in issue #311, October 2009
There's something about Scandinavia. The new Annie album is finally coming out, and then there's this disc from the Norwegian duo of Eva Weel Skram and Thomas Stenersen. Simple, basic, guitar-driven pop music that knows how to set a hook.
Reminds me a lot of the first Apollo Smile album, where her voice played off licks laid down by Johnny "Guitar" Watson. Eva has a strong, if generic, voice that has more than a little Debbie Harry to it. That's okay, if only because the music does its job as well.
Strong and playful, the songs bound around with an infectious energy. There's nothing particularly original about the sound, but Eva & the Heartmaker sell it well. The key is the songs, and they're better than alright.
If you're in need of a little offbeat pop break, listen up. This disc may not last forever, but it ought to do for right now.
United Empire Loyalists
reviewed in issue #124, 12/2/96
As gimmicks go, this album is about as impressive as any I've seen. The packaging contains: one vinyl LP, one CD (the CD has two extra tracks, and is sequenced somewhat differently), a couple band postcards and a weird business card/band photo. Plus, the sleeve folds out into a two foot by two foot double-sided poster. On the front is a color band picture, and the back is a compendium of some of the wackier liner notes and observations that I've read.
Okay, man, but what about the music?
Fair enough. The Evaporators play a brand of silly pop, but since they're from Vancouver, their bass has to be way over-modulated and fuzzy for anyone's comfort. The vocals are often incomprehensible, and I get the feeling I'm not missing much. The music wanders a bit, but generally fits into simple alternative pop stuff, with enough punk overtones to keep things moving at a smart clip.
I keep getting the idea that there's a big joke here, and I just haven't gotten it. The music is fine, but not terribly interesting, and as I noted, I couldn't find much of interest in the lyrics, even in the provocatively-titled "Dan Quayle vs. Nardwuar", which isn't much more than a typical Quayle malaprop with a few special effects.
I'm just not needing a laugh that badly, I guess.
I Gotta Rash! split LP with Thee Goblins
reviewed in issue #163, 7/20/98
The Evaporators are great at packaging and injecting some hilarious stuff into the liners and such. And yet, so utterly incompetent when it comes to translating that sense of humor into funny music. More of the same: Throwaway pop punk music with lyrics that don't quite make to puerile.
It's so weird, because the rest of the package is rather witty and appealing. The musical part (which might be important to consider) is just awful. I know, I know, it doesn't make sense, but there it is.
Thee Goblins, or as they are known on four of these tracks, Thee Skablins are two guys who play organ and drums. Minimalist pseudo punk ramblings, as often as not without vocals. Thee Skablins add a guitar, a bass and a trombone, but oddly, the music stays about the same, the odd skankin' section not withstanding.
If I drank an awful lot, then maybe I would get a bit more into this. What it sounds like is some people who have been drinking too much and got it in their hands that they should be a band. That is a pretty funny concept, to be sure. The end result, of course, is bound to be dreadful. As it is here.
As with the other Evaporators long-player, there is a companion CD enclosed along with the vinyl. No extra charge. I don't know if this is another (funny) joke or a stab for the rejuvenation of the vinyl record. Anyway, it's there.
Honk the Horn 7"
reviewed in issue #219, 7/16/01
After a lengthy convalescence, Nardwuar and friends have returned with some seriously annoying music.
Now, I know there are some folks who find this manic, derivative music (supplemented by energetically whiny vocals) a real blast of fresh air. Yes, the lyrics are kinda funny. Sometimes. I'll give 'em that. But still.
I know this stuff is supposed to be a joke. I mostly get it. I have a feeling, though, that I'm just not cool enough to get all of it. The funny thing is (I guess I intended that pun), the liners are clever and amusing. The Evaporators, on the other hand, are nowhere near subtle enough to call their music clever.
reviewed in issue #251, March 2004
Most folks either love or hate Nard Wuar and his band of nerdy pranksters. I used to find him tedious, but I've come around (sorta) to his brand of geek rock. The expansive collection finds the boys at the height of their powers--whatever they may be
Gassy Jack and Other Tales
reviewed in issue #291, December 2007
I can't stand Nardwuar's speaking voice (his singing is whiny, but not dreadful), and I think he tries a little too hard to be funny. But his feel for a variety of punk styles is impeccable, and when he's not trying too hard he can write songs with a fine wry touch. This strikes me as a somewhat more "mature" Evaporators album, but that is a relative statement. Fans should not be disappointed.
(Pinch Hit Records)
reviewed in issue #154, 3/9/98
Another one of those bands that likes to graft a variety of sounds over its base sound. A good thing here, as Evenrude is, at heart, a funk-grunge band. Out of the same vein as, say, Sublime, but with better musicianship.
The songwriting itself isn't great (often enough, the lyrics are kinda forced into inconvenient rhythmic situations), though these guys do know how to properly sell an anthem (very important in this sorta music). Best of all, the songs bound about, with each differing significantly from the one that precedes it.
Great? Naw. But pretty amusing. Evenrude doesn't take itself too seriously, and so the music flows in an easy-going manner. A nice little hang out album.
And there's nothing wrong with that, is there?
reviewed in issue #188, 9/20/99
Punchy pop, with plenty of rock undercurrents. The hooks are crunchy, and Even*rude presents them with flair. The funk has been toned down in favor of a more straight-ahead approach, but the results are similar. A nice hang-out album.
With loads of humor, witty and crude. After all, why not a song called "Tourettes?" Well, I can think of a few reasons, but this one's pretty amusing, nonetheless.
Five songs, each with a somewhat different take on the band's sound. I'm still not entirely in love with what these guys do, but they make me smile. Hard to dislike a disc like that. It really is.
reviewed in issue #302, November 2008
Kinda like Royal Trux playing early-70s Rolling Stones (or even early Springsteen), Everything, Now! blasts out rambling, rollicking rock and roll. There's just enough mannered craft to provide a bit of a wink toward the listener, but that's simply part of the fun.
What I like is the use of horns and piano and other unabashed old-school sounds. These songs are rendered impeccably modern (and possibly even cynical) by plenty of silliness on the edges--off-key shouting, sing-song choruses, etc. But again, that's the Royal Trux side of the equation.
What seems apparent is the respect these folks have for the basics of rock and roll. A good beat, slinky lead guitar and chunky work from the rhythm section. All the extra stuff gets a little goofy at times, but it doesn't detract from the whole.
Rather, it lends a bit of a party atmosphere to the disc. Sometimes I think these folks are trying a bit too hard, but on the whole they hit these songs right on the head.
reviewed in issue #213, 3/12/01
Not many bands are driven by bass lines. Not bouncy, groovy licks but throbbing, insistently pounding sounds. Evil Beaver reminds me a bit of early Jane's Addiction, though the singer is a woman (rather than a guy who sounds like a woman). Also, the sound is a bit more simplistic, though the trend toward maelstromic excess is much the same.
Evil Beaver sticks to convention a bit much, and that keeps its songs from always hitting the highs and lows perfectly. Even so, these songs have a surfeit of adrenaline. No shortages in that department, to be sure.
One of the areas that might be improved is in the production sound. Evil Beaver needs to make the mix sharper, allowing the players a little more room to operate. There's a bit of a muddle, and it doesn't help the songs.
Still, there's a whole lot here to like. The songs take no prisoners, and the band rips through them with abandon. I do wish the writing would take a few more chances (some surprises are always nice), and the sound here could be much better, but in all I'm still quite impressed.
reviewed in issue #31, 3/31/93
One of the few industrial bands (using real instruments, not a lot of machines) who still manage to sound truly evil.
A few years ago, this might have passed for thrash, except that it hangs together well and the band members can play. Nowadays we have a term for it, and we have to live with it.
Asides aside, I am once again unable to write a brilliant review for an album that I really like. I think it's the tax season or something. You realize this little endeavor (A&A) means my preparation time goes from ten minutes to a couple of hours?
Back to the music. This stuff stomps my butt from here to Timbuktu. Another damn cliche. Okay, let's just say I wrote a great review of a great album, and leave it at that.
Pitchforks and Perverts
reviewed in issue #53, 4/30/94
You gotta love any band with two drummers and a drum machine. An emphasis on percussion, perhaps?
Not overly, anyway. Most of the time the songs grind away with a driving rhythm that is just plain infectious.
Much more technologically advanced than their last album, on this disc the Evil Mothers also have figured out how to find a groove and exploit it (an unusual talent in the industrial arena).
Much like the seeming paradox of the rap band (only Stetsasonic and maybe Schoolly D's backup come to mind there), Evil Mothers prove that there is such a thing as a real industrial band. Guys who can get together, jam, and still output the industrial goods.
Absolutely, positively amazing. I simply cannot say enough.
(Touch and Go)
reviewed in issue #169, 10/12/98
A long-standing Dutch punk band which stopped by in Chicago earlier this year to record an album with Steve Albini. This album. Right here.
Sorta sonic chaos artists, with a steady beat (from the drums, the bass and the vocals, the last of which are spit out in a strangely coherent rapidfire attack). The Ex sits in very well with such T&G stalwarts as June of 44, Don Caballero. That sort of thing. Smoothly clunky, y'know?
Oh, and always in glorious motion. Utterly addictive. My mind worms its way into the songs and doesn't come out, even when I ply it with beer. Entrancing doesn't even begin to explain the wonders of the songs.
The band has been around since 1979, and perhaps all that time together has led to some sort of collective mind meld. I couldn't begin to imagine how such unusual sounds would work together so well. Not to worry. I'll simply accept a great album and be done with it.
In the Fishtank 5
(Konkurrent-Touch and Go)
reviewed in issue #181, 5/3/99
In the Fishtank is a series from the Dutch Konkurrent label. The idea is to give two bands two days to sit in a studio and see what they can work out. The label asks for about 20 minutes or so of completed music and then releases these improvisations to the world.
This is the first of the series to get released over here. And it sounds about like you'd expect: Highly technical, incredibly involved musical meanderings, with an amazing range of sonic fury displayed. Each side of these two highly creative bands is shown at one time or another, often in stark juxtaposition to what the other set of musicians might normally do at the time.
But, come on. Anyone who knows these two bands knows to expect the unexpected. It's not like these folks are used to holding ideas back or conforming to any sorts of musical norms. Their albums already sound like refined improvisations. Which is a pretty good thing.
As is this set. While I could have guessed the result, I had high expectations. This fulfills them. In every way. Really, really cool, in other words.
(Touch and Go)
reviewed in issue #214, 4/2/01
The Ex not only deconstructs music; it also takes apart ideas. In case you weren't aware of a connection, the source materials for some songs are listed with the lyrics. Would that be ootnotes or just pretentious statements?
I'll be straight: They're both. The Ex doesn't even consider appealing to the unwashed, uneducated mainstream. This is music and thought for people who appreciate new ideas. Not so much daring as simply arrogant, the songs churn ahead on strange axes and convoluted philosophies.
In other words, you gotta think about this one. The music does have a certain rhythm to it, but not in the regular sense. It's just that if you listen long enough, the circulation of the beats begins to make sense. As for the lyrics, well, they're not so much high-brow as they are, um, poetic. The Ex expresses itself in fascinating ways.
You might think I'm coming down hard on this album. I am. I really enjoyed it. Mental workouts are always a kick, especially when the toil is both musical and textual. After more than 20 years, no band sounds remotely like the Ex. Most likely, few would want to do so. Nonetheless, this is most compelling fare.
with Sonic Youth and I.C.P.
In the Fishtank EP
(Konkurrent-Touch and Go)
reviewed in issue #234, October 2002
Sonic Youth you know (I'm assuming). I.C.P. is a Dutch jazz outfit (not Kenny G kinda stuff, but the real thing) and the Ex is a legendary Dutch experimental hardcore band. Bits and pieces of these bands sat in for a day and created eight pieces, each named with only a Roman numeral.
Improvised (as are all Fishtank recordings), but still sounding surprisingly rehearsed, these pieces fall decidedly into the jazz camp. And more a traditional structured improvisation sound than straight free jazz. There are plenty of utterly whacked out moments, of course, but each piece has a center, something that no tangent is able to quite shake.
That, of course, is one criteria in judging music like this. To my ear, these collaborations are stellar adventures in the possibility of sound. Plenty of forays into the interstellar void, but always with a map of the road home. Exciting, as is nearly every Fishtank experience.
(Dying Van Gogh)
reviewed in issue #308, June 2009
Power pop ought to be loud, crunchy and impossibly catchy. Ex Norwegian is loud, generally crunchy and catchier than it seems on first listen. These songs take a moment to work into the brain. I guess that sets the hook even faster.
In many ways, this reminds me a lot of the Meadows, a band that's more on the rootsy AOR side of things. Both bands have a laid back feel that seems counterintuitive. And both bands are impossible to put away. The music is far too insistent to sit on the shelf.
There's nothing particularly distinctive about the sound. That's part of the deception, I guess, as it might make some folks dismiss the band. But just as you might be ready to ask, "What's so special about this?," your brain won't allow you to switch out the disc. Turns out there's lots of special going on.
I dunno. Sometimes the good stuff has a mundane window dressing. Ex Norwegian makes some fine music. And that's the bottom line for me.
(Dying Van Gogh)
reviewed in issue #342, November 2012
As in music made in one's house, of course. These proggy pop-rock songs have a lovely 80s-meets-70s feel, all tied up with a goofy sneer. The enjoyability factor is high.
Big When Far, Small When Close
reviewed in issue #200, 6/5/00
Three Japanese women. Don't think Shonen Knife. You'd be so far off the horizon would be beyond sight.
No, this isn't simple three-chord pop. Instead, it's inventive three-vocal harmony work. Sounds a lot like what Frank Zappa might do with Rogers and Hammerstein. If he spoke Japanese (about half of the songs are in English) and decided to leave the instrumentation to a minimum.
Strange, but in a serendipitous fashion. While unusual, Ex-Girl isn't at all off-putting. After a couple songs, the twists and turns begin to make more sense, and the overall vision of the pieces starts to become clear.
Extraordinarily beautiful, really. Ex-Girl sounds like nothing else I've ever heard. The three voices do things I didn't think were really possible. A true joyride.
Back to the Mono Kero!
reviewed in issue #219, 7/16/01
The same unique and annoying/hypnotic vocal stylings. A lot more creativity on the musical end. Ex-Girl charms, just like before.
Whether spinning vaguely prog thoughts or offbeat throbbing pop balloons (including an utterly charming cover of "Pop Muzik," as hard as that might seem to believe), Ex-Girl simply refuses to stick to any rational sense of normal. It's all over the top, so much so that the entire confection comes together like some kind of pulled taffy. A lot of work and effort to produce something so effervescent and ethereal.
Indeed, I'm thinking some of Ipecac honcho Mike Patton's thoughts might have passed over the Pacific to this Japanese trio. The sonic clashes perpetrated by these women create their own harmonics. Not unlike a certain band I know...
I've got a feeling that folks decide to love or hate Ex-Girl within about five seconds of hearing the music. Either an immediate affinity is created with the loopy dissonance or an outright disgust well up involuntarily. Me, I'm entranced. I could listen to this forever and still find something new to appreciate.
Pill Popper (advance cassette)
reviewed in issue #46, 1/15/94
Sorta cheesy, over-produced hard pop punk. First this ep, then a full-length in March. Or something like that.
(My Pal God)
reviewed in issue #231, July 2002
Those familiar with these two bands will know that an EP featuring these folks won't last long. Like, say, long enough to fill one side of a seven-inch piece of vinyl.
Think U.S. Maple with a serious case of dysentery. Or any noise pop band on crank. Doesn't matter what you think, there's still no way you're going to be prepared for these short, violent assaults on sobriety.
What trips me out is how these two bands can play so loud and so fast and so well. Especially when, at first listen, this stuff sounds like guitar salad. Just part of the charm. Hoo boy, this stuff smokes.
reviewed in issue #241, May 2003
Perhaps you are aware of the whole "no-wave" movement. Perhaps not. The idea generally seemed to be to make music that the members of the Jesus Lizard would find to be unlistenable.
That's a joke. Mostly. In any case, I love the stuff. Loud, noisy, mostly incoherent--but there's almost always a keen sense of rhythm in the stuff. Even if the beat is kept by, say highly-distorted guitars or spoons or sampled gunshots or whatever. Ex-Models actually employ a drummer and use him every once in a while. The main rhythmic elements are in the guitars, though, and they kick ass.
Brevity is a virtue. This album squeezes 15 songs in the space of 20 minutes. The lyrics aren't inane, but I'd say the vocals are generally used more for their musical (as it were) elements than any real expression of ideas. Again, this is most palatable to me. The screechy, throbbing sound is strangely danceable and a joy to my ears.
I know, most folks would find that last sentence almost unbelievable. But if your tastes run to the lunatic fringe of the music world (and you like to shave the fur off your eardrums with high doses of distortion and high-treble squalls of feedback), then Ex-Models are about as good as it gets. My heart brims with joy.
reviewed in issue #39, 9/15/93
Rather technical sorta-doomy stuff, like a mix of latter-day Voivod and, well, Metallica, really. And while I thought I detected some doom, I must have been mistaken.
They need to work on their own sound. More time to jam, more time to work out. While nothing spectacular yet, these guys can play. As soon as they find their collective muse, something could really happen.
reviewed in issue #7, 2/14/92
When the first Exhorder album came out, the press said they were different from all the other death metal bands. I couldn't hear it. Now comes a note saying "by the way, this isn't a death metal album." They're right this time. One of my reporters called it Slayer-like, and I think that's pretty fair.
One of the band members is wearing what appears to be a Melvins shirt, and that influence is here as well. The music slows almost to a crawl at times. For the most part, this is just thrashy stuff, and, once again, nothing to write home about. It's enjoyable, and I have no problems listening to it, but it is just still rather generic, with the exception of the funk Franky Sparcello keeps wanting to put in his bass.
Sometimes it works, sometimes it is just sort of a wanking noise underneath everything else. You know, it's always a bad omen when the strongest track on an album is a cover. I'm still waiting for the goods.
There I Was
Hear, I Am
reviewed in issue #205, 9/18/00
Obsessively produced (mostly) acoustic space musings. David Stoller is Exist, and he played all of the instruments and co-produced this album as well. He gives a thank you to the Flaming Lips, and it's easy to hear why. This is personal, edgy pop music with a heart bigger than the sun.
And it's so obviously the work of one person. The songs bound or lurch or bloom with such assuredness and delicacy, the sort of confidence and attention to detail that can only be accomplished by one or at most two people.
Stoller does use a vibrantly distorted electric guitar to great effect (the squalls often come down like rain), and he seems to have a natural feel for what instruments will work with each song. Sometimes acoustic guitar, sometimes piano, but always the right choice.
One advantage of working within a group is the ability to get a wider sense of the quality of work. But when your mind works this well, there's no need to call in more folks, people who just might want to dumb down the material. Exist works quite well as a solo project. This disc just sparkles.
Don't Spare the Green Love
reviewed in issue #44, 11/15/93
While almost entirely previously released material, this disc brings together the output of a unique band.
Exit 13 have fuzzy guitars, meander through the grind and death metal with flair, and manipulate the vocals in impressive ways. The wacked out guitar sound is great, and you just have no idea where the next riff will lead.
Folks have mentioned these guys from time to time. It's great to finally hear their stuff, and so much, too!
reviewed in issue #65, 10/31/94
Environmentally-correct grindcore? Yeah. But there is a huge amount of experimentation going on as well.
Not just in riff or tempo theory, either. Exit 13 will throw a little funk your way, some wild distortion effects, weird electronic modulation and more.
In other words, an album purists would absolutely hate. Hallelujah!
Nothing could be as scatterbrained as this album, but Exit 13 manages to keep the wildly divergent pieces in the same pie. Sorta like mincemeat. Looks awful going in, but the taste is excellent.
Sure, this music has been known to cause rabbits to eat their own tails (Is animal testing of music against the these boys' philosophy?). But humans are like goats: we eat anything. And sometimes it's even good for us. Like Exit 13.
...Just a Few More Hits EP
reviewed in issue #89, 10/9/95
Oh, that stoner grind!
The sound on this EP reverts back to older Exit 13 sound, a level below the awesome previous full-length. But the humor is just as crude and silly as before, and the guys throw in a DK cover and twenty-one minutes of madness called "Snakes and Alligators".
Can this be taken seriously? Well, kinda. The boys are certainly going for unusual sounds in a genre that generally doesn't tolerate such things. The fun factor stays high (as does the band, obviously), and so I must approve.
reviewed in issue #119, 9/23/96
One of the better noise/grindcore acts around finds some help from a couple Brutal Truth guys and Bliss Blood of Pain Teens. Doing blues, jazz and swing tunes from the depression era, re-written with stoner-core lyrics.
Thus you get songs like "Stoney Monday", "Hempcake" and my favorite, "Sweet Marijuana Brown". Yes, this is a big fat... joke, but highly amusing none the less. Bliss is in fine form. Indeed, her vocals are the main reason this works. Bill, Steve and the other musicians crank out barely passable musical tracks, but Bliss' silky wail is a real treat.
A guilty, fun pleasure. Exit 13 has had a track record of creating highly innovative and amusing albums, and while this isn't terribly original, it sure makes me smile. Get in the mood, light one up, and crank up the stereo.
Hell, I'm sure the folks wouldn't mind if you indulged and did two.
reviewed in issue #37, 7/31/93
Riff-heavy metal with pretty cool vocals, switching from gruff to melodic as the mood dictates. A lot of you have asked where all the thrash went. While this isn't real thrash, at times it gets there. A lot of it does have that Armored Saint/Non-Fiction groove, and I really like that.
The production is great. Not laboratory clean, but good enough to sound great.
For a first effort, this is pretty impressive.
Into the Ether
reviewed in issue #223, 10/15/01
Two guys (Arthur Schupbach and Ed Stankewick) who like to make pop music. They're not particular as to style (sixties garage, nineties minimalism, whatever), but they do like the notion of a ragged but true hook.
And so, as the songs crash or plink or chime, there's always something worth humming. That's the notion that holds this album together. And how a little tiny drum machine-driven piece can still sound something like a bounding alt. country tune.
Simply produced, but the sound swells when necessary. Exploding Head knew what it wanted when it went into the studio, and obviously the boys have the skills needed to complete that vision.
While hardly pretentious, this album still manages to project a kind of stark majesty. Into the Ether is a finely-crafted gem.
Live in Japan
reviewed in issue #71, 2/28/95
Soundboard-quality live recording of one of the more influential hardcore bands (hell, they've been recording since 1981).
Most of their best songs are here, but the sound quality is for shit. Wattie's vocals are quite distinct, and he's in good form, but the rest of the band is so low in the mix the music comes off as a low rumble.
As this is part of a series (along with the Chaos U.K. disc also reviewed in this issue) of live recordings of bands in Japan, I'd have to say this is just a blatant attempt to cash in on a craze. After all, these tapes have been around since 1991. And they didn't need to come out now.
Steal This EP
reviewed in issue #206, 10/9/00
A less than original title for the disc, and somewhat less than original hardcore inside. These boys usually record for Jade Tree, but are doing a one-off for Revelation.
Doesn't do it for me. There's plenty of energy, and some nice ragged harmonies behind the wall of distortion. But damn, guys, the high midtempo anthem has only been done about a million times. And you put five more on this disc. They're fine and all. They get the blood going. But they don't do much more.
Even the Ramones-y "E.X.P.L.O.S.I.O.N." doesn't raise the excitement level. Hey, it's loud, and there are a few hooks. Like loads of other bands. I just don't hear anything unique here. Adrenaline is fine, but I still like to switch veins now and again.
Flash Flash Flash
reviewed in issue #214, 4/2/01
I get a better picture of the band here than I did on the EP I reviewed a while back. The Explosion is just the latest vaguely hardcore band from Boston. The guys might want to be melodic, except that they have no talent that way and the lines get flattened by the driving tempos.
There is a whaleload of energy here. The Explosion is appropriately named. And I like the somewhat more ragged feel they've achieved on this album. It fits the songs and the band much better.
These aren't pretty boys. They aren't trying to play pretty songs. They don't sing about pretty things. So just let the sound come through full throttle. Amazing how something as simple as that can really turn things around.
Better songs help as well. This is just a vast improvement over that earlier EP. There's no pretension in the production. The songs are just a bit more coherent. Color me impressed this time around.
Explosions in the Sky
All of a Sudden I Miss Everyone
reviewed in issue #282, February 2007
Nicely wiggy instrumental noise explorations that, in point of fact, often bloom like explosions in the sky. The general song structure reminds me of Dirty Three; there's a muted beginning, some extravagant exposition and then a final flurry of sonic violence.
And if you think following that sort of template makes these pieces sound alike in any way, well, you haven't heard these folks. When I said "noise" up top, I meant it. These folks wring every last bit of strangeness out of their equipment. In the service of the song in question, of course.
That's the key with any sort of music, I think. Keep your eye (or ear) focused on what's most important. For these guys, that's the song. Each of these pieces ventures forth into some rugged territory. Easy to get lost. But that doesn't happen.
One of those albums that's great for an afternoon zone session. Let the music wash over you. Get taken away. Then, when it's done, see if you can claw your way back. Or simply hit repeat. Me, I hit repeat.
reviewed in issue #75, 4/30/85
Flowing to the commercial side of death metal with nice doom overtones. Expulsion grafts some euro-metal conventions, particularly in the guitars onto a death base, with catchy results.
The boys know riffs, and each song fairly explodes with a set of outstanding melodic ideas. While perhaps not as crafted (no keys, for example) as an Amorphis-type band, Expulsion is probably listening to the same source material.
Some punk ideas wander around the riffs as well, providing a nice counterpoint to the soaring anthemic style that pervades the disc. All of this is smoothly incorporated into the whole sound, which is a multiplication, not a sum, of its parts.
Positively irresistible. You may dig the old school more (I don't), but you have to admit that Expulsion has cranked a disc full of great tunes. Perhaps the production would leave things a bit fuller, but the sparseness helps at times as well. This is a classic of the genre. Period. No excuses will be given for missing out.
reviewed in issue #38, 8/31/93
Yes, I reviewed this before, but due to a brain fart didn't realize two bands were involved. I talked about Mass Psychosis before, so I'll rectify the error and give Exterminance its due.
Nice grinding sound, but the singer sounds like he's got a vice on his testicles. Damn. I hope the Workmate loosens its grip soon.
Actually, it's a pretty cool sound. And the music is fast but not sloppily played.
The Positive Pressure (of Injustice)
reviewed in issue #80, 7/15/95
A good chunk of the new Brit hardcore movement, except that the guys are from Milan. Oh well, it's all continental...
Much of the time I was hoping Extrema would shift out of the Fudge Tunnel hero worship, and the boys do at times (mining Coroner grooves on "Money Talks", for example). Not quite enough for me to declare brilliance, but a real sign of serious potential.
Extrema still needs to define its personal sound more, instead of bouncing from influence to influence like the kids in the pit at their shows. Mix it all together for a coherent idea, and the stew will be that much more tasty.
Caveats aside, this is a fine disc. With the right direction (and new digs outside of Italy), Extrema could really explode in a few years.
Extreme Noise Terror
reviewed in issue #93, 3/31/95
Once again, the U.K. hardcore scene has produced a winner. ENT cranks out the vitriol at full speed and highest distortion levels.
This could, and really should, have degenerated into a complete mess. Most of the time the speeds rival a grind match, and the guitars, bass and drums are just a blur.
But it manages to hang together, if barely. And that "at the precipice" feeling is a glorious one. The lyrics seem to be interesting, but there is no sheet, and it takes quite a few listens just to get a line out coherently, so no report on that here.
Of course, I plan to spend the time necessary to figure this whole thing. ENT is well worth the effort, if for nothing other than sheer exhilaration.
reviewed in issue #202, 7/17/00
Got a note from Billy Sides the other day, asking if I was still around and interested in hearing some weird shit. I sent a rather bland note back (I don't like those e-mail "smiles"), but I think he got the idea anyway. So he sent me this.
I suppose this would properly fall in the territory of free jazz. Sax and bass clarinet screeching around Sides' drumming and the occasional synth bit. Like I said, I guess it's free jazz.
It is a racket, and not necessarily the cleanest one. At times, the recording quality is a bit low. What doesn't change is the uncompromising aggressive playing. I mean, these folks will blow until all the houses come down. Ragged? Messy? Sure. Wonderful? Exactly.
Because while there aren't a lot of connections on the surface, these songs hang together in the undergrowth. A mess, but a glorious one. Enervating and exhilarating. Big smiles, indeed.
reviewed in issue #324, February 2011
I suppose this could be something of a remix album, as many of the titles reference "Cannonicus." It could also be taken as a grand extension of the whole variations on a theme idea. I dunno. Either way, the music is utterly inspiring.
Seemingly drawing from almost the entirety of the electronic canon, Eye has created a set of exceedingly accessible and danceable tracks. There's plenty of aggression as well. So if you happen to be like me and prefer a little contact on the dance floor, we're covered.
Not many folks can experiment as much as Eye does and keep their sound right in the sweet spot. These songs travel far afield and do some crazy things, and yet they always end up utterly satisfying.
If nothing else, this trip through electronic, noise and industrial sounds is a most entertaining history lesson. The whole is even more compelling than each extraordinary part, which is one reason I'm so impressed. Thrilling.
In the Name of Suffering
reviewed in issue #27, 1/31/93
Don't play this because some famous bald guy tells you to. After all, you're able to recognize tasteless lyrics and great music when they're presented to you.
With perhaps the finest use of guitar feedback I've heard in ages, Eyehategod crank out musical turds that are one part psychotic sludge grunge, one part sloppy punk and one part sick motherfuckers. Oh, let's not forget that whiny squeal that tends to take on a presence not unlike the sitar on later Beatles records.
This compares well with another band of scatological freaks, Type O Negative. Damn heavy, mostly sick music that will force itself into your most vulnerable cavity and leave you raw, but begging for more.
Take As Needed For Pain
reviewed in issue #39, 9/15/93
I would put these guys in the die-hard evil camp, but you have to have a plan. This is pure pain, delivered to the ears with the most amazing sound possible.
Their first was a little on the sparse side, and I liked it. The pain here is created by wondrous arrangements of feedback and general sludge.
To call Eyehategod brutal is a severe understatement. These boys have found a sonic synonym for agony; it almost bleeds into your ears.
Sure, this stuff is hardly radio-ready, though most of you folk have figured out that currently the F.C.C. has no legal grounds to nail stations for indecency (let's all watch the Howard Sterns case together, shall we?). So fuck it, and play this bastard into the ground.
reviewed in issue #79, 6/30/95
A stylish package, astonishing production and sound. I assume the only reason no label has picked up on this is that the vocal constructions within (what instrumentation exists is way in the background) seem too "out there" for mass consumption.
But fans of folks like Dead Can Dance and that sort of vocal ambience will dig into Eyelight with a vengeance. Yeah, I suppose this is "out there", but Eyelight's ethereal spookiness has captivated me. A wild ride, indeed.
Eyes Like Knives
Eyes Like Knives EP
reviewed in issue #241, May 2003
Eyes Like Knives combines the strident guitar work and edgy vocals of early emo with the insistence and throbbing beats of the news school. Sorta the best of both worlds, if you ask me.
The stuff is catchy in a raucous sort of way. Eyes Like Knives remind me a lot of Vitreous Humor, that vaguely legendary emo band from the mid-90s that broke up "before we became Weezer," (as the band members themselves put it). I've always liked that line, even if it is bullshit. Anyway, this band is in no danger of becoming Weezer. There's just too much power rumbling through these songs.
Another excellent reference would be Jawbox--in that bands more accessible moments. Eyes Like Knives take care to include at least one kick-ass melody in each song, as if to say "hey, we're just a pop band like everyone else." A nice little proletarian instinct. Or something like that, anyway.
Eyes of Pandora
Eyes of Pandora
reviewed in issue #210, 1/8/01
The two main players are Robert Gueits and Susan Tojo. Tojo takes care of the vocals and Gueits works the guitars. Other friends help fill out the sound (including Eric Alexandrakis, who also produced the album). The easiest description of the sound is full-on pop, but that only scratches the surface of what's going on here.
Yes, the constructions are basic pop (verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, chorus, etc.), but the lushness of the arrangements must be heard to be believed. Alexandrakis has layered Tojo's voice and Guetis' guitars to great effect, creating a simmering sound that isn't cloying.
Indeed, few major label efforts have such a solid production job. This album sounds like a million bucks. Alexandrakis deserves a lot of credit, but so do the songs of Gueits and Tojo, which handle the incandescent sound very well.
A gorgeous album. No other explanation is necessary. Some thing just sound right. Eyes of Pandora has crafted a thing of beauty. Now all it needs is for someone to notice.
reviewed in issue #205, 9/18/00
The latest thing from Tobin Sprout (he once of Guided By Voices). What you might expect: Punchy, quirky pop songs that always have one more layer than you might expect.
See, everything sounds dead-on perfect. The harmonies are loosely tight, the lead guitar licks are lean but thick enough to be memorable and the lyrics are simple, but poetically so.
What I'm trying to say is that some folks know how to write songs, and Sprout is one of them. He also knows how to properly arrange his songs, putting the proper final spin on his thoughts. Often enough, there's a breakdown somewhere in the process. Not so with Eyesinweasel.
The sort of album that appeals to both mainstream and underground listeners. There's no cheese here, but the songs sound safe enough at first. Of course, what lies beneath is another story. That's where the real pleasure comes in.
Bent at the Waist
reviewed in issue #240, April 2003
Did you know that Tom Waits began his career as a country song writer? Okay, so he wrote songs like "Looks Like We're Up Shit Creek Again," the kinda song that Patsy Cline probably wouldn't record, but still, it was country. The Eyesores play Tom Waits kinda country.
When your lead singer plays accordion, and the rest of the folks play a wide variety of stringed instruments--drums come in only occasionally--chances are the songs are going to sound interesting. The bass is a stand up, and banjo rivals guitar for frequency of use. There is something of the demented cabaret sound to the songs.
Not unlike Waits's recent efforts, actually. The Eyesores aren't aping anyone, not in the least, but Waits is the closest reference I can come up with. In truth, the Eyesores have created something truly warped and wonderful here, something that no one else has quite attempted.
And man, does it work. So I'm a sucker for the exemplary use of accordion and other unusual instruments. If the songs sucked, the strangeness of the instrumentation wouldn't matter. But these songs are inspired lunacy, with plenty of sweat behind them. Beguiling, to say the least.
reviewed in issue #220, 8/13/01
I'll admit it: I looked it up. I've got a pretty good dictionary, and there's no mention of the word "Ezurate" anywhere. No noun, verb (in any form), adjective or adverb. Not even an interjection.
It's easier to define the band. This is black metal, though again without the cheesy keyboards. I like it that way. These boys kick off with the double bass drum attack, add in cascading riffage and howl their way toward the apocalypse. About what any aficionado would expect.
And there are few surprises here. Ezurate doesn't really change its formula from song to song. Rather, each continues at about the same pace and intensity of the previous one. I think they're all in E, though that's just a guess.
As far as adrenaline goes, Ezurate is a great stimulant. But I think I'd rather take these guys in small doses. Easier on my brain that way.
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