reviewed in issue #73, 3/31/95
Music that will never exist again, or so the press states.
W.O.O. prefers to improvise heavily in a semi-jazz format, which is why this live set is supposed to showcase the band's real talent.
The members are generally proficient on their instruments, and occasionally the band kicks up a real big racket. But is this really good?
I don't know. Things get pretty messy often enough, and I like the moments of chaos. But much of the time the sound is just too sparse for me and the whole thing reminds me of a bad beat poetry experience.
These folks are trying to be highly creative, and on the occasional track, they succeed. But W.O.O. needs to do a little more study before it tries to tackle the tricky world of jazz improvisation head on. Too often the folks come off as cheesy rock musicians faking at jazz.
as W.O.O. Revelator and Ernesto Diaz Infante & Pat Harman Duo
The First Time
reviewed in issue #206, 10/9/00
Quite a while back I said some less than kind things about a W.O.O. album. I didn't think the folks were quite ready back in 1995. Perhaps I wasn't ready. It happens.
W.O.O. Revelator improvises. Wildly. Freely. And so no version of a song sounds even vaguely like another. For this disc, the band invited Ernesto Diaz-Infante and Pat Harman to sit in.
Since that review, Chris Forsyth and his guitar wizardry has joined the group. That's a big help. Diaz-Infante and Harman also help to create a wonderful atmosphere for creative ferment. This is otherworldly-sounding fare.
Basically, no one else sounds like this. Not even W.O.O. Revelator, as the scene changes every night. But this intoxicating set of songs should be more than enough to encourage folks to see a show and become entranced in real life. Barring just, just plop this in the discer and revel.
as W.O.O. Revelator
The Theory of Reversed Effort
reviewed in issue #211, 1/29/01
Five more free jazzy improvisations from the W.O.O. Revelator core: Bonnie Kane, Ray Sage and Chris Forsythe. Different from the album I recently reviewed simply in that the folks are trying out new ideas. Otherwise...
Right. Much the same. If you kinda groove on riding free thought sound waves, then these folks have your magic carpet. It's kinda amazing the sounds that three people can come up with. There are no overdubs here, either. This is live to tape.
I get the idea that the band never plays the same song twice. Oh, the basic concepts might hang around, but these folks prefer improvisation to strict structure, and that's just the way it is.
Lucky for me, I dig the stuff. I like the float, and there's plenty here to keep me flying high. Is this earth-shattering, brain-smashing fare? All depends on your state of mind, my friend.
One Hit Wonder
reviewed in issue #165, 8/17/98
Easy-moving jangle rock, mastered a bit low (I had to really crank the sound). Still, that's not a big problem. I could hear the songs just fine.
I've always wondered how to take sarcastic lyrics tossed off over shiny happy pop music. You know, an anthem that undercuts itself. Though I can't tell if that's an intended effect or not.
The music is straight out of the book, decent if uninspired hooks and plenty of backbeat kickers. While I think the lyrics are pretty cool, they don't fit very well with the music. Or maybe the combination doesn't work well for me.
Well, I know that's true. It's a weird dichotomy. If a cliche is used in the lyrics, it is obviously intended to be ironic. But the music is riddled with cliches, with no irony present. Perhaps it's a case of different stages of development. I dunno.
reviewed in issue #170, 10/26/98
Kinda exactly what you might think. Over-the-top dub work, heavy in the groove. Some guitar and sampling work, but mostly bass, keys and that electronic reggae dub beat. The notes thank everyone from Lee "Scratch" Perry to Bill Laswell. Oh, yeah, and Kraftwerk. Now you get the picture?
Of course, of course. Solid work, too. The grooves do get a bit mindnumbing, but the hypnotic effect is working its magic on me, swinging my brain into the right direction, appreciating the numbness. Letting it wash all over me.
A nice little trip disc. Nothing complicated, mind you, just a little warped. Something to take the edge off the mania and reduce the real world to a distant memory. Okay by me.
Justa kickin' back sorta disc. Plenty of the goods right here. No need to shop elsewhere.
The "Legendary" Wailers
Live at Maritime Hall
reviewed in issue #183, 6/7/99
Despite the liners, Aston Barrett wasn't an original Wailer. Though he was there almost from the beginning. And he is the only person here with a connection to the band's 70s glory days with Bob Marley, Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer.
The recording is good, and you know the songs. Even if you don't know reggae, you know most of these songs. The performances are fine, though not particularly exceptional. A lot like sleeping through a latter-day Dead live set.
I understand touring with a name in order to make money. That's fine, I guess. But there's just not much of a reason for this disc. The original Wailers made plenty of live recordings of most of these songs, and those recordings are better. Just because this is more recent doesn't mean it is somehow more vital.
I hate to slag on this, but I just can't groove on something so mediocre. Particularly when at one time the Wailers were truly amazing.
Waiting for God
Quarter Inch Thick
reviewed in issue #127, 1/27/97
Seven songs, with six remixes added on to the end. Waiting for God is much more traditional-sounding than Tinfed (prowling the electronic universe with a seriously artificial sound), but the songs have a bit more flow to them.
And there are plenty of diverse elements woven into this fabric. Daemon Cadman's lighter-than-air vocals mix well with the edgy guitars and sea of keyboards brought in by the rest of the band. Yeah, it's just dreamy dance music, I suppose, but Waiting for God does a pretty good job with it.
Appealing stuff. The remixes honestly don't add a whole lot, though a couple of them are interesting. The rest of the album is treat enough; the mixes can be viewed as a pleasant topping.
A solid, if generally tame, effort. Waiting for God should try to branch out a bit more, but it handles its current responsibilities rather well. If it reaches for more next time, I bet Waiting for God will truly excite.
reviewed in issue #149, 12/8/97
A much edgier sound than the first album. This puppy is more than three years past that first effort, though it is only a year behind Quarter Inch Thick. The change in sophistication and general adventurousness is impressive.
While I liked that first disc well enough, this one is a real winner. Waiting For God employs a huge number of samples to create a wide variety of sounds and moods, and Daemon Cadman sings with much more authority and attitude. The gothic waif-like vocals still flit past, but there's much more meat here.
In general, that's the story of this disc. This is simply a much more mature album. And when a band begins to feel more assured, wonderful things can happen. Waiting for God even tickles the milled blades of its sterile sound with bits of cotton, adding some humanity to the proceedings. Just enough of a hint to be enticing.
Altogether glorious. Potential realized. No more talking about what might be; Waiting for God has arrived.
Waiting for Rain
If You Must... EP
reviewed in issue #133, 4/28/97
A band that resides not two hours from my soon-to-be-new stomping grounds in Pennsylvania. The quality makes feel pretty good.
Waiting for Rain plants a rootsy veneer over rambling punk-pop anthems. And sometimes distortion-soaked country music breaks out. Not unlike a heavier version of (early) Uncle Tupelo.
Great driving music (which I'll keep in mind on my 20-hour drive up north), the sort of stuff that simply makes me happy. Nothing complicated or difficult, just tuneful stuff that is a perfect fit for my musical sensibilities.
Precisely what they were thinking about with the REO cover is beyond me, but even that works reasonably well. Something special going on here.
reviewed in issue #346, 3/3/13
Old school hardcore played loud and fast, with some nice brutality thrown in for good measure. Short, sweet and undeniably tasty. For those who need a little pain now and again.
reviewed in issue #89, 10/9/95
Goth pop with cool production from Rosetta Stone (who know how to put the "g" in goth, for sure).
Um, I'm not sure what that last statement means, but it just sounded cool at the time. Anyway, "Christine" is the lead track from the new Wake album, and you also get two remixes of "Watchtower" and "Masked" from the last album, Masked. Oh, and a b-side called "Siren", just to round things out.
The songs themselves are decent goth, but the real star here is the performance and production. The vocals are quite affected, and as I noted, Rosetta Stone really knows how to crank up the goth in anyone. A nice lead-in for the album.
reviewed in issue #110, 5/27/96
One of the top US goth bands returns with a bang. The sound is positively bombastic, which kinda undercuts the whole concept, I think, but whatever.
The production is appropriately lush, but messy enough to keep the mood flowing freely. I mean, this stuff should have a somewhat mushy feel.
The lyrics are as silly as ever. Goth bands will never overcome that. Heavy-drinking college students may find wisdom here, but eternal depression seems absurd from the outside. On the other hand, it sure as hell sounds pretty cool.
Well-crafted tunes are plentiful. The Wake has the attitude necessary to carry this sort of thing off pretty well. I'm still not a big goth (dark wave, whatever) freak, but when it's done well, I must acknowledge it. The Wake has a pretty good album here.
Stop the Ride
reviewed in issue #117, 8/26/96
If you¹ve always had a soft spot for that ³Byrds all over again² thing that Tom Petty¹s been preaching for twenty-something years now, then Wake Ooloo should hit the spot.
These boys tear it up like petty hasn¹t in ages, and the pop feel is pretty much immaculate. Nothing to complain about. You know exactly where this has come from and where it¹s going, but why not enjoy the ride?
And to make sure you don¹t miss the connection, Wake Ooloo includes a rendition of ³So You Wanna be a Rock and Roll Star². The music is a dead-on replication, but the vocals are completely fucked. Which, of course, does deviate from the ideal. Proves the guys have a sense of humor, even if their musical aspirations aren¹t very high.
A fun little ride. Light, refreshing and eminently forgettable. Like a sunny day on Lake Erie.
reviewed in issue #241, May 2003
Kimmon Waldruff plays acoustic guitar. He sings every once in a while. That's just about all that you hear on this album. And that's more than good enough for me.
Waldruff is an exceptional player and a very good songwriter. His style lies somewhere between roots and jazz and classical (the instrumental pieces are more to the conceptual side, and the pieces with vocals are more rootsy), which means he likes to wander a bit from piece to piece. Thanks goodness.
Waldruff's real skill is how skillful he is at infusion emotion and passion into his playing. He's not just a skilled player, he's an expressive one. It's the expression that gets to me. The power is such that these songs speak to me without words (he sings on only two tracks out of 13).
A lot of folks can play guitar very well. Waldruff knows how to use his guitar to communicate. And he's able to write songs that make his feelings very clear. This intimate album is a most fulfilling experience.
Walk the Plank
So if I threw this album on the record player and said, "This is one of my favorite old-school D.C. punk bands," you would readily agree. Walk the Plank plies the waters of that fertile scene that was waxing three decades ago. Buzzsaw guitars slashing over a brutal rhythm attack, topped off by wonderfully throaty vocals. About ten seconds of this and you'll be looking for a pit to crash.
Well, I was, anyway. I suppose one complaint is that this is so D.C. circa 1985 (or so) that it can be hard to find a unique band identity. When the intellectual exercise of listening breaks down to "Does this song sound more like Minor Threat or Fugazi?" (usually the former), I suppose there's some truth to that thought.
On the other hand, this kicks ass like nothing I've heard in ages. Straightforward hardcore with just a smidgen of melody. And a Black Flag chaser? Yes, please.
Like I said, if you have any sort of affection for early Dischord or the stuff that predated that, Walk the Plank is heroin. Once this stuff enters your veins, you'll never be able to purge it. And I don't think you'll mind one bit. Getting your mind throttled never felt so good.
Walk on Water
Solvent Based Melodies
reviewed in issue #165, 8/17/98
The inside liner notes say this about their drummer -- "He plays
drums very loudly. Whether he knows it or not, he triggers the overall
volume of the band to play loud in order to obtain a balanced audio
dynamic." Which is funny because this was my only problem with this
I thought the songs were fantastic, a very cool psychedelic pop,
but with the drummers aggressiveness destroyed that mood completely. It's
like trying to fit Andy Warhol with Picasso, it just doesn't work.
Overall, the playing between the players just didn't fit their own glove.
reviewed in issue #143, 9/15/97
Fontana released this album in the U.K. a couple years back, mainly because folks over there have a clue as to who Scott Walker is.
He was Scott Engel before becoming a member of the Walker Brothers (none of the members were brothers or named Walker), a group which had some monster pop hits in England (a couple of which made the U.S. top 20). After that group splintered, he put out four albums before the 60s ended, and then kinda disappeared.
He released Climate of Hunter in 1984, which, according to the press info, one reviewer called "the most terminal songs ever written" (I like that, myself). Now this effort, which cannot be placed in any neat category or described as any one "type" of music. But I might as well try.
Imagine if Einsturzende Neubauten were to use A Saucerful of Secrets as a starting point, with the Aphex Twin as the ending point. Drop in truly weird lyrics and an even stranger voice (an almost toneless baritone, kinda like what Bill Ward sounds like after he's modulated his voice severely), and you might begin to understand. But I don't think so. I read all of the press and did a lot of research before putting on the disc (I had a hint it would challenge me), and I still wasn't prepared for what came next.
And I'm still shattered. The images and sensory perception of pain, agony and loss won't be leaving me any time soon. This is profound stuff, haunting as it pierces your mind. There is no way to prepare the uninitiated. You simply must endure the experience for yourself. And keep all sharp objects well-hidden.
School Yard Rhymes
reviewed in issue #126, 1/13/97
Sounding like Jackson Browne back when he made good music, Walkie Talkie takes that cool rock sound and runs it into the sea. Plenty of blues and country roots show through, and the band is willing to wander far afield to make music. All good signs.
The stuff simply keeps rolling out. Each song is a new experience, keeping the sound steady, and yet still managing to innovate within the set form. Walkie Talkie plays like it's about to make a grand statement; this album is perilouly close to that territory as it is.
I see "cash cow" written all over this band. If Jim Lacey Baker's songwriting holds up, Walkie Talkie will be huge. Not just big. Huge. I don't make predictions very often, but then music like this comes by only so often. A couple minor adjustments (punching up the production just a bit and perhaps a little less self-indulgence on the arrangements) and Walkie Talkie will be in the promised land.
Twilite at the Spanish Castle
reviewed in issue #206, 10/9/00
A rather interesting chance of pace from the album I heard a couple years back. Rather than imbue each song with a sense of impending importance, Walkie Talkie has stepped back, sticking instead to basic pop gems. Simplification never sounded so good.
The same country and blues roots are present, but there's nothing over the top about these arrangements. The spotlight shines sharply on the writing, and the writing carries the day.
Whether acoustic or electric, Walkie Talkie's stripped-down approach and vastly clearer sound really impresses me this time out. The songs alight from the speakers and attack my ears with just enough intensity to bite. Having made a fine introduction, they trickle on in.
I heard potential in the last album. It's fulfilled here. Of course, now the band doesn't have a deal. Well, music like this just might change that. Certainly, these songs are more than worthy.
Wall of Orchids
Wall of Orchids EP
(The Bus Stop Label)
reviewed in issue #233, September 2002
Lane Steinberg is Wall of Orchids. He's got great handle on pop music of the early 70s, whether he's channeling Burt Bacharach, Big Star, Todd Rundgren or the Flying Burrito Brothers.
In fact, his style is something of an amalgam of all that and more. These songs evoke that period, but there's something utterly modern within them. I can't quite put my finger on it. Suffice it to say that Steinberg is much more than a simple rehash artist.
Rather, he's found his own little niche in the pop world. These songs are gorgeous and glowing. Would there were twice as many (or even more). Finest quality.
Neon and Gold
reviewed in issue #272, March 2006
Wallace takes the "everything is more" approach to roots rock. There are minimalist ballads, dense acoustic prog pieces, pretty bits enlivened by electronic paintings and, well, more.
Each song is built around the vocal melody with guitar of some sort (generally both acoustic and electric), but past that all bets are off. Wallace also incorporates a good amount of piano and keyboard, and he likes to cram a lot of notes into small spaces--kinda like Frank Zappa writing a prairie opera.
Or a more acoustic version of the Dixie Dregs. Or (much) less bombastic Kansas. The funny thing is that Wallace has just as much grand ambition as all the folks I mentioned, but he's more willing to restrain himself in service of the song. Which makes his work that much more listenable.
He's still one idiosyncratic puppy, to be sure. Wallace will always take the road less taken, though he's careful to line it with rose petals. That consideration for the listener is what makes this album such a simple pleasure to hear.
Culture of Self
reviewed in issue #289, September 2007
I liked Wallace's last album, and this one sounds awfully good to me as well. Wallace is an ambitious songwriter, penning pieces all over the spectrum. There's often a folksy or rootsy undercurrent, but he's quite willing to move past first influences to paint a more complete picture. I like his pastiche approach. It gives his songs that extra shimmer. Another one well done.
reviewed in issue #299, August 2008
I've been impressed by Wallace's work for years. One of my favorite things about him is that he doesn't stand still. He's equally adept in the worlds of pop, rock, blues and country, and he often melds them in interesting ways. The title track (and first song) is a great spacey piece. The second song takes a great blues lick and turns it into an intricate rocker. And so it goes.
I do believe that Wallace has gained confidence over the years. His early stuff was simpler, or at least, he didn't try to incorporate as many different ideas in a single song. He not only blenderizes just about every song on this album, he does so with a style and grace that is almost unthinkable.
One of the more interesting things I noticed on a couple tracks here was a definite Steve Miller influence. The good Steve Miller, the bluesman who threw some stellar guitar work into 70s rock and created a handful of the greatest rock and roll songs of all time. Wallace refuses to dumb down his ideas, which means that his songs never quite reach Miller's epochal middle-of-the-road sound, but there are hints of what might be.
Plenty of other hints as well, such as the occasional Reinhardtian guitar run and such. Indeed, the most impressive thing about Wallace's music is his guitar work. But his increasingly complex and stirring songwriting is catching up. This is his strongest work to date. And I don't hear any reason why he'd be falling off any time in the near future.
Den of Maniacs
reviewed in issue #316, April 2010
This album has quite possibly the worst cover in history. The thumbnail doesn't do it justice. Luckily, I know Dan Wallace and I know that what lies inside is so much better than any cover.
Wallace tends to shift his musical focus from album to album. Everything connects to atmospheric rock at some point, but he's wandered off on roots trails and even gotten a little punky at times. This outing finds him settling into lush (or at least full) arrangements and tightly-crafted songs decorated by the occasional tangent.
But, of course, eclecticism rules. Wallace never fails to surprise, and I've always liked the inventive nature of his music. He has a fascinating approach to melody (rarely straightforward), and he sometimes uses rhythm as an idea separate from the rest of the song. That's even cooler than you might think.
Once I've reviewed an artist a few times, I often get a little bored. Even the best can settle into a rhythm and coast a bit. While Wallace might have coasted on the cover (sorry, I just had to say it), he still goes at his music full bore. Still amazing after all these years.
Shawn "Thunder" Wallace
...And the Music Lives On...
reviewed in issue #92, 11/20/95
Wallace wears many hats on this disc. Various members of the saxophone and flute families, piano and keys. His able side men keep things going, generally in a cool mode, but occasionally picking things up as necessary.
The performances are fine, with everyone giving a workmanlike, if not brilliant, effort. Wallace's own compositions make up most of the album, and like the performances, the tunes are good, but nothing exceptional. Wallace does show off his considerable skill, sounding equally at ease with hot and cool moments. His tone, particularly on whatever saxophone he's playing, is impeccable.
And while this is a perfectly good record, Wallace and friends have not created any sort of distinctive record. Perhaps he was trying to do too much with one session, or maybe Wallace needs to polish his tunes a bit more. This disc is missing something that would make it truly memorable.
Electronic Home Entertainment System
reviewed in issue #154, 3/9/98
Definite fans of the "more is more" concept. Each of the songs here is a wonderful pop gem overwashed by so much stuff (sometimes walls of distortion, pedal steel on one, generally lots of noisy overdubs) the end result is a breathless rush.
Despite the craziness, the Wallmen keep the music within the realms of reality. Sure, the sound goes beserker at times, but I never got lost. Just more and more curious as to what would happen next.
Bizarro pop gone extremely right. Juicy, inviting hooks almost deconstructed. Way too many tasty bits to be savored in just one listen. Far too much bliss to be properly described by me.
The high doesn't break until the disc finishes, and then depression set in until the repeat button gets hit. Highly recommended. In fact, this is required listening.
Light Another Candle
reviewed in issue #245, September 2003
Alex Walsh got an awful lot of his friends to back him up on this album, but this puppy sure has the feel of a one-man-band recording. The production sound is stellar; I'm not talking about that. I'm talking about-the single-minded vision behind these songs.
Walsh has his own particular style of songwriting, one that brings to mind such influences as the Small Faces and the Who and other fine rockers from the early 70s. Walsh decorates his songs with plenty of organ and piano and vocal overdubs, but he never lets them overshadow the songs themselves.
And damn, if this lush sound isn't so pristine you could cook up crank in it. That's kind of an oxymoron, of course, but that's why I'm so impressed. The sound is ultra-clean, but it's also loose and full. I'm not sure how else to explain it, but it sure does work.
The songs themselves are just as crafted, though Walsh has an off-handed feel that keeps the proceedings moving at a leisurely pace. Just the sort of album to wrap things up with. Ease on back and take a load off. This stunning album will help you fade in a most pleasant way.
reviewed in issue #204, 8/28/00
Probably best-known as the keyboardist and singer for Kansas, Steve Walsh has been around. And this disc tries hard to touch as many bases as possible.
And instead of playing it safe, this puppy is seriously progged out. Very little cheese. Not much in the way of easy listening. Walsh sounds like he made this album the hard way. In any case, it's sure a challenge.
The main problem is that the sound can get a bit antiseptic, especially where Walsh speak-sings instead of just letting go. The writing shows off an amazing range; why stay pent up?
Grand designs, and they mostly stand up. This is an experimental prog album, something that might scare off a few folks who were hoping to hear another "Dust in the Wind." But if you're up for it, Walsh has prepared an album worth a listen.
Pink Moon 7"
reviewed in issue #13, 5/15/92
The buzz on this band is incredible. Everybody I know raves whenever the name is mentioned. We somehow got them to play for our Springfest (see related story), and they were rather amazing.
Live, the bass is just incredible. It's more subdued here, but I figure there will be more opportunities on their full-length, which is coming out on Caroline in a few weeks (like the end of May/beginning of June).
If this is just a taste of what will sound like, then a full release will be rather great.
reviewed in issue #134, 5/12/97
One of those bands that has always been on the "the next album will do it" list. Hell, I heard that before the first album. And while some of the singles have been stunning bits of work, the albums on the whole simply don't keep up that sense of wonder.
The same goes here. The songs nicely undercut the standard expectations of "alternative rock" by always cutting against the expected grain, which is a band trademark, and that's always welcome. But, see, being contrarian just for the hell of it doesn't always make sense.
And as the membership of the band has dwindled, the reliance on editing has increased. There is a bit of the "one-man band" sound going on (this is most easily heard on "She Can Smile"), and that's a little annoying.
All caveats aside, though, the simple fact remains that while Walt Mink still hasn't put out that brilliant monster album, any and all releases are more than worthy of owning. It can be frustrating hearing how close this album came, but even that result is pretty damned good.
reviewed in issue #169, 10/12/98
The last show. I assume some editing took place (a 74-minute show? doesn't quite make sense), but even so, this set showcases one of pop music's great innovators.
Walt Mink excited me more with its potential than with how everything turned out. The music made me imagine what was possible, and often enough the actual songs didn't quite live up to what was in my mind. But don't take that observation as any sort of detraction. Walk Mink inspired my imagination. It takes great music to do that.
And the fine recording job captures the live sound without completely losing track of what the band can do. This particular performance is a little less restrained than the two shows I saw years ago, and I like that. Might as well go out with a band.
Fans (and while they may not be legion, they are fanatic) will be happy to know a set of b-sides and odds and ends will be coming out sometime next year on Deep Elm. Until then, they'll have to make do with this suicide note.
Men Are Made in the Paint (advance cassette)
reviewed in issue #46, 1/15/94
Lots and lots of basketball talk from one of the great talents in the game. I'm guessing this is excerpts from his new book.
Get a Grip on Yourself
reviewed in issue #167, 9/14/98
The use of the old Stranglers song as the title of the album is, of course, a double entendre. Cute. The music inside is basic power pop, with some Replacements-style punk sloppiness added in for flavor.
Overproduced, though not as bad as many major label projects. There is too much bass in the mix, lending a bottom-heavy feel to the songs. These are pieces which need to be bouncy, and they're weighted down by the mix.
As for the stuff, well, it's decent. A notch above workmanlike, but often a nice pop song gets worked into an overwrought anthem. A band called Wank thinks it's going to make some great statements about society? Come on. If that was the intent, the guys should call themselves The Starr Chamber or something.
I think there's a nugget of something good here. But in the attempt to produce a mega-seller, the band lost the soul of its songs. An old story. Of course, if you want to sell a few million, your soul is the first thing to go.
The Wannabe Hasbeens
Former Trans Future Vol. I EP
reviewed in issue #290, October 2007
Really, really shiny pop punk rawk. And to tell the truth, this isn't punk at all. But since folks will call it so, I guess I ought to along.
Don't mistake that rumination for a complaint about the music. If you can play pretty heavy pop rock music well, I'm your boy. And the Wannabe Hasbeens do this well. I'm a bit concerned that I'll soon burn out on the confections within this disc, but I think I can live with that.
'Cause, you know, listening to pop is like chewing gum. And right now, these boys taste pretty good to me.
reviewed in issue #147, 11/10/97
These Swedish popsters had a song on the Romeo + Juliet soundtrack (it's here as well), and from there the idea seems to be upward and onward. Oh, and if you're expecting stuff like the first part of "You and Me Song", well, you're gonna be disappointed.
Hyperkinetic stuff, with a mix that really pops the music out of the speakers without overwhelming the songs themselves. Generally extremely upbeat, The Wannadies midtempo numbers sound fast in relation to most other pop bands.
There's a wonderful reliance on the simplicity of the guitar. Every song is completely built around a riff (and most of the time a rather original one), and while the songs follow basic construction rules, they still manage to find a way to carve out their own niches.
It sometimes helps to observe a trend from afar. The Wannadies are obvious fans of Big Star (and even bigger ones of the Posies), but there are a few side glances that wouldn't occur to American bands. And I have to say, the production is awesome. Thick, full and bouncy, without succumbing to excess. An ace shot.
War & Peace
reviewed in issue #45, 11/30/93
A band that almost didn't exist. And doesn't any more. Jeff Pilson, ex of Dokken and now with MSG and Freakshow, leads a bunch of guys who are now playing elsewhere in a last stab at glam.
They mean well. Many of the lyrics have something to do with racial harmony and general peace, love and happiness. Idealistic, but it sounds kinda silly considering the commercial nature of the music.
They cycle through all the necessary glam moods, from anthemic hard rocker to anthemic 12-string straight rocker to anthemic 12-string ballad rocker. I think you get the idea. There is a reason not many folks are into this music anymore. It is far too pretentious to take seriously. These guys should try the "new directions" they espouse on the album.
When the Bough Breaks
reviewed in issue #130, 3/17/97
Ward's first solo album, Along the Way, is one of my all-time favorites. The way he remanufactured sounds and vocals was way ahead of its time. It's been a long time, but he's back with a new record.
I've heard that the commercial version of this release will feature a total re-recording of the first album (minus the songs featuring Ozzy on vocals) by the new band. I have no idea why, but then that is simply an unconfirmed tale as of now.
As for this stuff, Ward has gone for a much more traditional rock and roll sound, without the rampant engineering intrusions. I'm not sure this helps his voice, which is kinda reedy and weak, but Ward's songwriting touch is as sharp as before.
Still way out of time. Ward is practicing a form of prog-metal that no one has ever tried before, kinda surprising because it works rather well.
I'm not sure what to make of this, which was my exact reaction to his first album. There are many songs and elements that just don't make any sense at the moment. Ward has once again packed his music and lyrics with layer upon layer of complexity and subtext. This one will be in my discer for some time.
reviewed in issue #47, 1/31/94
From what I hear, this consists of songs in demos the band has made the past few years. The production is pretty good, so I figure they must have re-recorded somewhere down the line.
Certainly a little cleaner than earlier efforts, and instead of trying to get on the death metal bandwagon, the boys veer more into the traditional metal vein, following Suicidal Tendencies, Biohazard and Cro-Mags. It's at least as good as those. Accessible yet heavy, I can see reasonable commercial attention.
If you were expecting the old days, you're out of luck. But this is a solid record that deserves to be judged on where the band is today.
Make You Worry
reviewed in issue #171, 11/9/98
Goodness, but that bass pops right out. Lots of funk-inflected bass and keyboards at the points of impact. Not a lot of guitar work, just enough to know it's there. Very pretentious stuff.
Yeah, these guys think they're really making a statement. That's the sound, anyway. And, well, it works, some of the time. I do wish there wasn't that sheen of arrogance, but sometimes you've got to work with what you've got.
And what I've got here is a rock band appropriating pieces of the current r&b scene. Sort of an attempt to re-create Ike and Tina Turner or Sly using today's rock and soul. Again, I like the idea. It's not quite seamless enough (and the forms don't mix as well as they used to, for that matter), but there are moments.
Not enough to make me cry out in joy, though. Just not enough passion in the delivery (which is my problem with latter-day r&b, for that matter). Warm is too disconnected from the songs. An intriguing attempt, though, anyway.
The Space Age Playboys
reviewed in issue #80, 7/15/95
Last Decade Dead Century is one of my all-time favorite albums, with apocalyptic pronouncements and anthems that actually said something interesting (and no whining about some girl who did them wrong).
Since then, Warrior Soul has disappointed me. The second disc was alright, the third dreadful, so much that I didn't even pick up Chill Pill for $3 in the cutout bin.
And this is the comeback? Kory Clarke's voice is still one of the more interesting around, but songs still lack the immediacy and prophetic insight of Last Decade: "Government hides behind religion, kids like us are thrown in prison." Five years ago that sounded like paranoid claptrap. And now?
While some of the songs here are topical, they are behind the times instead of out front. And that's the big disappointment for me.
Live at CBGB 7"
reviewed in issue #41, 10/15/93
Unlike some stuff recorded at this club that was almost unintelligible, the engineer got good sound.
Warzone in good form, and you get five songs, which probably makes this an EP kinda thing.
While I've never been a huge fan, this is a good representation of their work, sounding perhaps even a little better than recent recordings.
Old School to New School
reviewed in issue #61, 8/31/94
A new song, "Can I Get a Witness", five covers and five live tracks.
The new track is alright, but a little silly and sounds a lot like bands the notes slag. The production on the five covers reflects the $200 the band insisted on holding the spending line at. As an artistic statement about the way those songs were recorded in the first place, it's cool. But it still sounds like complete shit.
The live tracks have a great sound, and the songs (being older) are better. But to get excited about the live cuts on an album, well...
Warzone may be a hardcore stalwart (though I have heard other opinions) and all, but this is a pretty bad excuse for a record.
Cause for Alarm
reviewed in issue #92, 11/20/95
God only knows why Warzone consented to this. Cause for Alarm plays old school thrash hardcore like nobody's business, shredding through the pretentious multitudes with vicious lyrics and ace playing. Its four tracks are among the better hardcore performances I've heard this year.
And then comes Warzone's four-song contribution. This is the best I've heard the band in some time, which isn't saying much. The playing is sloppy (and the production leaves stuff so muddy it's hard to tell at times anyway) and the lyrics are typical Warzone.
Your cash is warranted for Cause for Alarm. Ignore the Warzone half, and you'll be pleased.
Watch It Burn
Twice the Dose split EP with Tiltwheel
(Attention Deficit Disorder)
reviewed in issue #230, June 2002
Watch It Burn cranks out some solid emo tracks, and Tiltwheel bashes forth some basic pop punk songs. A bit of a contrast, one that makes for a most enjoyable disc.
My little attempt at labeling kinda glosses over the fact that Watch It Burn likes melody a lot. For that matter, Tiltwheel has the strident guitars (a la a Naked Raygun) that a lot of emo bands use.
Right. What I really need to mention is that there six great punk songs on this EP. If you've never heard of either of these bands, this release will get you to picking through the back bins looking for old albums. Truly.
Water Tower Bucket Boys
Where the Crow Don't Fly EP
reviewed in issue #334, February 2012
This Oregon trio has been playing a western/bluegrass/jazz/etc. version of americana for a while now. Each release seems to expands the band's range. And this five-song EP is no different.
These songs touch on the blues, indie rock, prog rock, bluegrass, western swing and plenty more. The scope of influences is astounding, but the songs themselves are even more impressive.
Bluegrass at its best is a combination of energetic performance and almosrt ungodly technique. These guys are astounding musicians, but they expend most of their energy selling these exquisite songs. Fast or slow, loud or soft, personal or wide-ranging in scope, each piece here finds its own spot to fall. And what a comfy bed it is.
reviewed in issue #214, 4/2/01
Waterdown is a recent signing at Victory. This disc is one of the things that got the band the deal. A full-length is coming soon. This here is merely the window dressing.
And quite a show it is. Waterdown has that technical hardcore feel of bands like Refused, but with a few twists of its own. The utilization of a number of different vocals styles is one, and the way the band warps styles is another. Waterdown just don't won't play straight up.
Rather, it makes one whale of an impression. This disc is far too short. I don't know if you're gonna be able to find the thing on this side of the Atlantic (the guys and the label are German), but if you do--grab it!
Never Kill the Boy on the First Date
reviewed in issue #215, 4/23/01
Waterdown has a singer and a screamer. That's two vocal positions. They'd better be good. Well, if you read my review of the band's European EP, you'd know the boys can change styles on a dime and still sound great.
Same story here. Waterdown is as at ease with extreme hardcore as it is with anthemic melodies and any number of other vaguely punkish sounds. Most often, the boys mix more than two sounds into any one song.
These different styles are layered rather than segmented, so maybe Ingo will be screaming while Marcel sings a Pennywise sorta melody. The music underneath probably most resembles European deconstructionists like Refused. Not that that should come as any surprise.
Every song is a thrill ride, and the entire album was almost too much to take. Some folks just know how to make the music of tomorrow. Don't try to classify Waterdown. You can't. There's no way. Just call this disc fucking brilliant and be done with it.
The Files You Have on Me
reviewed in issue #240, April 2003
Hardcore has come a long ways since the time of Black Flag and similar contemporaries. What started out as untrammeled anger and angst has evolved into a wide variety of sounds and feels. Waterdown tries its damnedest to hit on each and every one.
And so there is some extreme riffage, a healthy dose of melody and more than a little Refused-style dissonance. I'm not talking about changes from song to song, but from measure to measure within each piece. The writing here is complex and involved, and the playing is intense.
But it all comes together. This is no mish-mash without purpose. Rather, Waterdown simply wants to use all of the tools at its disposal to make its many incisive points. Believe me when I say no band sounds anything like Waterdown.
I mean, who can shift from a little art hardcore (a la the Ex) straight into an emo-esque melodic passage--and make it really sing! I've liked these guys from the first import disc I heard a couple years back. This album is an extension and refinement of those earlier ideas. Greatness confirmed.
reviewed in issue #15, 5/31/92
Who helps out? Carmine Appice, Steve Morse, Sammy Hagar, Bob Daisley, Steve Smith and old Ranger Brad Gillis. That's just for starters.
This is much more musically satisfying than any Night Ranger album. Saying that, though, I must say I liked the freshness of the first two NR albums over the almost-pompous arrangements of some of the things here.
On the plus side, Watson keeps the annoying pyrotechnics to a minimum. He still hasn't quite broke out of the commercial sounds of Night Ranger. But he's well on his way.
Faster, Please EP
reviewed in issue #235, November 2002
I often agree with the sentiment expressed by the title of this disc. The fact that Watsonville Patio specializes in midtempo pieces (though still peppy) could be seen as a fun irony. I dig the stuff, so I'll go along.
Straightforward bash'n'pop. The rhythm section is stellar, always keeping the songs in motion. This stuff isn't doesn't have the pedal pinned to the floor, but it doesn't make any rest stops, either. The five songs here are all tightly-wound, finely-crafted works that shimmer with the energy of a well-oiled band.
There's nothing wrong with music done well. Watsonville Patio doesn't do anything new or unexpected. It simply plays great pop music with a heavy rock edge. Simple pleasures are some of the best.
Beneath the Leaves
reviewed in issue #258, October 2004
Somewhat dreamy rock music that just keeps on chugging through the night. Not exactly the sort of thing that generally turns my ear, but Watsonville Patio is so damned unseductive that it manages to draw me in almost instantly.
What I mean is that Janice Grube has one of those vaguely husky voices that, well, works--if you know what I mean. Often enough, bands try to play to that. And while the songs are contemplative, Watsonville Patio doesn't pull a Mazzy Star and go into a pure alpha state--that's cheesing out. Rather, these songs are complete ideas that find full expression in the combination of music and vocals.
And the sound is just bright enough to bring a ray of sunshine to the proceedings. This is a tough trick to turn, as much more edge to the guitars, in particular, would have taken the band in a totally wrong direction. But as the many albums these folks have created will attest, Watsonville Patio generally knows exactly what it is doing.
Is this commercial enough to draw a wide audience? I seriously doubt it. But Watsonville Patio ought to be pleased with another sterling album. Good music is, indeed, its own reward.
reviewed in issue #344, 1/21/13
Hoo boy. This improvisational trio manages to turn cello and trumpet into largely percussion instruments. A very cool endeavor, but one that is likely to frustrate a few listeners. Oh well. Spoils go only to the brave.
reviewed in issue #170, 10/26/98
Tightly crafted pop tunes featuring some seriously active rhythm guitar (you know, like that Wedding Present groove?). This is a band which has figured itself out.
The songs, simply put, are great. Top notch work in the writing and performance. Harmonies where they're needed, and lean hooks to compliment the strident guitar. Watts is primed for, well, something.
I mean it. This is good stuff. Pop with an unusual edge. Songs which say something and still entertain. Not an easy balance to maintain, but Watts makes it sound simple. Like it's the most natural thing in the world. I can assure you it's not.
But that's the joy of listening to discs like this. Music which brings life into focus, and with a nice beat, too. Ah, hell, I just love this one to bits. They have to be doing something right.
One Below the All Time Low
reviewed in issue #292, December 2007
The album leads off with "20 to 12," which is the best muscle-laden "shoulda been the Stones" song I've heard since Laughing Hyena's "Just Can't Lose" some 12 years ago. It's a ripper of a piece, all at once loose and tight, clean-shaven and hairy-chested. All the stuff of a classic rock and roll song.
The rest of the album fades into a bit more of a latter-day Social D groove. That has its charms, too. Solid rock and roll with tasty hooks played with enthusiasm.
Yes, I do wish the boys had stuck with the aggressive groove laid down on that first track, but even as an aberration it's still fabulous. And the rest of the disc is well above average. It's just more clean-shaven than hairy.
And I'm a hairy guy. Whatever. This is a wonderful album that will be playing in my car all next summer. Big smiles and large happinesses.
On the Dial
reviewed in issue #324, February 2011
Another fine outing for these Boston boys who only know how to rock. Not too hard, and not too soft. Just right in the sweet spot. Of course, the anachronistic album title already told you that. Well, if there were any justice (and any rock and roll radio), these boys would be on the dial. They're on my dial, anyway.
13 Unlucky Numbers
reviewed in issue #69, 1/31/95
Decent punk-tinged pop that brings thoughts of Treepeople (or Stuntman or whatever those folk call themselves these days), Superchunk and their ilk.
Not bad company. The songwriting is not quite as universally strong as you might find in those bands, but it holds up well enough. And Wax never stays in one spot for long, so you can't get bored or annoyed.
This isn't a "big break" sort of album, but it is a nice start. If Wax can improve on this base and really shore up some of the inconsistencies and get a better feel for crafting tunes, then there is quite a chance for a decent future.
These boys have real potential.
The Way We Were in 1989
The Way We Were in 1989
reviewed in issue #324, February 2011
The inspiration for the band's name is a mystery to me, as Kelly Dale and Joyell Dunay play the sort of music that might be best appreciated in a Parisian coffeehouse for American ex-pats. I remember 1989, and it didn't sound anything like this. And that's certainly one reason to recommend this album.
The pieces amble along amiably, often (though not always) coalescing into something approaching traditional songs. Much of what comes along, however, is stream-of-consciousness, observational fare. Existential, from both a musical and lyrical standpoint.
Not really complicated, though. And hardly grandiose. TWWWI1989 isn't out to change the world. It just wants your tips in the jar. At least, that's how it sounds to me.
The sort of twisty, understated album that probably would drive most folks mad. Find some patience, however, and you ought to find something wonderful.
Floating Islands EP
reviewed in issue #336, April 2012
The year is a misnomer. This disjointed electropop has its roots in the punkier side of new wave, with a laptop chaser. I love this duo's album, and this EP finds me even more impressed.
The songs aren't immediately arresting. They build slowly, as does the general enthusiasm for the set. That's a great way to bring people along, because once hook sets, there's no way to pull free. And these six songs are chock full of understated hooks.
It's hard to overstate the greatness here. The songs kinda hide within themselves. But like that hottie who wears baggy clothes, eventually the truth will be revealed. And this band is the truth. Totally.
reviewed in issue #10, 3/31/92
Riding out of Fresno comes an outfit that keeps the togetherness of the country spirit but still manages the distortion of a Shockabilly. Sort of the potential child of Johnny Cash and any member of the Young Gods.
But it sounds better than great. Reminds me of Bubba. You know, the archetypal Texas (and elsewhere) voter they have been talking about during the presidential primaries.
You want sick? You want twisted? You want a nice backbeat and twangy guitar? Don't forget the distorted vocals. Wow. A country album that would be more at home on a psychedelic show.
On a Broken Machine
reviewed in issue #291, November 2007
Not many rock bands have full-time banjo, mandolin and violin players. Not many rock bands can play credible bluegrass licks. Wayward Sway is one of the few.
And this is a rock band. These songs are set in regular rock and roll constructions, even when the arrangements ape bluegrass or other roots sounds. The feel is almost punk, given the manic playing and occasional inattention to small details. Consistency in key or tuning isn't a must. Energy and intensity is.
The technical lapses are small, however. The spirit of these songs and performances are what drive this album to greatness. The loose studio sound--not sparse or minimalist, just loose--gives the songs and players room to breathe, which leaves everything sounding impeccably natural.
Wayward Sway doesn't fit in any genre. It simply makes great music. I guess these folks will just have to live with that.
We Are Hex
Hail the Goer
reviewed in issue #320, September 2010
It would be simple to cast We Are Hex as just another Yeah Yeah Yeah's imitation. The band even seems to acknowledge this with the "yeah yeah yeah!" hook in what serves as the album's title track, "We Are the Goer."
But this isn't a pale imitation. Yes, there are yelping and shrieking female vocals. And the music is generally of the bounding, kinetic variety. But We Are Hex tends to prefer a bit more sugar in its choruses. For that matter, it favors choruses, which aren't exactly a YYY staple.
The similarities do continue in the production, which emphasizes the shriller moments of the vocals. Nonetheless, there's a lot less yelping and more singing. This album is a bit more upbeat than the band's first effort, but only as a matter of degree. We Are Hex prefers to play in the dark.
And that's alright by me. Any band that moves along this axis will inevitably be compared to YYY, but We Are Hex has the chops to move beyond that and into its own territory. A real step forward.
We Are Temporary
(Stars & Letters)
Somewhere between laptop and electronic pop, the wires crossed. We Are Temporary uses a traditional lo-fi indie pop song structure, but the arrangements throw in all sorts of electronic goodies and a sweeping dark wave wash for good measure. Oh, and a decidedly sketchy (or simply human, depending on your perspective) set of vocals.
In other words, no matter how much the music might try to convince you that these songs were recorded by robots, they weren't. The imperfections that pop up are entrancing; they draw the listener deeper into this world.
What I really like is that this isn't any particular style. The goth/dark wave elements, the laptop elements, the traditional electronic elements and the indie pop elements all combine into a mysterious swirling cloud. Each song leads the listener deeper into the abyss. And the sense of adventure always outweighs any trepidation.
There's a hypnotic underlying throb that ensnares with a silk noose. By the time it tightens, there is no resistance. Don't worry; you won't mind succumbing one bit.
This might well be music for the end of the world. Fine by me. I'm ready. Bring it on.
We Are the Woods
Whales and Roses
reviewed in issue #343, December 2012
Jessie Murphy writes great sing-alongs. There's plenty of unison as well as harmony in the choruses. In any case, the melodies are so infectious you'll be joining in within minutes.
Jaunty folk-rock will do that for you. Plenty of folks will lump this in the americana bin, but We Are the Woods follows modern folk traditions quite clearly.
And quite well, too. The production stays out of the way, allowing Murphy and her mates plenty of room. The songs stand up nicely in the breach. There's really no need to dress them up.
A lot of fun. I suppose Murphy and company could muddy up the waters and wander closer to traditional singer-songwriter and americana territory, but I hope not. I like the way these songs roll.
We Landed on the Moon!
These Little Wars
reviewed in issue #301, October 2008
Another fine new wave meets modern indie rock combo. We Landed on the Moon! never lets its foot off the pedal, and so erases almost any quibble I might have.
I love the lead guitar work in particular. Most often it operates with just the right amount of reverb, and when it hits the upper register it fairly sings. Which is good, because the vocals are merely in the above average category.
On the other hand, no one ever said the 80s was the golden age of vocalists. Simon Lebon? Belinda Carlisle? Any of the folks in the Human League? Umm, no.
Again, the key to this sort of music is to keep the songs moving and find your hooks wherever they come. Here, the tempo never wavers and the guitar is gorgeous. Like I noted at top, any quibbles are mere whines. These songs achieve orbit and never return to earth.
Suicide Sound System
(My Pal God)
reviewed in issue #180, 4/12/99
Kinda new wave sounding stuff, rough pop based around sparse drum beats and an organ. Some guitar, and when that kicks in, the sound is more modern. In a retro fashion. Am I making sense?
I hate it when that happens. We Ragazzi is the sort of band that does that to me. As soon as I lock on to something, the rules change. And it's not like the band is playing anything complex. This is basic basic, nothing surprising or shocking, except that each and every turn surprises me. I'm back to where I started, I'm afraid.
Try again? The lyrics are poetic and somewhat intentionally offbeat. There is a greater point beyond the strange juxtapositions of words and the non-rhyming lines. I can't tell you what that purpose is. The music simply keeps bobbing along, driven by that incessant organ and drum beat.
I can't compare this to anything, really, and that's a pretty high compliment. We Ragazzi has crafted something truly unique. Is it really good or am I simply overwhelmed for reasons I cannot quite discern? I can't say. But I will listen again and try to find out.
(The Self-Starter Foundation)
reviewed in issue #235, November 2002
I thought this trio was perhaps the perfect My Pal God band. Utterly offbeat music that sounds something like a Tom Waits take on new wave (I mean that in the musical, rather than the vocal, sense). Of course, these folks are just as at home with Self-Starter.
I know that the keyboards help, but the sound here is much fuller and orchestral than you get from yer average three-piece. The core of each piece is pretty simple, but an awful lot of ideas get added before the process is finished. That the songs sound like songs at all is impressive.
This disc is more fleshed out than the band's first (which also impressed the hell out of me). The pieces sound more assured and surely more complete. A lot is going on, but even the strangest tangent is tied to the center with 100-lb. line.
Yeah, yeah, this is more music you've gotta think about. There are visceral charms aplenty, but the cerebral aspect generally takes precedence. That's fine by me. If I start to overtax my brain, I simply turn up the volume. A good prescription for anyone.
We Were Skeletons
We Were Skeletons
reviewed in issue #319, August 2010
Ah, some truly meaty constructions. We Were Skeletons are quite a bit more raucous than yer average math-y unit, so I'll go with arty hardcore. These songs combine exquisite technical aplomb with hair-raising distortion and a seriously energetic attack.
Better for you than Grape Nuts, I'll tell ya. We Were Skeletons simply rips through these songs. Every piece seems to be properly in place. Even more remarkably, these songs make sense in terms of construction.
In other words, the noodling is kept within reasonable limits. This isn't hairy-scary stuff, it's merely tightly-focused aggression. Sounds better the more the volume is raised up.
Alright, so not everyone needs a dose of power. Nonetheless, We Were Skeletons absolutely tears things up on this disc. That counts for a whole lot with me.
What Do You Know About It
reviewed in issue #155, 3/23/98
Yes, another Mick Harris project. One that is particularly well-suited to the Wordsound stable. More throbbing, almost throttling beats, so thick and painful continuing is barely an option. But press on, I must.
Harris is the indisputable master of crafting electronic beats and making them speak for themselves. His problems almost always come when he tried to match those beats up with some sort of accompanying music. Here, he really doesn't bother. There are some nice keyboards and bass work, but strictly tied to the beat. No fucking about.
Which leads listeners deeper and deeper into the dark. That is, after all, what this journey is about. How far will you go. How far can you go? Do you dare at all?
When he focuses on the beat, Harris is at his best. The Weakener is almost single-minded in that approach. Ipso facto, dinnae dunno, you get the idea. Now boarding.
Cracker Gasoline Party
reviewed in issue #71, 2/28/95
Heavy rap-funk from the asshole of Texas (I know; I spent way too much time there a while back). After kicking off with a harsh remake of "King of Rock", the rest of the tape sticks to original compositions.
All in all, it sounds no worse than your average Beastie Boys records (and Weasel-MX sounds a lot like the Beasties), but the production left everything in that heavily-baffled demo hell.
Nothing that a little more care won't help. This stuff is pretty good, if a little derivative.
Who knew experimental electronic music could be so damn slinky? Andrew Weatherall returns with his second album in two years, and this one burrows into the ears almost immediately.
The experimental elements ride a current of mid-tempo beats and friendly bass lines. In that way, this album could certainly be considered subversive. What sounds like a bouncy, almost gentle, instrumental electronic set contains some of the most innovative and intriguing ideas I've heard all year.
More than one wag has referred to this as a quandary, but I don't think the music works without the tension between the experimental and the accessible. And believe me when I say this album can be appreciated for just its commercial elements. It is hardly ordinary, but Weatherall's expression of more popular elements is spectacular.
The tracks are long, and the journey takes a while. And it feels like it finishes in an instant. If you've ever wanted to hear a musical conversation about the merits of Chemical Brothers and Aphex Twin, this is your joint. Don't say I didn't warn you.
The Silver Globe
The Amber Light
Last year, Jane Weaver released The Silver Globe to some serious acclaim. Turns out she had a few odds and ends from the project, and those are now being released as a companion disc, The Amber Light. After repeated perusals, I'm not sure which I like better.
To put it another way, I love them both. Weaver moves through decades of rock and electric sounds without aping anyone. Her vocal style is strong and deceptively simple. She holds the notes of the melodies firmly, which gives her singing a deliberate feel. When she breaks loose, the effect is intoxicating.
Each disc starts with an experimental electronic overture, but Weaver's adventure pop sound quickly takes to the fore. Many tracks have the feel of a densely-populated version of Parallel Lines, but that is a very loose comparison. Weaver's facility with melody and rhythm is breathtaking, but her ability to craft epic pop songs is far beyond anything I've heard in ages. Give the eight minutes of "Argent" a spin and let me know if you have any breath left.
Weaver has been doing this for years, but I'm just now getting around to discovering her. I never worry about such oversights; I'm only happy to finally come into contact with greatness. And unlike many "special edition" sets (which tend to be brazen cash grabs), The Amber Light adds to and, in some cases, even improves upon the stellar Silver Globe. Both are excellent.
As for reference points past Blondie, you can look to Abacab-era Genesis, Peter Gabriel from the same time frame, Florence + the Machine (I suppose that's a no-brainer) and Danish dance-pop queen Annie. Which is to say these songs are addictive and complex. Not to mention insanely beautiful. Weaver's vocals fuse with her prog-electro-pop leanings to create some truly gorgeous moments.
I haven't had an artist grab me like this in some time. I was just paging through the listening pile when I realized that I could not let go of this one. That's a great feeling. There's so much here that I can't begin to say enough.
Dan Webb and the Spiders
Dan Webb and the Spiders EP
reviewed in issue #311, October 2009
Not to be confused with the Australian Dan Webb, who specializes in keyboard-driven rock. This Dan Webb hails from Boston and definitely delivers the guitar. The primitive nature of the recording reminds me a lot of the distortion-laden, minimalist sound of the Capstan Shafts, but this stuff is much more toward the rock and roll side of things.
Like, you know, socks in the pants and all that. Webb is all about the wielding, and these songs are all but hurled at the audience. That's cool with me. A sneer or three is always good.
Very basic, and quite good, basically. Webb and the Spiders don't try to do anything fancy. They just play rock and roll as hard and fast as they can. With the odd hook here and there. It's very nice.
Oh Sure LP
reviewed in issue #320, September 2010
The pop punk equivalent of the Capstan Shafts, Dan Webb and the Spiders play peppy tunes with vocals distorted almost beyond recognition. This is a conscious choice (the music isn't nearly so fuzzy), and it works.
Some songs need to be dirtied up a bit. Webb's tunes are pretty solid, especially in the hooks, but I kinda like the steel wool vocal sound. It adds a sense of desperation to these already almost-falling-down songs.
And so the gimmick works, so well that I can't really call it a gimmick. Rather, it's just one more color in the artist's palette. It works. As do these songs. And nothing else needs to be said.
An album that leaves me breathless. The fury of the attack is impressive, but I prefer the sense of contentment I get at the end. Damned fine.
The Dave Weckl Band
Rhythm of the Soul
reviewed in issue #166, 8/31/98
Weckl is a drummer, and he leads his band through the fusion paces. Lots of r&b and rock influences, with basic jazz underpinnings.
There are some cool moments, like the beginning of "Mud Sauce". But a lot of this sounds like a late night orchestra, you know, like Paul Shaffer or what have you. Easy music with just enough style to attract the masses.
And the more I try and find complexity and nuance in between the notes, the less I hear. Just not there, really. While not quite to the unfortunate level of "happy jazz", it's too close for my comfort.
I wish Weckl felt the need to take a few more chances, really reach a bit. It sounds like he and his band are simply standing still, not really going anywhere. And I think the capacity is much higher.
The Weigh Down
The Weigh Down EP
reviewed in issue #191, 11/15/99
Sorta like if Robert Smith fronted a prog emo band. Oh, the possibilities, right? Matt Thomas has those seriously overwrought vocals (more so in feel than tone--he doesn't shriek much), the guitars noodle endlessly about while dueling with the bass and the song structure is definitely of the nonlinear form.
The highly technical playing sounds a bit strange at first, but it's not hard to acclimate. The vocals are a bit rougher to handle, though I managed quite nicely. Just another direction for this almost ubiquitous sound.
Enhancing the prog feel is a knob job that leaves the guitars with that dull, Stanley Jordan sorta sound. It certainly works, bringing out the intricate melodies with verve and urgency. The mix leaves plenty of space between the instruments, also lending to something of a jazz feel.
I like this sound. I like the way these guys write and I like the way they play. It's just quirky enough to make me lean back a smile a spot. And, hey, when they've got something important to say, I'm all already there. The music is perfect prep for introspection.
reviewed in issue #232, August 2002
Neil Hagerty and a few supremely talented friends come together. The result is something that recalls the funkier moments of Royal Trux, I suppose, but with plenty of new elements. Hagerty's voice and guitar don't change a whole lot from project to project, so the quality and interests of his co-conspirators most often tells the tale.
This album is idiosyncratic to the extreme. But I expected that. The sheer oddity of the sounds heard here is standard fare with a Hagerty project. Enough description. I suppose I oughta pass judgment one of these days.
Alright, I dig it. There's a soulful quality to some of these songs that even the most 70s of the Royal Trux efforts couldn't reach. I'm not saying it's sincere soul--Hagerty isn't exactly known for bright-eyed idealism--but it's kinda quirky anyway.
Shit, I'm a sucker for goofy, inventive music. Weird War is nothing if not goofy and inventive. The songs hold together pretty well. That's good enough for me. Like I said, I'm a sucker for this kinda stuff.
split 5" vinyl with Panicsville
reviewed in issue #184, 7/5/99
When I say 5" vinyl, I mean it! This thing is, well, small. Very inventive packaging, which is what can be expected from Nihilist.
If you got through my review of the Nihilist full-length, then just apply it to their side of this slab. While possibly even a bit more lo-fi than what I heard before, it fits right into the psychotic electronic style I was expecting.
The John Wiese side is pure electronic noise in the finest tradition. This side rolls at 45 (the Panicsville is at 33), so the squelches and yelps burst past at a fair clip. Pretty cool.
Actually, the entire execution here is pretty cool. Weird, certainly, but quite impressive. I wish 5" vinyl held more sound.
The Mort Weiss Trio
The Three of Us
reviewed in issue #260, December 2004
I'm always a bit nervous reviewing jazz albums because I'm simply not particularly knowledgeable about the stuff. I know most of the biggies, and I know what I like, but it would take years of study before I'd even think of doing a short bit for Downbeat.
Well, maybe a month's study. But you get my point. Anyway, one of the things I like about the Mort Weiss Trio is its unusual construction: Weiss on clarinet, Ron Eschete on seven-string guitar and Dave Carpenter on bass (stand-up, of course). The guitar-bass rhythm section lends the songs (all of them standards of one sort or another) something of a beat, hipster feel, while the clarinet simply adds an otherworldly character.
Weiss has a warm, round tone and handles the melodies on these songs with strength and grace. Eschete and Carpenter match his style and feel quite well, giving this album a toasty, cozy sound.
Is that good? I dunno. I know I'd like to hear some of Weiss's own compositions--it's always nice to hear what an artist writes for himself. But his selections are good and the performances are quite engaging. I suppose this isn't the most challenging album around. It is a lot of fun, and that works for me.
reviewed in issue #188, 9/20/99
The first song on the disc is called "Another Form of the Blues," and that's what the Welfare Gypsies seem to be cultivating. The funkier side of the blues, but more of a sheen than out and out syncopation. All of the songs have their base in the blues, one way or another.
And there are a lot of ways that the Welfare Gypsies wander. Always looking for a new shading of the blues, the band adds some salsa, boogie and roots sounds to the base funky feel. The influences don't overpower, however; they bring the strengths of the band to the surface.
One strong point: the technical skill of the band. These songs are played with immaculate skill and a good amount of touch. At times I'd like to hear just a bit more emotion, but in no way is the sound stilted. It's more wanting for more success.
The folks can play and sing; the sound is good and the songwriting more than up to the task. On the mainstream side of sounds, of course, but quality is quality. And the Welfare Gypsies have all that.
Bob and Danny Weller
Tree of Thorns
reviewed in issue #270, November 2005
And now back where we started. Bob and Danny Weller lead a fine quintet (which includes two more Wellers, Ellen and Charlie, and Cliff Almond) through a number of their own pieces and a few standards.
The arrangements are somewhat unusual, what with the heavy reliance on piano and bass (in almost equal measure). It's more the combination rather than the featuring of the instruments themselves that catches my ear. By and large, though, this is still traditional jazz fare. The solos are well-taken, fitting in well within the songs.
The sound, too, is traditional jazz, leaving plenty of space for all the players to express themselves while still providing a modicum of warmth to the proceedings. That's a tradition that will likely never go out of style.
Not the most adventurous outing around, but a highly enjoyable one nonetheless. Weller, Weller and cohorts know their way around a tune, and the songs here get fine workouts. Solid, refined and most engaging.
Kicked in the Teeth Again
reviewed in issue #124, 12/2/96
Kinda like Bad Religion, except substituting slacker philosophy for the politics. Actually, a lot like that.
And damn, I've missed that pop-punk buzzsaw attack, so this is a stroll down memory lane for me. And even a full-on cover of "Suspicious Minds". What could be better?
Well, the lyrics are inane at best. And after a few riffs, the Welts seem content to stick along in the same mode for the whole album. A nod to various current movements (ska, really poppy stuff, etc.) here and there, but mostly the same old-same old.
What I like about Welt is also what I don't like. Call it conundrum corner, but that's the way it is. And by the way, that cover of "Suspicious Minds" is indicative of the album: It's starts out with a bang, and ends in a sea of mindless, repetitive nonsense. I know, that's pop. But it doesn't have to be punk.
reviewed in issue #165, 8/17/98
Punk anthems throughout this CD. Sick of jobs, nothing to believe in, nothing left to say. A lot of people compare these guys to Face to Face which seems about right. The guitar grooves also give a nod to Pennywise. All in all, a pretty solid punk band. Does it stand out? Not quite, but if you're looking for someone else to support your punk theories and attitude, Welt will do just fine.
The new album was produced by Bill Stevenson and Stephen Egerton (Descendants and All), so it's pretty clean and clear for everyone to hear. Angry pop punk. That's definitely better than happy thrasher punk. Feel free to add this one to your punk collection. It'll fit quite nicely between Voodoo Glow Skulls and X. Or is it not punky to alphabetize?
-- Aaron Worley
reviewed in issue #23, 10/31/92
Not a completely unknown band, Wench has been around in one form or another since 1987. Before that, a related band went by P.M.S. Everything about this is real slick, but the music is not too bad. As the release notes, it bears a passing relation to Soundgarden, though Yana Chupenko's vocals are rather unique.
Production is good and the aim is definitely at a commercial record deal. Some thing about his bugs me, but I can't put my finger on it.
Oh well, the music isn't bad.
Seeing Stars EP
reviewed in issue #293, February 2008
Finely-crafted pop rockers, with wonderfully kitchy brighteners. You know, bounding keyboard riffs, Bacharachian horns, etc.
All that is well enough, but Werth's wry lyrics and even slyer delivery seal the deal. These songs aren't particularly deep, but they're amusing and they sound really good. I'm a sucker for the well put together piece, and Werth has five of 'em here.
A piffle, perhaps, but a piffle that splits the corners of my mouth because I'm smiling so much. Maybe it is all surface and no substance. I don't care. I'll let you know when the dose wears off.
John West's Mind Journey
reviewed in issue #137, 6/23/97
West is the singer for Artension (also on Shrapnel). He's got the usual Shrapnel sides (including George Bellas, making his third appearance in this issue) and has crafted an album of mid-70s power rock.
I do wish the keyboards sounded more like an organ than a Casio, but even so, the songs show off West's considerable singing talent. And unlike some prodigious belters, West actually manages to convey the feelings of his songs.
But where the singing and playing are good, the song arrangements sound almost artificial. This goes much further than the keyboards, whenever West isn't singing the sound simply takes off into some alternate universe. This is more than a bit disconcerting.
West pulls this album through on the strength of his voice alone. And if the other parts had made a bit more sense, then this might have been a real statement.
reviewed in #164, 8/3/98
Once again, West (who also sings for Artension) has surrounded himself with some of the top Shrapnel session sorts (including Scott Stine on guitar) and cranked out a load of power metal tunes which bring back memories of Deep Purple and Uriah Heep.
Without the keyboards, I guess. This is a guitar and vocal album, and I have to say that the music arrangements compliment West much more than on his last album. There's still a few strange asides (this stuff works best when presented balls out, without the arty touches), but West sure knows how to belt these songs out.
And it's not like they're particularly good. Not bad, actually, but not the sort of fare to inspire legions of fans. The musical ability is much higher, perhaps, but the human factor in the songs does seem somewhat diminished.
Which is not to say I didn't enjoy myself. Of course I did. This music falls nicely into my comfortable cheese range. Stuff I like, regardless of the merit. And there's plenty of merit here. Not as much as you might hope for, but enough to put a smile on my face.
Dodgin' the Dirt
reviewed in issue #45, 11/30/93
Thanks to Miller and his Mountain of work, Leslie West has been pretty busy. He played on a few tracks on Billy Joel's new album (returning the favor with "New York State of Mind" on this disc) and, well, you seem to see and hear him everywhere.
Of course he can still handle a guitar very nicely, and his voice is a pleasant, bluesy kind of rough. His choice of songs to cover is rather odd, except for Hendrix's "Red House", which I think almost everyone has done. He, of course, manages as well if not better than any of the other pretenders.
This heavy blues-rock is really not my bag, but West almost makes me really like it. It's fairly commercial and all, but thoroughly enjoyable.
The Stepchildren of Rock split LP with Doc Hopper
reviewed in issue #179, 3/29/99
Actually, Weston leads off this double shot of live sets, but in the interests of alphabetical order I stuck Doc Weston first. Hope this doesn't confuse anyone.
And really, this is two live albums for the price of one, clocking out at more than 70 minutes. Each band goes through a full set (16 and 13 songs, respectively) , rambling through most of the familiar territory.
Right. Weston's songs are fairly crafted, but the playing here is rather sloppy. In the live context, this works quite nicely. Plenty of energy, and the sound is excellent. Works about as well as a studio album, really. In fine form, truly.
And the Doc Hopper is much the same way. Looser and more aggressive than studio stuff, but not overly so. The clever lyrics are still on full display, and quite honestly, I like this sound better than what I heard on Zigs.... Well done all the way around.
The Wet Secrets
The Tyranny of Objects
Betwixt the twee of the Shins and the muscular avant-pop of fellow Canadians Arcade Fire and New Pornographers, the Wet Secrets blast out impossibly catchy songs that have the cutest little noodly hooks. I guess the long Edmonton winters are good for something past backyard hockey rinks.
I'd forgive any listener who thought this sounded familiar. It does, though not necessarily dressed up in these clothes. And I will make this one exception: If you think you've heard a tighter, catchier set in recent times, I think you might be mistaken.
Rather than stick to trippy arrangements or full-on power, the Wet Secrets delve into the slinkier, kinkier sounds of pop. So mixing disco beats with stoner rock riffage makes perfect sense in that context. Actually, pretty much anything this band does on this album makes sense, which is just another example of greatness.
Quite the eye-opener. The Wet Secrets have been making these eclectic albums for some time; I feel the need for some research. My guess is that most folks hearing this for the first time will feel the same way. Don't fear the awesomeness.
What Cheer? Brigade
We Blow You Suck
reviewed in issue #317, May 2010
Imagine a professional drum corps distilled down to a dozen or so members. With shows on stage rather than football fields. Okay, so only band geeks are likely to get the drum corps reference. The point is to imagine the coolest marching band ever and then let it play whatever the fuck it wants to play.
I understand that the shows are marvels of kinetic energy. There's so much space between the sounds in the mix that this album sounds like it was recorded while the band itself was in full motion. In fact, that's true, as many tracks are live recordings. In any case, I wanted to start jumping as soon as this album popped through my speakers.
The aforementioned sound certainly helps with that. This album is alive. It crackles with energy. The performances are boisterous and imperfect. In short, everything is utterly awesome.
Okay, maybe it is just the inner band geek in me. But I would drop everything to see a show. And this album is about to go into heavy rotation. I am positively flying right now. Wheeeee!
What Made Milwaukee Famous
Trying to Never Catch Up
reviewed in issue #257, September 2004
Laptop-style keyboards, but in the context of a band. Or, perhaps more accurately, imagine moody laptop-rock played by a band. No, that still doesn't do it. Well, hell.
Simple, solid, tuneful rock and roll, with a decidedly mordant side. Not dour, but introspective in a slightly snarky way. Just enough bite to make me smile.
Take away the out-of-place (but highly effective) keyboards and the clever lyrical bits and you have basic rock done exceptionally well. What Made Milwaukee Famous doesn't really go balls-out, but the subtle approach works well for the boys.
One of those albums this might sneak up on you. Listen to it a couple times and you'll think, "Hey, that's really good." Indeed.
reviewed in issue #148, 11/24/97
Lush, lush pop music with a heart of tin. Skins and drum machines are used interchangeably, often with the base rhythm track sounding a lot like a click more than a thump. The vocals are delivered in a varying sheen of distortion, and the bass and guitar are completely dulled.
Without such excesses the songs themselves would likely come across as saccharine, but this wretched excess in the booth saves the proceedings. So much that I dig it excessively, kinda like pork rinds after I've had a couple beers.
The self-conscious deconstruction of their music extends to the playing. On "Soft Polluted Blacks", for example, the acoustic guitar accompaniment can't keep a steady tempo at all. And again, that woeful inconsistency puts a fresh face on stuff that would otherwise be rather unpalatable.
Walking the edge of disaster, Wheat stays on the cool side. The difference between Sonic Youth and the Carpenters may seem like a gulf, but Wheat likes to hang out in that tiny corner of the world where they meet. One slip, though...
When Dreams Become Nightmares
reviewed in issue #247, November 2003
I don't know if it's the food, the voodoo, or something else. All I know is that there have been a number of great loud bands from New Orleans. When Dreams Become Nightmares follows in a proud tradition.
The sound here is a fine cross between anthemic, melodic Eurometal, hardcore and serious death metal speed. With a dose of the grind thrown in just to make things meaner. These guys have written some astonishingly long songs (for this kinda music), but they work. The ambition is impressive. The execution is incredible.
Okay, so these boys are young. As long as no one comes along to eliminate a few of their wide-ranging influences, I think these boys could make some serious noise before they're done.
Green Light EP
reviewed in issue #201, 6/26/00
A foursome from Central Florida that sounds like it's trying really hard to make "important" pop music. With a few jokes thrown in.
The four songs here sound something like a cross between the B-52s and R.E.M., with a Britpop sheen falling over at times. The writing is a little uneven, though the songs all have a nice depth. There are times when the pieces run out of steam.
Basically, the songs could do with some live shows. I think Where's Moo would really benefit from a few more gigs. There's a nice core of talent here. It's just young and somewhat unrealized. I know, another one of those "keep working" reviews. Well, sometimes that's what's needed most.
...& other Delights (advance cassette review)
reviewed in issue #26, 1/15/93
A comprehensible My Bloody Valentine. I'm not sure if that means it's better or worse. The new psychedelia is all mush to me.
reviewed in issue #125, 12/23/96
In the enclosed press stuff, the Rev boys tried to convince everyone that Whirlpool wasn't too weird. This from the label that houses Iceburn...
So no apologies necessary. Stop it. Whirlpool rips out all sorts of stuff, from atmospheric pop to balls-out rockers. Rachel Stolte takes most of the vocal duties, but Rodney Sellars provides nice counterpoints from time to time. This stuff has been crafted with exquisite care, and yet sounds as raucous as a drunken brawl. Quite the accomplishment.
Inside Glass just keeps coming on as the songs roll by. What a great album to end the reviews. Simply a joy to hear. I'm sorry, am I non-sequituring you to death?
Then quit reading me and go do something else! Whirlpool is truly wonderful, and you can ignore all of my other flowery prose. Just get thee to a record store and hear this for yourself. Awe-inspiring.
reviewed in issue #141, 8/18/97
Fully orchestrated roots stuff, complete with fiddle, piano and occasional horns. Whiskeytown prefers to plays full on, with a sparsely recorded but still resplendent sound. Sounds a lot like the Jayhawks of 10 years ago, which I liked quite a bit.
The songs generally relate some dreadful situation which managed to resolve itself, most of the time not in the favor of the song's subject. And the songs' styles mutate nicely to better describe the tale within. Everything from the blues to western swing is broached and twirled into the basic Whiskeytown sound with nary so much as a wink.
This is a group of folks who know precisely what they wanted , and they got that. Each song is well-conceived and expertly executed, all with a loose-as-they-come feel. The genuine article.
Maybe its just the oncoming rush of cooler air and better days that's got me feeling so good. But my guess is that Whiskeytown has a pretty big hand in that mellow, contented feeling as well.
reviewed in issue #331, October 2011
Combining the ragged enthusiasm of power pop with the technical precision of math lines--and then adding more than a dose of new wave melodic sensibilities--the Whisperlights sure put a lot on the plate.
So much that a couple of these songs tend to bend under the weight. I imagine that this stuff is stripped down just a bit live, which would make these already-jaunty songs that much more frenetic.
There are Shins-y hints now and then, but I'd stick the Whisperlights solidly between Big Star and the Wrens. The boys need to let loose just a bit more, but the ferment at the center is already quite impressive.
The ambition here is to create songs that nod to a dozen or more traditions. That the Whisperlights don't completely collapse is a miracle. That this album is highly enjoyable and filled with moments of pure bliss is a testament to the band. The future ought to be quite bright.
So Far Away
reviewed in issue #78, 6/15/95
A perfect example of what the P.D. at the Missouri NPR station (as opposed to the college music station) used to call "happy jazz". Well, he probably still calls it that, but I don't think he works there any more.
White is a drummer, but the reason his name is on the album is that he's the producer (not unlike Sergio Mendes). And while this is perfectly charming easy listening music for the masses, I can't get into it at all. Any rough edges have been mercilessly refined.
Hey, if you like Kenny G, you might dig this. But I don't.
reviewed in issue #196, 3/6/00
The accompanying descriptions says this is "not folk, not country, not rock...", and I'd have to agree. White is very much in the same territory as Songs Ohia and Palace, a singer-songwriter who uses expressive singing and playing to get her point cross.
Though I'd say she's a bit more accomplished musically and vocally. White has an amazing emotional range with her voice. Her guitar picking is precise without sounding mechanical. It just sounds great.
The songs themselves aren't really wrenching, though they do delve into some uncomfortable areas. This is a very personal album (which I think I alluded to with my references), one that connects in ways much deeper than surface musical sound.
Daring and original, White steps confidently on this disc, making a big statement without any pretension. I'm utterly smitten.
White Collar Crime
The Work Release Program
reviewed in issue #123, 11/18/96
Boy, this could pass for Blue Yard Garden's peppier brother. Same roots-rock influences, with just a bit more bounce in the step.
And a little more generic, too. Pleasant stuff, sure, and executed quite well, but still somewhat uninspired. That acoustic backbeat groove gets old quick, and the hooks are sweet but tired. I know plenty of folks who dig this kinda thing (say, the critics who made the Uncle Tupelo alumni albums the hit of the Village Voice poll last year), but it doesn't hold my interest for long.
Good enough run-throughs of a familiar sound. If that's all you want, then dig in.
The White Fires of Venus
Skin and Light
reviewed in issue #290, October 2007
After all the high energy and easy-rolling of most of the reviews in this issue, it's nice to settle into a mellow and emotionally-intense album like this one. More palliative than purgative (I always embrace my inner cheese) as far as all that goes, this album comes on like a lamb before it sears the soul.
And I'm talking as much about the music as the lyrics. Jeff Sparks is the songwriter, and he pays as much attention to the tunes as his words. Which, in turn, makes those words that much more important.
Funny how that works out. Resonance is a beautiful thing. The attention to the sound is similarly impressive. The songs sound like they're sparsely arranged, but most of them have a few nice little bits hidden in the margins. Treats for the discerning listener--treats that enhance, rather than distract.
Quite simply well done. The Ponyno album might have the sound of sunset, but this one has the feel of midnight. A very welcome repose after a most rewarding day. Ride this until the coals fade from the fire.
The White Octave
Style No. 6312
reviewed in issue #207, 10/30/00
These guys have the lead track on the new Emo Diaries compilation, and they show a real desire for shaking up the emo universe. The first song is acoustic, the second a starkly crunchy staggering rocker and the third a wonderfully combination of fuzzy bass and ragged guitar chords.
So the first thing that can be taken from this is that the boys don't like to play nicely in the corner. How do they fit in to the whole emo thing, anyway?
Well, see, there is the rather stripped-down feel to all of the songs. And, of course, the trademark heart-baring that is about the only thing that really holds all of the bands within this "movement" together. The White Octave has a quiet intensity that gives this album a real emotional wallop. The thing never lets up.
And when that intensity is combined with wide-ranging influences and a need to explore the outer limits of music, well, good things are bound to happen. The White Octave never stops pressing, and that leaves me totally impressed. This one leaves a mark.
(Moment Before Impact)
reviewed in issue #217, 6/4/01
These guys really do the deliberate emo style well. Kinda traditional, with that anthemic chorus trip really amped up. Yeah, it's kinda predictable, but I still get a rush at the climax. That's the key to a good song.
And there's two good songs here. The first fairly short and the second kinda long. Both settle into much the same groove. Something of a progression from the band's recent Deep Elm album, I'm detecting a bit more maturity here. Just a bit.
Mostly, though, I had a good time. Simple as that. There's nothing like settling down with a fine slab of vinyl and letting the songs flow forth. Worked to perfection here.
White Shoes & the Couples Company
reviewed in issue #331, October 2011
A group of Indonesians who, somehow, suckled at the breast of Burt Bacharach and other mellow proto-disco popsters of the early 70s. Makes one wonder just what the hell we're exporting these days...
Ah, but that would be dismissing the outstanding stuff on this album. The vocals sound vaguely Asian, and they're sung in Indonesian or some dialect. But what's really striking is just how southern Californian these songs sound. They're adorably bubbly and just plain goofy at times.
Indeed, the joy of listening to this album is the palpable sense of innocence. Nostalgic without delving into sentiment, these songs are just plain happy. When you get that syncopated jangle groove going and lay a flute on top, well, that's what I'm talking about!
The layered harmonies, the jaunty rhythms and the flat-out sense of fun are utterly infectious. Whether from Indonesia or Reseda, these folks would succeed no matter what. The smiles are on the house.
William Elliot Whitmore
Ashes to Dust
reviewed in issue #261, February 2005
William Elliot Whitmore takes his inspiration from just about anything that might be called roots music: rural blues, folk, you name it. He's got one of those raspy voices--with a real range--that gives him instant credibility. This is a voice that has lived.
His songs are generally written in some sort of blues construction. Not call-and-response so much as a ballad style. But not romantic. These songs are probably best described as laments. Really cool ones, at that.
While Whitmore's voice and acoustic guitar have a truly rustic feel, there are a few additions in the studio that really help to fill out the sound. Particularly arresting is some haunting electric guitar work that doesn't add melody but rather a sense of loss.
The complete package. Whitmore can write, play and sing the blues. These songs are some of the most arresting I've heard in quite a while. Whitmore is an American original.
reviewed in issue #130, 3/17/97
Jazz with a definite new age twist. Whittaker isn't as sickly sweet as many of his keyboard counterparts, but he obviously doesn't want to be stuck in any one musical realm.
I don't like the excessive flourishes, and the melodies here are far too facile to allow for much appreciation. Whittaker does have nice voicing on both the piano and keyboards, but I don't like the way he uses it. There's too much talent here to leave a sound like this.
As evidenced by many other albums in this issue, mellow doesn't have to mean insipid. But Whittaker has sacrificed his creative integrity in the name of a wider audience. Hey, if that's what he wants...
reviewed in issue #346, 3/10/13
Whitworth still dips into the "girl and a guitar" singer-songwriter style, but this album has much more of a band sound. Not a lot of rocking out, per se, but the arrangements feature a steely lushness. The album comes on slowly, but it has a serious punch.
Whole Sky Monitor
Twised Little Piggies
reviewed in issue #321, October 2010
Finally, the theme of the issue is revealed: Intricate, up-tempo, often jumbled pop. Whole Sky Monitor does it all, from crashing percussion to wailing riffage and occasionally shrieked vocals.
This was all the rage, what, fifteen years ago? Something like that. Slow it down and you get post rock. At this speed it would probably have gotten some sort of "punk" label. I'm not sure. What I do know is that I like the mess.
Which isn't to say that these songs don't work. Indeed, they're a fair bit more coherent than, say, the stuff from Soft Reeds. But there are some fine moments of deconstruction (there is a song titled "My Regeneration"), served with a joyous noise chaser. The production left all the edges in, which makes this sound even louder than it might otherwise.
Turn it up, jump around and try not to smile. The energy is infectious, and the quality of the songwriting ought to ensure that this takes a long time to get old. An exhilarating ride.
Lead Me 7"
(Hi-Karate/Brave New Records)
reviewed in issue #85, 9/4/95
A pop band in metal clothes. Whorgasm cranks out grungy riffola and attitude, but the whole package then gets filtered through this whole punk-pop veneer, and the songs are basic verse-chorus pieces that are much more tuneful (even "Scream Motherfucker") than your average Seattle outfit.
Also, Whorgasm doesn't slow up for anyone. This is a most original sound, and it bodes well for the upcoming album. They haven't had a single out on Bob Mould's label for nothing. A nice little set.
reviewed in issue #92, 11/20/95
My turntable must have been playing tricks on me. Considering the recent 7", I wouldn't have described Whorgasm as L.A. Guns meets the Pretty Hate Machine side of NIN before, but that's right where this album is.
Catchy as hell (which I do recall) and so cheap and easy it almost seems like a guilty pleasure. Of course, there are the artsy and trippy moments where they borrow a lot from the old glamsters Sweet (dig "Numb" for those wonderful Connolly-Priest-Scott-Tucker gang vocals and sound).
And the mutations continue from there, as Whorgasm keeps up the beats, riffola guitar styles, wild samples and cool vocal effects. The Bowie cover is great, and by the time you get to obvious novelty hit types like "Michael Jackson's Sex Change" and "Tell Him to Get a Bigger T.V.", you'll be completely entranced. And probably laughing a bunch as well. Whorgasm is about as unpretentious a band as I've every heard (good thing, considering the music the band promulgates).
As fun a ride on an album as I've had this year. Not specifically what I expected, but I did anticipate a good album. Whorgasm comes through with a real blockbuster. We are all powerless to resist.
Why I Must Be Careful
reviewed in issue #333, December 2011
I got a cheesy promo CD, but if you plunk down $200 (and I'm not joking about that), you can get the official vinyl version encased in a real-live honeycomb. Really. I'm not entirely sure how well the vinyl will play if any of the wax melts, but that's your problem. And since the record drops next April, you've got time to save up.
All I have to do is review the music, which isn't particularly difficult. WIMBC plays very mathy stuff that also happens to be almost insanely accessible. Think Zappa's Synclavier releases, only played by a real band (though with a heavy keyboard element). Oh, and just a bit weirder.
Still, when the music goes absolutely berserk it becomes endearing. There are only two side-length tracks here, and the moments of madness really punctuate the linear explorations of the band. Does this make sense to you? If not, you might want to spend your $200 on something else.
But if what I've said intrigues you (and you've got a couple Franklins burning a hole in your pocket), then truck over to the web site and get a taste straight from the Honeycomb. Yeah, it's arty. Yeah, it's a little crazy. But it works. These guys (John on drums and Seth on Fender Rhodes) work together extremely well, and their connections create some truly fascinating music.
Painting a Burning Building
reviewed in issue #256, August 2004
Bright, shiny pop songs (or, as his web-site so eloquently puts it, "Michigan indie-pop") that have just enough of an undertow to kill off the initial sugary overkill. Set the hook--then yank hard!
In fact, Wiard seems to really dig the darker sides of the universe. The songs themselves rarely lose their smiley-face sheen, but the lyrics can get downright mean. Again, this is about the best way to use pop.
Obviously a Nick Lowe devotee (and there's nothing wrong with that), Wiard isn't above slipping in a little misdirection and slop when it feel right. Kinda like those intentional flaws that make up the "signature" of a master craftsman's work. The sound has that clunky "real" feel that made Lowe famous as a producer.
Truly exciting music. Wiard has a real knack for writing lyrics that cut right to the chase, and then crafting some fine pop music to dress the whole song up. Top notch all the way.
Heads Will Roll
(Raven Music Group)
reviewed in issue #153, 2/23/98
Dual lead guitars and a short-cropped blond singer who favors leather? Wow, I haven't heard such a Judas Priest tribute in ages. Rob (another coincidence?) Rose has the perfect droning growl for the sound, and the band cranks through a series of fine melodic metal anthems.
And I'm not kidding with the Judas Priest reference. These folks are steeped in the sound. Okay, so Vicki Rose and Dwight Farmer do have their own styles of taking leads, but the rhythm work and general song construction is dead on.
There are moments where band breaks out of the mold, in particular the power ballad "Goodbye", which instead apes the Scorpions, complete with that weird German-inflected English singing style that is a Klaus Meine trademark. One I get past the obvious influences, I must say the sound is great. Whoever produced this has a great hand.
I'd like to hear more originality. Hey I love this stuff, too, but to really go somewhere a band has to find its own road. Wicked Angel needs to wander down that way.
The Wicked Farleys
Ken Theory 7"
reviewed in issue #138, 7/7/97
Rather disjointed fare that lurches to-and-fro, from singer to singer and rhythm to rhythm. The strange thing is that in the end, it all makes sense.
The actual content of the songs is kept behind wall of fuzz guitars and a something akin to a mattress. It's something like that demo feeling, except that this is intentional and it works. Maybe it's the flute that comes by every once in a while.
Heavily layered stuff that requires some discipline to appreciate. I promise, though, that if you sit through it you will be much happier afterward. This is one of those sounds that must be experienced to be understood. Outstanding work.
split 7" with The Vehicle Birth
reviewed in issue #187, 8/30/99
The second cool seven-inch from Doom Nibbler reviewed in this issue. The Vehicle Birth does a tune called "Toronto," and The Wicked Farleys issue forth "How's my Driving?"
The Vehicle Birth keeps the sounds muted for the first half of their piece, though the playing is often intense. Ever-churning, "Toronto" blazes into a messy pile by the finish. A somewhat typical construction, I'll admit, but it works well here.
The Wicked Farleys, by contrast, open with a flourish and don't slow up. Some great strident rhythm guitar work drives the motion of the song (I'm not sure there's really a "lead guitar" anywhere). Did I mention that this is an instrumental? Yep. Top notch, too.
The second cool seven-inch from this label. Well, when you can tap into talent like this, it's not surprising that the stuff sounds good.
reviewed in issue #64, 10/15/94
If you're like me, there is a certain part of you that yearns for quality anthemic metal, such as was popular in the early- and mid-eighties. You know, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest (and not their later stuff; some on), etc.
The danger, of course, is than many of these bands rip-off rather than revise. They accept mediocrity. That is not the case with Wicked Maraya.
Yes, you can clearly hear who influenced these guys (a couple of American bands make that list, too), but this is their music, not a carbon copy of someone else's.
There isn't anything particularly groundbreaking going on here, but it just sounds so great. Cycles is a fun disc to play. Nothing to be ashamed of there.
I'm always interested to hear what gets translated from generation to generation. Sometimes it takes a few tries to get things right. New wave took almost 30 years to get right on the flip side, and I don't think there's a decent grunge band going these days.
Wieuca is pushing things. This amalgam of 90s no wave (U.S. Maple, etc.), rhythmic atonal rock (Touch and Go, etc.) and 80s indie rock is probably about 10 years ahead of its time. Are you ready for the Minutemen playing Husker Du produced by Albini? Or, in another mood, the Replacements playing early Soul Asylum produced by a four-track?
No, because it's awfully hairy. But while these boys are from Athens (the one in Georgia), they do sound a lot like the more anthemic (and less tuneful) stuff that some of those great Minneapolis bands created.
Come to think of it, that was more than 30 years ago. So maybe my math isn't as bad as I thought. Maybe Wieuca is right on time. Not sure that matters, though. The loopy, disjointed glory of this album is its own calling card. Not for the faint of heart. Hang on, though, and the ride will reward in the end.
Lost in Your Hometown
reviewed in issue #160, 6/1/98
Can I just say that Jason Wilber has some of the scariest hair I've ever seen. Fonz hair, stiffened with soft hair spray instead of lard. Alright, I said it. Now on to the tunes themselves.
Country-tinged rock music, but old style country. Almost rockabilly at times. I can hear echoes of Johnny Cash, Buddy Holly and Carl Perkins. The sound has even been altered to present a somewhat scratchy picture of the songs. Tape hiss. Wow, it's been a while. A pretty cool additive to the songs.
Wilber is happy to kick out ballads and ravers as he pleases, and he sure knows how to write folksy songs that cut right to the center of the situation. The classic style, done real well. And the music is hardly overdone; the loose sound gives the songs room to breathe and find their own space. Somewhat surprisingly, on the second half of the disc he begins to favor a Paul Simon-like sing-spoken delivery. It works pretty well, offering a bit of a departure from the first few songs on the album.
Well done all the way around. Wilber has a real talent for songwriting, and this album captures all the poignancy of those pieces. One of the best albums I've heard this year.
reviewed in issue #333, December 2011
Just what the title says, a collection of odds and ends from various short projects (including the split 7" with Run, Forever that's reviewed later in this issue)
The Wild plays rollicking indie rock-inflected americana, kinda like Uncle Tupelo did way back when. The Wild focuses more on craft, but there's plenty of range and emotion in these songs.
Some of that comes from the pieced-together nature of this project. This is hardly a coherent album, but it sure is an attractive portrait of a working band.
And a fine way to set up a full-length to be released next year. I can't wait.
The Wildwood Band
reviewed in issue #278, September 2006
I'm generally not a big fan of the rockin' blues. I like bluesy rock and roll, but not the other way around. And Doug Wood and friends are definitely playing the blues with a rock and roll beat. For some reason, though, they seem to have gotten it right.
One of the main reasons it works, I suppose, is that the music is played with a light hand. There's no forcing the sound into a corner, which leads to an easy melding of styles. And then there's Wood's harp work, which is simple and yet unrestrained.
If you're familiar with Steve Miller's pre-"Joker" output, you might have an idea of what's going on here. But there aren't a lot of guitar pyrotechnics, just an emphasis on solid songwriting. Which might be another reason this stuff makes me smile so much.
Nothing complicated. Just good music played with steady hands. Sometimes that's all you need to settle into the groove.
Pitch Like a Girl
reviewed in issue #154, 3/9/98
Simple, unadorned songs, some thoughtful lyrics and the occasional good hook. Mostly, though, the star is Wilhoite's voice. A voice which is not as expressive as it could be, but just breathy enough to do the trick.
Very basic songwriting, with a few nice bits from the producers booth (layering a guitar lick here, dropping in some organ, punching up the drums there). Songs of empowerment, each one telling a tale of how someone CAN get what they want. Even if what they want isn't quite what they had in mind.
Subtle, at least for a major release. The producers managed to avoid the "let's make a hit" mentality, sticking simply to what works. And make the star the star, of course.
One of those albums I hope hits it big (and when you work with a major label, well, that has to be an aim). I wouldn't mind hearing this stuff on the radio. Beats the shit out of what's there now.
Pearl of Great Price
reviewed in issue #6, 1/31/92
Another Front Line Assembly side project (see Delerium also), Will is the more industrial of the pair. You CAN'T dance to this, unless you also frequently hit the floor whenever the tempo drops below 80 bpm.
But I think that's a good thing. Most of this would seg quite nicely with the slower passages of Tiamat's album, or any other slow death passage. The vocals are gritty enough, and it certainly is rather harsh sounding.
Very streamlined, however. This is not a samplefest. They find an industrial, soul-less groove, but a groove nonetheless, and stick with it. I like this a lot. I'm not sure why, but I do. And with titles like "Furnace of Souls" and "Exhaust Inhibits," I don't see why this wouldn't fit into the progressive loud music format.
reviewed in issue #27, 1/31/93
Side projects give folks the opportunity to explore music that their normal groups do not. Rhys Fulber of Front Line Assembly took this to mean he should make boring music on the first Will album. I'm not sure what the other two members of this project were doing, but it wasn't terribly interesting.
On this EP, however, things have changed. Will is still nowhere near FLA aggression levels, but as dancey mood music it is rather nice. I admit it: I listen to early Neil Diamond at times (my girlfriend just can't understand it). This may be a guilty pleasure, but a pleasure it is nonetheless.
reviewed in issue #191, 11/15/99
The hardcore edge of the metal/groovecore revolution. Will Haven thanks tourmates such as Vision of Disorder and Limp Bizkit, but really, this sound is more extreme. Every single sound is simply, well, more so. There is more distortion, heavier guitar sound and a greater sense of chaos.
Heading toward the great waves of excess works well for the boys. This isn't happy music; it is the sound of rage and alienation. There is no need to simplify for the masses. The masses don't care. That's why this album sound so raw in the first place.
Oh, and simply a lovely job in the producer's booth. The sound is heavy (though flexible so as to move when necessary), and the mix blurrs the instruments and vocals just enough to create that solid wall of pain that's fairly necessary.
The songwriting is impressionistic in style, obliterating a number of styles with the keel haul sound. A vaguely friendlier Buzz*Oven? Sorta. Will Haven has crafted its own sound quite well within a sound full of generic posers. I bow in honor.
reviewed in issue #223, 10/15/01
Atmospheric extreme hardcore, verging on doom metal drom time to time. Oh my, I think I'm gonna make of mess a myself here.
The power alone is enough. Will Haven blasts enough sonic disturbance to sterilize insects at 50 feet. Add to it an almost perfect grasp of just how far to take untrammeled aggression without losing touch with reality.
These boys stay in the real. There's very few studio tricks or other nonsense. Just throbbing, achingly harsh riffage. The kinda stuff that burns on contact. The boys manage to keep their sound fresh by incorporating a number of interesting ideas, including just backing off for a moment to emphasize the power that is to come.
Once again, I'm left without proper words for the experience. Will Haven leaves a path of wreckage strewn in its wake. This stuff grinds and pummels any object that offers resistance. And that's not me. I'm the one saying "Full steam ahead!"
reviewed in issue #17, 7/31/92
Do we really need another Seattle band attempting to define "The Sound of Fuck?" Probably not, but the public wants it, so who really gives a damn.
Yes, Roadracer's latest attempt to cash in on the Nirvana-Pearl Jam-Soundgarden-Alice in Chains-Queensryche-etc. craze is yet another very competent band. If only Willard had a song called "We Really Groove on the Melvins." Then I could stomach this better.
Slower-than-fuck at times, but definitely Seattle to the hilt. You're gonna succumb, so why not get it over with?
Willard Grant Conspiracy
In the Fishtank 8 EP
(Konkurrent-Touch and Go)
reviewed in issue #226, February 2002
Most of the time, the liner notes describing a particular project are overblown and excessive. They hype the album more than describe it, and the whole thing ends up sounding like a blow job. On this disc, there's a short description on the back. And it says everything I'm going to say a whole lot better. So if what I say intrigues you, just go find this disc and you'll be properly enlightened.
In the Fishtank, of course, is a long-running series of short improvisational encounters between bands. Except this time the Willard Grant Conspiracy and Telefunk rehearsed beforehand. The result isn't so much a wild sound that whipsaws between slammin' electronic beats and acoustic guitars but rather a muted confluence.
The rehearsal allowed the artists time to research and arrange some very old songs (with a couple more modern ringers). The recording sounds almost fragile, which fits the material very well. This disc doesn't have nearly the synergistic improvisational energy of others in the series, but the quality of the collaboration more than makes up for that. Another more than worthy addition to the canon.
Regard the End
reviewed in issue #249, January 2004
Robert Fisher and Simon Alpin wrote most of the songs here, and they're joined by a cast of more than a dozen. Recorded in Slovenia (really!), this album sounds more like a one-man effort than a collective.
But maybe that's what it is, after all. Fisher has the bulk of the writing credits, and I assume that's him doing most of the singing. The songs themselves are these gorgeously dark rambles, something that brings to mind the sight of a midwestern dust storm a few minutes before impact.
I suppose that might be a bit of an obscure reference. These songs are well-crafted and produced to elicit a decidedly spooky sound. There's a good amount of reverb, and when the fiddle wails I do get a bit of a Dirty Three chill. Works like a charm, too.
Just when I think things can't get more desolate or bleak, there's a killer of a last line. The lyrics follow in the tradition of the blues. This works well, even if the music itself is anything but bluesy. The end result is, strangely, uplifting and affirming. Survival is something of a task, but it does bring great rewards.
William Carlos Williams
reviewed in issue #145, 10/13/97
Obviously not the famous poet, but a band that figured it would be cool to use his name. Fine by me.
The stuff itself is rather undefinable. Kinda like a free jazz approach to rock music. Most of the songs are instrumental, mostly because there would be no way to introduce vocals without completely civilizing the chaos within. And I have a feeling no one wants that.
Rarely is there construction of any sort. The band members seem to have an unwritten understanding of how to react to each other, though I'm not sure I would be able to tell if that wasn't the case. It's just that in this swirling world of joyous, seemingly-random collisions, I think I can almost hear some cohesive element. Or maybe that's my brain trying to impose order where none is needed.
Who knows? Certainly, William Carlos Williams is intended for those who like their music free and unfettered, without any preconceived notions of what is and isn't music. People like me.
reviewed in issue #165, 8/17/98
Not the poet, but a band which likes the poet. And makes music that is certainly poetic. A kind of free jazz-noise rock fusion. Like if Charles Gayle got together with K.K. Null, just to see what happened.
Since this is the second disc I've heard from this band, I can tell you that the effect is intentional, and it's stunning. Music that not only avoids convention, it shreds any notion of stability.
There are, of course, limitations to "unlimited" music, but William Carlos Williams manages to swim its way past most of the obstacles. While certain squeals and squelches are probably spur-of-the-moment, most of these songs could be replicated in a reasonable fashion.
And so while carving out new realms of sonic chaos, the band can also play live shows without simply improvising all the way home. Oh, this is wild stuff, alright, but certainly it qualifies as "real" music. Very good music.
The Dave Williams Project
reviewed in #164, 8/3/98
Making money as a band is a bitch. If you want steady money, the easiest thing to do is play covers and drop in a few of your own pieces, selling discs on the side. Maybe not a path to fame, but at least a (reasonably) steady paycheck.
The Dave Williams Project is one of these bands. I got a repertoire, and it's heavy on the 70s AOR sound and power ballads. All of the songs on this disc fit into the "hair band trying to sound sensitive" vein, first in a "regular mode" and then in "light acoustic mixes" (which, honestly, aren't far removed from the other versions).
The sort of songs which used to be some of my favorites. But I'm going into my adolescent Bon Jovi fixation here. What I can say is that Williams has a hell of a voice, and his songs are pretty good. At least as good as the stuff that put such bands as Warrant and Firehouse on the map.
For what the band is playing, this is good stuff. That said, there isn't much commercial call these days for the hair band ballad. I'm fairly sure there are plenty of good reasons for that. I just don't know where these songs might go.
Davey Williams and Numb Right Thumb
Texas Was Delicious
reviewed in issue #196, 3/6/00
Davey Williams plays guitar, devices and toys. His side men also play, among other things, devices and toys. The music they make, well, it's not so neatly described.
Where some instrumental noise pop bands get contemplative and moody from time to time, Williams and Numb Right Thumb almost always keep things in motion. There are less involved moments, but these songs (while often lengthy) come in a rush.
Which is not the say that the sound is excessively filled out. Not at all. Indeed, there's lots of space between the notes. This disc sounds anything but full and heavy. Cluttered, perhaps, but that's another thing altogether.
The title of the disc kinda shows that the band likes the oblique side of reality. The songs here reflect that attitude, and they can be a little difficult to handle at first. I'd suggest kicking back and letting everything hit you at once. Don't overanalyze any one part; judge the whole. It's pretty impressive.
Welcome 2 My World
reviewed in issue #114, 7/15/96
This album is Gene Williams. Oh, there are a few small guest slots (mostly where he wanted a real drum sound), but the vast majority of sounds and ideas here come straight from Williams' head and hands.
For an album composed and performed mostly on keyboards and computers, Williams has crafted a very human sound. The beats are funky, but not overbearing. The samples are relevant and insightful (some moments reminding me of the Bomb Squad's best work with Public Enemy) and the music manages to lilt without pandering. Smooth, but not boring.
Very impressive, indeed. Williams plays reasonably well, but he's a master visualizing his work in progress and then assembling all the necessary pieces to complete the sound. Is it jazz? Rock? R&B? Sure. All of those, and even more. Williams borrows from everywhere and has found his own niche.
Williams deserves all the hype he can manage. He is one of the few people who can take the lessons of the past and incorporate them into a whole new sound. Exciting is hardly the word.
reviewed in issue #258, October 2004
Saul Williams casts himself as the anti-gangsta gangsta, the literate MC who managed to crawl from the ghetto to get an education and make something of himself. Um, no. See, Williams rejects absurd nonsense like that as well. He stays rooted in reality, not theory.
This album is a wondrous melange of hip-hop, rock, soul, electronic disturbance and all sorts of whatnot. His shouts in the liners go to Andre 3000, the Mars Volta, Planes Mistaken for Stars and Mike Park, among others.
Williams is the maestro at the center of the maelstrom, and when he waves his hands, chaos erupts. Imagine a much more grubby N.E.R.D. without any pretense of pop sheen. Williams doesn't seem to be interested in the mainstream world, but nonetheless he's crafted a dense, tension-filled symphony that has more than enough presence to catapult Williams into the spotlight.
A pressure-cooker of epic proportions, this album is so jam-packed with ideas and creative thought that I thought my CD player would melt down. Okay, that's a cheesy and stupid thing to say, and Williams is anything but. In any case, this is one album that ought to earn respect and admiration from just about everyone. Mind-blowing.
reviewed in issue #79, 6/30/95
Chicago's own Daniel Johnston. Willis has recorded something like 400 songs and released (on his own) 20 albums over the past three songs. His regular job is street artist, and he's been diagnosed as a chronic schizophrenic. So, of course, he's a remarkable artist.
His odd, Biz Markie-like vocals are backed by a cheap keyboard most of the time. The lyrics are often based on personal observations or news stories, often without much embellishment from name, date and place.
Much like Johnston, the music seems completely stupid at first (and even after a while). But a few listens help provide a portrait of a schizophrenic. Songs like "Outburst" really bring the point home.
A odd collection of songs that require some explaining, but who said music should be easy?
Fabian Road Warrior
reviewed in Money Whore issue #8, 8/26/96
The only reason to listen to Wesley Willis is to experience the sheer joy of making music. Wesley is not terribly creative musically (every song has pretty much the same Casio backing), and he tends to repeat himself lyrically. But he sure does enjoy what he's doing.
Which makes this sort of thing almost irresistible. Lots of folks (including me) profiled Wesley with the release of his "greatest hits" on Alternative Tentacles, so you probably know all about his history of mental illness and other stuff. If not, I'm sure MTV news will have something tomorrow.
Not to be taken seriously. Morning shows will jump all over stuff like "Alanis Morissette" and "Rock Saddam Hussein's Ass" (which have many lines in common, actually). You can get tired of this stuff pretty quickly, but hell, catch an amusement buzz while you can.
Feel the Power
reviewed in Money Whore issue #9, 10/21/96
Assisted by the Dust Brothers on this one, the sound comes out a bit fuller. Of course, there are only so many ways to mutate the same Casio riff. Yes, there can be too much Wesley. Most folks would probably balk at the second album in two months. Whatever.
I just like the stuff, I guess. Wacky and utterly annoying, Willis satisfies some need inside me. Don't know what it is. I don't want to know, either.
What else can be said about Wesley? He rants, he raves, he has only one piece of backing music. And he's still amusing. To me, anyway.
reviewed in issue #162, 6/29/98
Ten years past his supposed "comeback" solo album, Brian Wilson has finally exorcised many of the demons that have plagued his life for more than 30 years. Hey, everyone wants this to be a great album and a big hit. And with such Wilson-philes as the High Llamas and pop in general ruling the "alternative" scene, the kids may finally be ready to embrace a true rock and roll pioneer.
So, if all the stars are in alignment, is the album any good? Well, it is gorgeously appointed. Wilson's voice sounds great (he quit smoking a while back, so this album doesn't have any of the rasp of its ten-year-old predecessor), even if he's not singing about anything profound. In fact, the lyrics are downright inane at times.
But the music is so wonderful, complicated and pristine. Supposedly some of these songs have 96 different vocal tracks (okay, Wilson is still a little obsessive), and he also layers the instruments as well. A producer's dream project, a masterwork.
And so I'm more than willing to forgive silly lyric content. Imagination is the sound of a genius stretching his legs a bit. I hope he keeps working out, because from the sound of this Wilson has plenty of waves left to catch.
As Wave Follows Wave
reviewed in issue #116, 8/12/96
Cool composers find ways to incorporate disparate types of music into each other. Matt Wilson wrote most of the songs here, and while it is some seriously aggressive jazz music, I can sometimes hear inflections of folk and bluegrass music.
Some of that is simply inherent in Wilson's percussion work and in the sparse production of many of the songs. While much of this follows both bop and cool schools, there is an echo of another form altogether, and Wilson isn't afraid to let it in.
I've often been annoyed by drummers who think that playing fast and loud is the way to show off talent. On "Old Porch Swing", which Wilson plays on his drums with no accompaniment, the tempo is slow, but Wilson's skill expresses more than even words could say.
Some of the time I think he gets a little too happy about his drumming, but for the most part Wilson allows his sidemen to shine nicely. The alternating moods of the songs provides nice counterpoints, and makes the overall experience very pleasurable.
Going Once, Going Twice
reviewed in issue #154, 3/9/98
Wilson's debut was a fine example of how jazz doesn't necessarily have to sound like jazz. He dabbled with a variety of ideas and sounds while still giving his sides plenty of room to shine themselves.
Wilson's a drummer, if you didn't know, but instead of peppering his albums with excessive drum breaks, he simply keeps time in inventive way, breaking out tastefully.
His own compositions are easy to identify, because Wilson doesn't limit himself to any sort of "official" jazz school. Now, Wilson is a very careful composer, but he allows his mind to wander into many areas which are a bit odd. The title track is based on the rhythms of an auctioneer (the introduction helps there), and Wilson in general likes to infuse his music with midwestern themes (there's a reason he calls his publisher "Grainfed Music").
As impressive as his first album. For a young guy, Wilson's adventurousness is impressive. He's not afraid to take a chance or ten. And his music is the ultimate beneficiary of this attitude.
reviewed in issue #78, 6/15/95
Easy listening stuff from the lead singer of Seawind. This sounds a lot like DeBarge, which I remember liking when I was 12.
Of course, I think this sort of thing is commercial cheese today. Pseudo-pretentious lyrics allied with bouncy keyboards and Top 40 bass (a really nasty affliction).
And not terribly distinguished for that sort of thing, even. Wilson has a strong, clear voice, and maybe this is what she sings best, but I still like those early Seawind songs much better.
reviewed in issue #343, December 2012
Take all the kitchy soul of the late 70s and then modulate as desired. Renny Wilson used to go by the moniker Sugarglider, but he's decided to go by his (apparent) real name these days. And hey, Sugarglider is an awesome name for an album, as well as an apt description of the music.
Slinky beats, keyboard-driven melodies and modestly-arranged harmonies. Kinda like if the Flaming Lips were channeling Hall and Oates rather than Dennis Wilson's inner demons. These songs sound so pleasant until you actually pay attention. Then they get just a wee bit frightening.
For starters, the melodies and beats aren't entirely constant. Wilson trips the speed and pitch from time to time, just enough to induce a short bout of queasiness. I like that spot of discomfort. It pulls me in.
Music that gets stranger the more I listen to it. Which is exactly as it should be. In another month or two, I might be declaring true love.
My Apartment's Many Smells
reviewed in issue #208, 11/20/00
Kent Randell was in the fine UP (that's Upper Peninsula--Michigan) band manRay 19. His explanation of that's band's demise is as pathetic as any I've every read: "Our drummer stole the van, so I guess we broke up."
That sense of humor is extended to the name of his new project, which is hardly reggae (any more than anything else) or even particularly sex-obsessed. Instead, it's basically Randell making music with a wide variety of friends and in a wide variety of styles.
Randell does wander, and while he generally does stick to some sort of a noise pop/rock feel, he drops so many unusual ideas into the mix that it's hard to really classify this entire project.
Other than horrifically inventive. Randell's ideas don't always work, and even when they do they come in at such an odd angle that it's sometimes hard to approach them. Patience is the key in any such endeavor, and I think I'm going to find more and more that I like with each listen. There's an awful lot here to hear.
Every Last Windmill Shall Fall
reviewed in issue #260, December 2004
Windmill is Kent Randell and a whole bunch of friends. And not unlike the Slomo Rabbit Kick album I reviewed in this issue, it sounds more like an idiosyncratic one-man effort than a collaborative band project. Hey, weird is good in my world.
But Windmill is really more quirky than weird. Imagine grand, sweeping landscapes populated by some strange old coots who can't (or don't want to) keep quiet. These songs burble and pop along without a solid sense of direction, which is fine.
The song as character study. Or somesuch. The sound is rich and full, but with just enough space for the loopy interspersions to drop in. It almost sounds normal. But almost isn't. Not quite.
Again, that's a good thing. There are so many little nooks and crannies in these songs that even the laziest explorer will discover entire new worlds. And that texture is what makes this album most enjoyable.
reviewed in issue #158, 5/4/98
Two guitarists and a drummer. Mostly acoustic guitar, folky harmonies. The occasional extra instrumentation. If the songs aren't very good, they get found out quite quickly in this format.
They are good. Introspective, searching lyrics that examine the most naked of human thoughts and emotions. The music is pretty damned good, too, with some fine interplay between the guitars. Mellow, sure, and nicely textured. Contemplative, but not dreary by any means.
Solid songs put forward in a striking style. Sometimes the quietest albums can be the most searing. Wine Field shies away from nothing in its attempt to understand why. And there are plenty of whys to explore.
An emotionally wrenching album. Nothing cloying or saccharine; Wine Field trucks only in genuine goods. I hope these guys keep looking for a long time.
Thank You All Very Much EP
reviewed in issue #209, 12/11/00
Think of a trio that tries pretty much to split Big Star and Palace right down the middle. Or, as some might say, this is a collection of muddled pop songs that reek of heavy inspiration.
Stuff full of heavy licks and throbbing hooks. Though the hooks aren't necessarily coherent. Just wonderfully affecting. These songs wobble in such a charming way it's pretty damned hard to put them away.
But I don't really have to, which is a wonderful thing. Winechuggers have an endearing way of writing and playing. This short introduction is just enough to make me want lots, lots more.
Winfred E. Eye
Til I Prune
reviewed in issue #304, February 2009
It's dangerous to ply that whole minimalist roots/americana sorta thing. You get compared to Wil Oldham, and then people pigeonhole you and then...
Yeah, well, Winfred E. Eye (that would be a band, not a person) wanders through familiar ground, but there are just enough ravers here to keep the proceedings from getting positively dreary.
Patience is required, of course, but these aren't the inscrutable ravings of madmen. Rather, they're keenly observed pieces about the human existence. Wags may ask, "What's the dif?" with some justification, but I have to say that these songs are simple enough to make sense and introspective enough to be interesting.
Oh, and that high lonesome sound is one of my faves, as well. Aaron Calvert and Mikel Garmendia have been doing this for a while, and they seem to have the hang of it. I liked digging into this one.
Today Was Another Day
reviewed in issue #332, November 2011
I am a bit ahead of schedule on this one, which will be released just after the new year. Just in time for the fans to let loose a little of that Christmas money.
A new Winfred E. Eye album is a present, after all. These shambling compositions roll along with an assured grace. Dusty they may be, but never do these songs threaten to fall apart. Rather, they slowly compact into modest greatness.
And all with an offhand feel and slightly reverb-y sound. Not much distortion, but more than the average alt-americana sorta act. Of course, these boys are hardly average.
Yes, a new Winfred E. Eye album is a present. And maybe if you beg long enough, you'll get a taste before it's time to crack open the gifts. And if not, let me assure you that the quality will not fade during the next two months.
FONT SIZE=+3>Mark Wingfield/Kevin Kastning
I Walked Into the Silver Darkness
reviewed in issue #329, August 2011
Wingfield takes the electric guitar, and Kastning the acoustics. Some very weird acoustics (Have you ever seen a 14-string contraguitar? Recently?). The results are predictably noodly, but rather surprisingly focused as well.
Truthfully, the pieces are simply gorgeous. Wingfield and Kastning work together almost seamlessly, giving and taking with an almost-impossible grace. These songs go almost everywhere, and yet each step seems eminently logical. Like there was no other choice in the world.
And maybe there wasn't. I don't know how improvised these pieces are, but when you get inside someone else's head, interesting things can happen. And if you can anticipate without stepping on toes, that's when things get good.
Things get great here. The ideas are thrilling, and the pieces are lovely beyond words. Exceptional.
reviewed in issue #29, 2/28/93
After many attempts to get this out (the press lists this as re-released last October), finally most of you will be hearing this for the first time. Heavy technical doom-death metal with these occasional Uriah Heep-ish keyboards that kinda twist your mind at times.
Everything is very clean and sludgy (not quite an oxymoron; think of bits of clay slamming into each other). Rather nice psychodelic turn on the genre. This is not your everyday (or every night) death metal album. It slowly beats your brain into complete submission.
The Winter Sounds
reviewed in issue #342, November 2012
Taking the jaunty keyboards of new wave, the sonic disruption of career-end MBV and the simple melodies of punk and folk, the Winter Sounds have put together one enticing album.
There's also a proggy feel to some of this stuff, which simply adds another intriguing layer to the sound. Think early Cure with a lot more punch, or perhaps a fuzzed-out Echo and the Bunnymen as a modernish alt-rock anthemic outfit.
Excess is the key. There is so much going on every second that the mind cannot process it all. Everything feeds into the same groove, however, so those layers simply complement the whole. I'm not sure I want to try to unspool everything that's going on here, and I don't think the band does either. The final result is a glorious burst of joyous energy.
No one else sounds like this. The Winter Sounds are alone in their almost limitless ambition, and yet these songs are easily accessible from the first beat. There's no letup until the final note fades. I can't think of a band that has expressed most of the finer points of the last 30 years of music as well as this. Probably the best album of this year. Certainly one of the finest of the past few years. An absolute stunner.
reviewed in issue #310, September 2009
There are the usual pop references on the press sticker of this disc: Elliot Smith, the La's, George Harrison. Okay, so you don't see that last one so much. But they all miss the point. Wiretree is channeling 70s Nick Lowe.
That's not bad, when consider all the pots Lowe had his hand in back then. The simple fact that Lowe produced Elvis Costello's first five albums should be enough to illustrate my point. A closer look at the liners shows that Wiretree is, by and large, the solo project of one Kevin Peroni. Peroni's voice isn't a dead ringer for Lowe's, but it's in the ballpark.
The six Peroni-produced tracks remind me of 70s Lowe. The three tracks produced by Lars Goransson are a bit more modern in feel, reaching forward into the late 80s. They provide a fine counterpoint to the punchiness of the other material.
And on the whole, both sides of Wiretree come together to make a fine album. Peroni is a fine songwriter. And although it sounds counterintuitive, if he is willing to trust other folks to do the producing, he might well find a sound that is pure Wiretree. I like the way this rolls.
reviewed in issue #330, September 2011
Kevin Peroni may hail from Austin, but his heart is in the north of England. A bit of Liverpool, a bit of Manchester and the slightest smidge of Birmingham. All in the service of good music.
These peppy, poppy songs make an immediate impression. Their insistent rhythms and rollicking hooks are impossible to ignore. This may be formula fare, but it's at the highest level.
The production leaves more round sounds than most popsters look for today. I like that. It gives the bass more bounce and the harmonies just that much more achey ring.
Alright, Peroni could skip the half-assed cockney accent. It's a little annoying. But his songs are wonderful, and the band pounds them out impressively. Try to get these songs out of your head. Bet you can't.
reviewed in issue #225, January 2002
So few bands take advantage of the opportunity to use male and female vocals as co-leads. Singing at the same time. Playing melody and harmony off each other, even in the verse. Without Face does, and it gives the band's heavy goth sound an added dimension.
This is not to say that the vocals are joined at the hip. At times Juliette's vocals are layered, as are Sasza's. There's no need to be doctrinaire, and indeed, Without Face changes its sound up impressively.
Wending from pretty goth melodies to gritty extreme bridges (and back again), the band's approach to song construction is as much prog as it is pop. There is an emphasis on technical skill and ability, though not at the expense of emotional impact. Plenty of that left.
I've always thought that the best goth stuff was dramatic and excessive without getting silly. Without Face allows itself to wander over the edge now and again, but never does it become a parody. That line is almost indefinable, except when it is crossed. Not here. Some of the finest, most creative dark musings I've heard in quite a spell.
...And Anger Was a Warm Place to Hide
reviewed in issue #132, 4/14/97
In the fine tradition of hardcore bands recording metal albums (and there IS a difference, believe me), Withstand has added a big sheen to the guitar sound and turned the somewhat anthemic into gawdawful pretentiousness.
There are lots of reasons why I generally am disappointed by this sort of thing, and Withstand presents me with almost all of them. The songs have nearly identical constructions, things move along at a dirge-like pace for far too long, the attitude comes across as idiocy; that sort of thing. In a word: Bleah.
Yes, I understand that many folks are enamored of this kinda thing (someone bought the new Rollins Band, for reasons unknown to me), but that's really no excuse. Eve an interesting interlude like "All Souls" comes off like "Lick My Love Pump".
Too much posing for my taste. I need a bit more substance.
Jeff Witzeman & the Jealous Housewives
In the Middle of the Riddle
reviewed in issue #207, 10/30/00
Impeccably-played roots rock. I mean, this stuff sounds great. The arrangements are solid. It's the rest of it that bugs me a bit.
First, the writing follows all the rules. There isn't an unexpected passage anywhere on any of these songs. The lyrics sometimes try too hard to make a point, to be relevant. Forced lyrics are a killer.
Still, this album is hard to rip excessively. The playing is amazing, and the production provides just the right stage for each piece. By the book there, as well, but it's a good book. Jeff Witzeman and the Jealous Housewives sound like major label talent. The material, however, needs some work.
This sounds like expert musicians who still haven't quite hit upon consistent artistic inspiration. There seems to be a heavy reliance on stock chord progressions and rhythms. And the lyrics just aren't as deep as they're presented. A very pretty package that's kinda hollow in the middle.
(CBGB Records, Ltd.)
reviewed in issue #156, 4/6/98
Hopelessly messy and upbeat punk stuff. Three women whose irreverent attitude can be discerned by the cover painting of a pregnant succubus. Humor that works on far too many levels to mention.
The tempos are so fast it doesn't really matter whether or not the playing can keep up. And you know, that sorta thing just doesn't make a difference here. This is fun music, stuff that can't be analyzed. It just works.
High in the amusement factor, and a real kick in the ass, to boot. Complex? Complicated? Naw. Just high-speed thrills and the occasional garish crash.
A big wad of fun. Nothing more, but then, not much more is needed.
I Have Some Language
reviewed in issue #190, 11/1/99
The sort of thing I've taken to calling "jangle noise." Or, to be even more obtuse, jangly noise pop. And it's not that the Wobblies really even use that much distortion. It's just that the chords don't really match up particuarly well, and construction flaws cause the songs to break down at least once or twice.
But, see, that's not a problem here. The songs hold together well enough with their attitude and spirit. I mean, the Wobblies weren't trying to create an homage to the art of the three-minute pop song. Nope, this is music with a point and a purpose.
And that point is... I knew you were gonna ask that. Angst, I suppose, is the right answer. Not a moping, whining sort of sound, but an angry, pissed off one. Most of these songs sound like searches to find place and meaning. It's just not a meek journey by any sense of the imagination.
Pretty damned cool all the way, really. The Wobblies know how to set a mood, even if they can't completely sustain it (those darned construction problems). No matter. I think I got the message.
No Peace Without the Beat
reviewed in issue #172, 11/23/98
Not quite drum 'n' bass, this Chicago outfit does focus on those elements rather extensively. The beat exploration is stunning, and the accompanying electronic disturbances (mostly in the techno realm) help to flesh out the sound. A full fledged electronic riot.
This music will pump you up. Not in one of those cheap, meat-market dance club type ways. But more fully grasping your soul, taking hold and requiring your attention. The slightest hint will lead to complete immersion in this universe.
And a glorious one it is, with the aforementioned hyperactive rhythm section and the swirls of guitars and keyboards above. Power, that's what I'm talking about. Wod uses the technology to its full effect, pulsating sonic abuse into every pore.
I'm breathless. Worn out. Drained from my contact with this disc. Utterly and completely absorbing. An amazing album.
Age of Madness/Reign of Chaos
(Czar of Bullets)
I've always felt that "doom" was simultaneously an odd and obvious metal subgenre. After all, metal usually doesn't propagate giddy feelings. And, perhaps more to the point, how can anyone claim to be a "doom" band after Type O Negative?
Wisely, Wolf Counsel doesn't try to sound too much like its predecessors. There are the necessary nods to the Sabs, of course, but there are also many more upbeat and almost punk moments. You wouldn't be too amiss in wondering how much Faith No More or Mushroomhead these guys have bouncing around their heads.
And so this isn't so much turgid stoner rock as it is just plain powerful. Wolf Counsel sounds like it is having some fun, even with song titles like "Semper Occultus" and "Coffin Nails". Though when I think about it, perhaps those titles do convey a bit of a wink and a nod.
I dunno. I smiled a lot more than I expected while listening to this album. This is metal for metal people. If you don't like buzzsaw riffage carved out of the power chord bible, well, there are plenty of other things for you to sink your ears into. Connoisseurs will know how to properly digest this one.
Evil Is ...
reviewed in issue #210, 1/8/01
I recently read an article that seriously posed the question "What is it that rockers see in porn stars?" Talk about missing the obvious. Anyway, when I heard this I asked myself why Megaforce was cranking out this silly pop metal rap act. I gave myself a dose of the obvious and tried again.
Wolfpac poses hard, but then the boys go and do something silly like cover the "Humpty Dance." With full disco groove. Even with titles like "Gravedigga" and "Someone's Going to Get Their Head Kicked In," there's no mistaking the fact that these boys are lightweights.
Incredibly appealing lightweights, despite their reliance on tired sexist rhymes. Let me rephrase that; you can be clever or you can be stupid. Wolfpac almost always goes for the easy, stupid rhyme. The catchy beats help make up for that, but still...
Fun? Yeah. But nothing spectacular. Wolfpac just doesn't have the edge or the wit of the cutting edge pop/rock rapsters (say, Eminem or Limp Bizkit), and in the end, that's why I just can't jump on the bandwagon.
Stuff We Leave Behind
Jasmine Lorraine Poole (it feels gauche to leave out her middle name, for reasons that might become obvious) decided to open her debut album with a twangy a capella shouter. It's an immediate grabber, leading to the obvious "Is this what the rest of the album sounds like?" question.
The answer is a resounding "No!" In fact, just about every song that follows also begs the same rumination. Poole rambles all over the whole folk/rock/country/americana/etc. universe, rarely hitting the same spot twice. She's astoundingly adept at a wide variety of styles, and she seems content to use her expressive voice as the connective tissue for these songs.
Her adopted moniker fits well. She can be a bit of a lyrical wonk, but she saves her real geekiness for the loving way she weaves so many threads into each song. One could teach a course on the myriad of influences within a single piece.
This is no academic exercise, however. It's a real hoot. Poole isn't afraid to fall deep into wherever a given song is heading, but she's got a sure handle on the arrangement and production of her songs. Her band (which appears on every song but the opener) playing things mostly straight but is always lively. Whenever Poole threatens to lurch, she's pulled back in by the music.
Really a superlative effort. Poole's perspective and musical range are singular, and it sounds like she left everything on this album. A lot of fun, to be sure, but with a depth that resonates with each subsequent listen. Exceptional.
Original Punk Super Stars
reviewed in issue #253, May 2004
The Public Eyesore web site calls this stuff "anti-climactic concept rock." Jesus, I wish I could think of stuff like that. All I could come up with was "dreadfully-recorded drone surf." Though that's not terrible. It just makes Wonwons sound, um, bad.
And instead, this is a charming little set. Short songs, and not very many of them. Six studio tracks (as such) and five live recordings (three songs are repeated), and all of them sound like the soundtrack to the old "Batman" TV show if it were played on a turntable with a bad motor and fucked-up needle.
Again, I must insist that I'm writing a good review. I really like this stuff. It has a certain joie de vivre, a panache that would be lacking if Wonwons had actually bothered to spend money on recording. Sometimes you have to break music down to its simplest forms to truly appreciate it. And sometimes I work too damned hard to justify my oft-bizarre taste in music. Whatever. This disc is good for me.
reviewed in issue #333, December 2011
Math-y, minimalist heavy indie rock. Really. Brice Woodall likes him the sound of a rough-edged guitar and organ. With plenty of bass and drums when the time is right. Oh, and the lines are just spectacular.
Sure, this stuff is a bit conceptual. Takes a few brain cells to make an initial connection. That's cool. A lot of great music takes some warming up. Once your motor is running, though, it's oh-so-easy to cozy up to this album.
Woodall's voice is one of those creaky, kinda fuzzy instruments. It adds the perfect sense of imbalance to the tightly-wound songs. And the louder he sings, the loopier the songs tend to get.
The craft is exquisite, and the playing is quite enthusiastic. Take a few moments, and you'll be grooving on this, too.
reviewed in issue #203, 8/7/00
There are 13 tracks here, but that's just to complete the theme. Woodall, through his use of found sound and creative studio work, has crafted an interesting meditation on the entire concept of luck. Bad luck, to be specific.
At times playful, and at other moments rather subdues, the music constantly challenges. The pieces have something of a classical cast to their sound, but I think a better comparison would be a movie score.
Music and attendant noises. Yes, I think that conveys the concept of what I'm hearing so much better. Woodall is telling stories with his pieces, and he uses whatever he can find to illustrate his tales.
Whether haunting or invigorating, Woodall always manages to impress. These pieces are quite easy to access, and once inside there is plenty of room for wandering. Put this disc on and take a field trip to your frontal lobes. Don't forget the black cat.
Pictures in Mind
reviewed in issue #228, April 2002
The songs on this album are inspired by various works of art. Paintings, to be more precise. And not just any paintings. Seurat. Pollock. Lichtenstein. Balthus. Some heavy hitters. And thus the title of the album.
Woodall's work is constructed of a variety of electronic sounds (many of which sound quite "real," in the sense that the general feeling is that the stuff has been recorded by an orchestra). He likes to take a theme (based on the painting in question, I assume) and give it a full workout.
I'm not familiar with all of these paintings, but the ones I know are reflected in Woodall's homages. He doesn't see them the way I do, of course, but that's not a problem. The fact that he's able to so completely express his interpretations through this music impresses the hell out of me.
And if you don't know any of the works, Woodall's music might inspire you to take a trip to New York (where almost all his influences hang) and check them out. His evocative sounds certainly make me want to give these paintings a fresh glance. And as for the music, all by itself, I can't say enough. Woodall's ability to make melodies not just sing, but speak, is impressive. Call it jazz, call it classical (in whatever sense you like), it doesn't matter. Woodall makes fine music.
Nowhere Near Here
reviewed in issue #217, 6/4/01
I've been hearing a lot of jangly roots rock lately, but no one has done it like Alex Woodard. Suffice it to say he knows exactly how to put these songs together.
It's a joy to hear music done this well. Not quite produced enough to sound slickly professional, Woodard nonetheless has put some nice polish on these songs. Easy-going and hooky without hitting folks over the head.
Sure, it helps that he knows a guys who've been around the Seattle pop and rock scene and that he talked them into his band. This music would've sounded pretty good if played by hacks. In the hands of such pros, the stuff takes flight quickly and never looks back.
This is the kinda album a major label would love to take, "clean up" and re-release. There are hits here. Big hits. But it would be a mistake to add that extra layer of shine. Woodard has just the right feel and a set of truly amazing songs. The kind of album that instantly appeals and then sticks in the mind for months afterward. The total package.
Wooden Wand & the Briarwood Virgins
reviewed in issue #332, November 2011
James Jackson Toth has recorded more songs than he can remember. He's written more than even he can imagine (I'm taking these nuggets from a couple of interviews I've found on the Internets). So you gotta figure when he settles down and puts together an album, the material oughta be good.
As usual, it is. Recently, Toth has focused more on the Wooden Wand brand name for his stuff, and it is a great moniker for the restless, pile-driving americana blues he cranks out.
Any Neil Young fan will tell you that some of the tenderest moments in a song can come when the listener's ears are bleeding. Toth isn't afraid of volume or noise, but he's judicious. His dynamic flow is better than almost anyone around these days.
None of that would matter if the songs weren't good. And these aren't good. They're transcendent. Life is better with a new Wooden Wand album. Even better than the greatness I anticipated.
A Life in Basketball (advance cassette)
reviewed in issue #46, 1/15/94
Basketball (and even life) wisdom from the guy who knows more about the former than anyone else.
reviewed in issue #314, February 2010
A duo from Portland, the Woodlands sounds a lot like, well, a duo. Strummed acoustic guitars and breathy female vocals predominate. Stop if you've heard this one before.
Except that you probably haven't heard the Woodlands, or you'd realize that I was being more than a little flip. Yes, these songs do have the external sheen of hippy dippy wonderfulness, but they travel some seriously dark roads. There's so much rumbling beneath the surface it's sometimes hard to figure out how Hannah and Samuel Robertson (um, yes, they're married and all) manage to keep the songs so seemingly simple.
The sound is unadorned but not skimpy. The guitars and piano have rounded tones and are given plenty of space to ring out. Hannah's voice is extraordinarily high-pitched (might even be a falsetto), but the recording lends it additional strength as well. This album was recorded in their bedroom. That's some bedroom.
It's easy to get lost in the Woodlands, and that wouldn't be a bad thing at all. Just let the music blow through your soul and then see what you've got after the breeze has slowed.
Til The Bang on the Door
Lucy Woodward bridges the gap between jazz and pop with a growl. She's not quite the torch that Julie London was back in the 50s and 60s, but Woodward's ease and power do remind me a lot of London.
And when you cover Nina Simone and take a page from the Sinatra legend, well, you'd better have the pipes and style to back it up. But Woodward is just as comfortable bouncing in the effervescently goofy pop of "Kiss Me Mister Histrionics" (a song that is as joyous and contradictory as the title suggests). There doesn't seem to be a mood that Woodward can't handle.
And that take on "Be My Husband"? It won't make you forget Simone, but Woodward makes the song her own. The sparse, jaunty arrangement is set off by the full force of Woodward's throaty vocals. I don't know who her partner is on the track, but his slinky smooth voice is the perfect counterpoint to Woodward's earthy fire.
When all the pieces fit together, the results are impressive. In the end, this is a pop album. A pop album that fans of jazz vocals might well find themselves attracted to in the most animalistic of ways. Holy cow, this one smokes!
Simple and Few
reviewed in issue #272, March 2006
Having spent the last seven years in North Carolina, I've heard a lot of bluegrass and "newgrass." Folks in the New South are pretty parochial about their music, and they have a right to be. Merlefest happens every year in the N.C. foothills, and an awful lot of bluegrass legends are tar heels. And yet...
Cindy Woolf grew up in Arkansas and spent a lot of time in Springfield, Mo., which many folks in the northern part of Missouri (where I lived off and on for nine years) generally consider to be part of Arkansas--and not necessarily in a good way. All that aside, this music brings me back to North Carolina, even if it is trying to take me to the Ozarks. While there are some regional touches, I suppose, I'd guess most of the anomalies (couldn't think of a better word) are actually the result of Woolf's own inspiration.
And that's cool. Most of these songs are contemplative, finger-picked folk, with the occasional foray into bluegrass excitement. If you've heard Dolly Parton's most recent albums, you might have an idea of what I'm talking about, though Woolf's album is produced in a much simpler fashion, and Woolf's voice is much stronger that Parton's (Woolf is much more in the range of the buffed steel voice of Nanci Griffith). Woolf assembled a band of orchestral proportions, but each song has a very intimate feel. I like that.
If you'd played this for me without any info, I would have guessed it was from western North Carolina or eastern Tennessee. There are midwestern touches (Woolf's accent, for starters, though that's not the tell it used to be), but hey, isn't there a reason some folks call this stuff Americana? Woolf now lives in Portland (the big one in Oregon), and I bet people there like her just as much as the folks did back in Springfield or North Little Rock. Or, you know, everywhere else.
Marveling at the Rings
reviewed in issue #237, January 2003
Sean Woosley writes the songs and sings. He's got one of those great bar-band voices, and he really likes to try and expand his decidedly limited range. Thing is, the results are more charming than distressing.
And, indeed, the same goes for his writing. Mostly at home with jangle pop, Woosley tries to write all sorts of tunes. Luckily, his hooks are almost all jangle, and so there's always something earnest in the middle.
There's something great about a solid bar band. Every once in a while one of them hits it big, but mostly they play to an appreciative audience of twenty to one hundred. People look at each other and wonder why these guys aren't playing to thousands.
I can't answer that. But I know good music, and Woosley Band has crafted a disc full of it. There's nothing complicated or pretentious here, just tune after tune of solid songwriting and bang-up playing. The sorta album that is bound to leave a smile when it's finished.
Higher than Caruso
reviewed in issue #244, August 2003
Just Sean Woosley of the Woosley Band, playing some guitar to 4-track and then backing up to add vocals and the occasional drum, bass and even keyboard.
There are 17 songs here, and they don't all work. But the worst remind me of bad Rob Crow experiments, which is to say that Woosley is trying his ass off to do something interesting and good, and he succeeds only at being interesting. Not an entirely terrible thing.
Plenty of these "songs" are really fragments, but listening to this disc it's quite easy to hear how Woosley puts his songs together. Which makes this disc a fascinating portrait of an artist--without being pretentious or stupid.
I don't know how many of these discs will ever see the light of day--an article on the web site says that the plan is to burn some 100 to 200 copies. But folks with a penchant for the slightly-off kilter ought to search this one out.
Event Failure Vibrations
reviewed in issue #256, August 2004
I've always had an affection for Sean Woosley's songs. He's got an off-handed way of making his points that slides right into my logic center. Often enough, he matches those unusual ideas with some solid rock and roll to make memorable songs.
This album finds Woosley and the boys in a decidedly Springsteenian phase. Early Asbury Park, I'd say, somewhere between the first and second albums. Loose, lanky riffs and half-shouted choruses. Music that moves just enough to sound effortless.
The sound, too, is very 1974. Almost no sharp edges whatsoever. It's like this album was recorded in seriously antiquated facilities. Could just be a truly skilled--or inept, I suppose--producer. Whatever the case, the sound fits the songs perfectly. In fact, it's that sound that really takes this album over the top.
Yes, the songs are great, and the performances are wonderfully easy on the ears. Woosley Band doesn't go out on any limbs, and yet the result is a completely satisfying album. Sometimes life works out like that.
Follow Fire Exit Signs+The Thundermug Eulogies
reviewed in issue #287, July 2007
See the review above. Sean Woosley and the band have made plenty of albums, all of them good. They've got that midwestern rock thing down, and they do it well. And I just don't think the major labels are ever gonna come calling. But if these boys (or any of the Woosley side projects) come by your town, you'd better stop by and have a listen. It just might restore your faith in rock and roll.
reviewed in issue #173, 12/14/98
Combining elements of prog rock, grunge and the Dead again movement, Wooster Sang manages to crib together a really cool sound. Sort of a modern version of the Doors, without a dreadfully excessive singer.
Naw, just songs which move along nicely, with some kick ass organ and guitar work. Separately, the pieces of this sound really annoy me. But in this package, well, I'm very impressed.
A small suggestion. I read the info (because this is the first package I got in Durham, and I didn't have anything else to read) and I didn't want to hear the album. Too slick, too much marketing crap. I dunno, maybe that's how you get the big deal (and Wooster Sang has a big enough sound to get some real buckage that way), but it turned me off.
Of course, I always let the music do the talking. And here, Wooster Sang's music says more than enough.
The Workin' Stiffs
reviewed in issue #207, 10/30/00
Boy, just what it sounds like. The Workin' Stiffs sling out some forceful blue-collar punk. Songs about drinking, fighting, ragging on the rich and some more drinking, just for good measure.
All pounded out with all the requisite anger and angst. There is a sense of arrested development in the very basic way that these guys write songs, but even that seems to fit the theme of the band quite well. I mean, would the Workin' Stiffs be a U2 cover band?
Of course not. These guys have a basic handle of their instruments and they know how to spew forth some wonderfully crunchy anthems. Goes down smooth with a PBR.
There's nothing complicated going on here. Just yer regular punkers whacking out a few songs. With more than enough attitude to please. Innovation? Get the fuck out of here. Just the facts, ma'am.
Dead Tired ... And Then Some
reviewed in issue #220, 8/13/01
Blue collar punk that always seems to be tending toward oi but never quite turns the corner. Just basic Britpunk, though these guys are from SF. And to be clear: The vocals aren't done in a fake accent. I was just referring to the style.
Perfectly enjoyable, if a little forgettable by the end. Punk bar bands are like most bar bands. If they can play the music in a pleasing way, they've done their jobs. The Workin' Stiffs do the job.
And there's not much more to it than that. The sound is even middle-of-the-road for punk. Not too ragged, but not shiny at all, either. Just, you know, basic. A word that seems to have taken over my vocabulary in this review.
Probably because it's the one word that keeps cropping up in my mind. There's nothing fancy about these guys, just like you'd expect from a band called the Workin' Stiffs. Good ol', you know, basic punk rock.
reviewed in issue #12, 4/30/92
From deep in the heart of Texas (like San Antonio, man) comes this rambling psycho-sludge-funk attack that sounds like everything college radio holds near and dear to its heart, but blasts most of that to shit.
This album has an incredible live feel to it. There couldn't have been any overdubs in the studio. World Bizarre crunches my brain.
I know I'm a sucker for stuff that makes me groove as well as relieves my aggressions, but this is seriously pretty damn good. I'm not sure who gave the Belt Drive folk my address or anything, but I'm glad they did. It meant receiving this great tape.
I could keep raving, but why don't you just get this and listen for yourselves.
World of Silence
(Black Mark Production)
reviewed in issue #153, 2/23/98
Heavy-duty prog metal, following in the fine European tradition that inspired such American bands as Fates Warning and Dream Theater. World of Silence has found a way to make technically superior music that also appeals to a more aesthetic listener.
Gorgeous stuff, so much so I didn't even notice how long the songs were (all longer than five minutes, and most closer to 10). Beauty and power in equal measure, all to fine effect.
The sound is great as well, providing a lush backdrop for the grand ambitions of the band. Ambitions that are fulfilled. Yeah, this is a bit over-the-top. I don't care. It works for me.
This is what power metal is supposed to sound like, achingly brilliant passages wrought with skill and style. For some reason, this puppy sings to me.
World of Tomorrow
Water on Mars
reviewed in issue #209, 12/11/00
Yet another sideways step in the W.O.O. universe, Bonnie Kane leads a merry troupe of jaztronauts on a mind-bending trip through space. Space as in music and as in the stuff that exists within music.
The recording is live, with all of the attendant glories and pitfalls that entails. The improvisations do sound inspired, but there are moments when one or more members of the band gets a little lost. Again, that comes with the territory.
What's most intriguing about these pieces and the noises within is the multitude of sounds that come out of each individual instrument. Much of the improvisation is not so much something within a traditional scale as it is just plain "what can I do to this instrument?" That most of the experiments actually come off well is a tribute to the talent heard here.
Not for the faint of heart, or for anyone who doesn't appreciate truly unusual music. That caveat is there both to discourage and to encourage. If you like to journey into spaces previously unknown, let World of Tomorrow be your guide.
reviewed in issue #232, August 2002
The World of Tomorrow is more horn-oriented than most of Bonnie Kane's projects, and that helps to make these improvisations a bit more varied. Fans will be pleased that these tunes are as depraved as ever.
reviewed in issue #84, 8/28/95
Sounding a lot like latter-day Yes (vocalist and bassist Billy Sherwood sings like a reedy version of Jon Anderson), World Trade wends its way around a collection of mellow prog-rock pieces.
Original Yes bassist Chris Squire co-writes a couple of songs and sings along. And while this may sound like today's wimpy Yes, it is a far cry from the aggressively progressive band of the 70s that battled (and beat, for a time) Pink Floyd as the favorite band of guitar nerds around the world.
Not so much bad as just dull. World Trade, even in its sprightlier moments, is so keyboard-driven that I expect a pop song to break out. But there the band forgets the hooks. Still, if you're getting on in years and want to hear something that kinda reminds you of Yes (not unlike the actual band or what Pink Floyd has become), this could do the trick. I guess.
reviewed in issue #172, 11/23/98
Dropping a little reggae and ska into the rock/funk fusion. World Trade generally focuses on "big" songs, anthemic in structure and important in topic. Fairly pretentious, even with the swinging horn section.
Too often, the band is stiff. Don't know if that's a function of the playing or songwriting (I really can't tell). The horns (trombones, saxophone and trumpet) add some nice color, but they are not the integral parts of the songs that they should be.
When the band lets the horns lead, the sound is smooth and loose. Otherwise, stuff is more clunky. The easiest thing to say is that it doesn't work. Not enough flow.
I like what the band is going for here. I think it needs to work out its kinks a bit. Interestingly, the live tracks (three of them) are much looser and sound better than the studio stuff. Perhaps World Trade just needs to translate its live feel to studio efforts. Another step in the learning process.
Object of Desire 7"
reviewed in issue #26, 1/15/93
What a slow grind on side one. It just keeps going and going and going...
Nothing particularly great, and when the lyrics finally kick in, the hard core stylings aren't nearly as interesting. Not bad, but bland.
Side two, on the other hand, splices a slow grind and fast beat together much better. This is not the poser hard core of side one, it is the real thing. Not particularly distinctive, but good.
reviewed in issue #39, 9/15/93
Dreamy, distortion-laden pop that sometimes wanders into Sabbath territory. Bordering on cheeze at times, but I've heard many worse. The sound is very impressive for a demo. These folk have something.
Pleasant Living in Planned Communities
There have been rumors of a new Wrens album showing up one of these years. Wormburner is slightly more prolific (an album every four years), but it takes a similar noisy, layered and calculated approach to pop tunes. Oh, and there's a smidge of sarcasm.
As if the album title didn't tip you off. The song titles are also indicative. "Today Might Be Our Day" (spoiler alert: no, it won't). "Made-for-TV Movie." "Parliaments on Sundays." The last one, of course, betrays the age of the band members.
My favorite parts of this album are the bits of noise that populate the background. This is an amazingly dirty album, soundwise. The production is ultra-crisp, but there's a lot of crackle in the corners. That leaves the impression that there's always something to explore. More than an impression, really; there's almost too much to process at times.
The songs are bitterly funny, kinda like listening to a depressive on crack or something. But just when oppression rears its ugly head, the boys kick out a killer hook sliced from steel.
An acquired taste, I suppose, but one that will satisfy more and more with each listen. The more I hear, the faster my blood flows. Exceptional stuff.
reviewed in issue #340, September 2012
The press notes for this album are absolutely silly. And I think that's the point. Strauss's use of electronic minimalism encourage unconventional responses.
At times the sounds here sound almost spontaneously-generated by one machine or another. And maybe they are (within the bounds of programming, of course). But the melodies are certainly human-derived. The larger question--who cares?--is worth asking.
That is a central query within this album, I think. Some folks like to delineate between noise and music. Worsel Strauss doesn't bother with labels. There's plenty of electronic noise (pleasant modulations as opposed to harsh feedback, but noise nonetheless), but also some lovely melodies.
I lean toward calling all organized sound music. Makes things easier for me. Worsel Strauss doesn't make anything easy, but these songs are wonderfully stimulating.
Experimental electronic music can be awfully hard to process. Electronic instruments allow a composer to go as far into the abstract as possible. Frank Zappa often said that he liked the Synclavier because it could do things he couldn't make real musicians do.
As I am a big fan of field trips to the frontal lobes (using external, not ingested, stimuli), I am attracted to the very weirdest of the weird. Worsel Strauss does wander in the hinterlands, but like Robert Zinio, it does so with a large sense of fun.
So these blips and bleeps dance and chirp in ways that easily delight the mind. They're pleasing on the surface, and the underpinnings ensure pleasure in repeat listens. Now, this isn't pop music and these aren't songs in any traditional sense. They're complex compositions that generally don't adhere to any codified construction form. It is imperative that the listener enjoy riding the wave.
But that shouldn't scare you away. There is such joy and adventure on this album, I can't imagine that anyone who has an interest in the unusual could turn this down. At their best, these pieces are soaring, gorgeous works.
I should just skip the caveats. This is a spectacular album, period. Let the beats infect your soul.
Out 4 Blood
reviewed in #164, 8/3/98
Rather underproduced punk stuff, though there are some odd acoustic moments. When the tempo picks up, the producer obviously tried to replicate the monster L7 sound (the singer and most of the band members are female), but everything sounds so thin there's no chance.
The songs themselves are fairly derivative and not particularly interesting. If there was some spark of life, even a more passionate and sloppy approach (a la the Smears or something), that might get me going. But this is so obviously a retread operation, I'm just stumped.
Find a new sound, and maybe sing and play like you mean it. That's the only advice I can give. I'm just kinda stumped.
reviewed in issue #298, July 2008
An album that's more realized than actually played. Designer Codes is one of those rare assembled works to really pack an emotional wallop.
The music sounds almost entirely reconstructed. There are a few keyboard lines that sound mostly complete, but I'm guessing almost every sound here (including vocals) has been processed almost to the end of its existence.
That's where the genius here lies. These songs still sound like songs. They follow regular construction and don't venture off into too many tangents. It's just that the sounds used to make these songs lend an unreal feel. Judging by the album cover, this is completely intentional.
With a "normal" sound, these pieces would probably fall somewhere into the whole angsty metal-emo-etc. sound that My Chemical Romance has popularized. Much like My Bloody Valentine almost 20 years ago, Woven has taken the path less traveled. That's why this album is the stunner that it is.
reviewed in issue #74, 4/15/95
Goddamn, they want to be Anthrax. Well, with occasionally distorted vocals.
And that's when the band sounds halfway decent. A lot of this album is just highly generic "heavy metal". It gets depressingly dull. Like a bad Metal Church album. Think about it.
I like to offer constructive criticism, and all I can say is that the band should work on its own sound. Spend a year or so trying to come up with something original. That's my advice.
Long Day's Journey Into Night
reviewed in issue #192, 12/6/99
Songs of wrenching pain, laid stark against a bare canvas. Wrenn often doesn't color his songs with much more than an acoustic guitar and his voice, and that is more than enough to unsettle even the most secure listener.
An agonizingly beautiful listen. Wrenn never lets his listeners get comfortable, but starts right in with the brutality of existence. And even when he deigns to allow a band to back him up, the oppression doesn't let up.
Wow. The writing is astonishingly assured and strong, and the production is likewise confident enough to let the music speak for itself. Stuff like this can break even a giant's back.
Even I had to pull back just a bit and not let myself get fully involved. I couldn't take the full brunt of the attack. This isn't harsh just to make an impression, however, and that's what is truly scary here. Wrenn has lived this. And he's gone through it. Again and again, it seems. That's the roughest shot of all.
The Blue Cliff Record
reviewed in issue #214, 4/2/01
Clyde Wrenn doesn't play much in the way of happy songs. He sings broadly, but adds sounds to his arrangements almost the way an impressionist dabs on canvas. Lots of little things go into these songs.
Somewhere down that alt. country road, Wrenn has hammered together an outpost. He likes to figure out what went wrong for the characters in his songs. Then he kinda laments the silly decisions and absurd notions that led to their downfall. And, like I said, almost everybody falls down.
Which fits the sound very well. A note of celebration might be welcome every now and then, and there are a few here (relatively speaking, of course). The thing about listening to downer songs like this is that they always make me feel good. I don't know if I'm without empathy or what, but I'm just happy I'm not the fool in the song.
There are lots of reasons to like Wrenn's songs. There's the writing, the singing, the playing and the overall production sound. All are ace. If you had to put together a primer on this sound, Wrenn is one guy who belongs in the book. I'm just entranced.
reviewed in issue #61, 8/31/94
Slightly punky (mostly in that most songs are rather short and fast) pop, with a lot of stuff around the edges that can only be termed psychedelia.
It shouldn't work, I know, but there is something earnest in the delivery. And the energy flow is off the register. Unlike many feedback freaks, Wrens know all the angles, from laid-back to caterwauling scream.
The songs follow in that way, too, keeping you on your toes. Just in case you were ready to pigeonhole these guys, oops, they slid off again. I like that a lot. And there is a lot to like here. Using every tool in their possession, the Wrens craft edgily arresting music. You won't be able to stop listening.
reviewed in issue #100, 2/26/96
The first Wrens album, Silver, is one of the better pop albums of this decade. Big-ass shoes to fill, in other words.
And filled to the seams, I'm happy to report. The power pop streamofconsciousness musings I loved so much the first time are back in full force, with even fuller production.
The Wrens like to meander all over the place lyrically, and the music just simply flows along. You don't notice it, really, and then when it's done you think, "Damn, that was good." I don't think I've heard a band that has mastered this idea quite so well.
Superlative in every sense. Secaucus is a gorgeous work by a band that knows exactly what it is doing. Another one of the great all-time pop albums. Doing that twice in a row deserves serious recognition. So here it is.
Abbott 1135 EP
reviewed in issue #154, 3/9/98
I'm a bit behind the times here (this puppy has been out for almost a year), but I'm very happy to have finally gotten my mitts on the latest from what might very well be the greatest pop band in the world.
The Wrens's two albums, Silver and Secaucus, both on the expired Grass label, are a couple of the finest recordings I've ever heard. If you missed them somehow, dig them up. Trust me; you won't be disappointed.
The Wrens's greatest talent is the ability to shift gears without losing continuity. A wide variety of sounds makes up the canon, and it still all sounds like the Wrens. This EP is populated by more bashers (five out of the six tunes) than usual, but each song has a distinct personality and feel.
I'm simply left screaming for more. The Wrens have been kicking out awesome music for a while now, and the songwriting and playing have yet to decline. Oh, I'm mainlining this thing fer sure.
with The Five Mod Four
reviewed in issue #234, October 2002
It's been more than half a decade since Secaucus, and I'm still jonesing hard. Sure, there was that one EP, but since then silence. I'd long given up hope for the Wrens, which just might have been the greatest pop band of the 90s, despite a relative paucity of recordings.
Now arrives this CD, with a promise of new Wrens in the near future (in addition to the three songs here). Well, this taste has totally electrified my soul. The dissonant tendencies are still balanced by some of the most amazing hooks around. These boys still know how to create completely original music of the highest order.
As for the Five Mod Four, well, that band's four pieces are solid, if much more basic in construction. Good stuff, but to be fair, just about anyone would be overshadowed by the Wrens. That the Five Mod Four's contribution makes as much of an impression as it does is impressive.
But the Wrens are what make this disc for me. Probably that's the way it is for most folks. Which is alright. A celebration is definitely in order.
Wretch Like Me
Calling All Cars...
(Owned & Operated)
reviewed in issue #192, 12/6/99
Years and years ago (back when A&A was green) there was a label called C/Z and a band called My Name. My Name recorded a great first album, toured with ALL and got Stevenson and Edgerton to produce the second disc. Which was great as well.
Anyway, that was a long time ago. Wretch Like Me is make up of some old My Name types (who have moved to Ft. Collins to help out at the ALL compound) with a few fresh faces. The sound is a bit more linear and straightforward than My Name (a few years of hanging with ALL might do that to you), but the quirks are still there, lying right beneath the skin.
In particular, the lyrics are as incisive and idiosyncratic as ever. My Name songs always sounded like conversations. These are more like formal dialogues; there is some separation from the audience, but it isn't complete. I still feel invited to the party.
This does, in all ways, rock harder than My Name. There's no question that this is power punk pop first, last and always. Quirks aside, this fits right into the O&O universe. And that's a pretty fine place to be, really. This meets all of my rather high expectations, and I'd been waiting quite a while for a greater taste. The marks should be good for this one.
Jack Wright & Bob Marsh
Birds in the Hand
reviewed in issue #244, August 2003
Jack Wright takes care of the reeds (saxophones and conta-alto clarinet) and Bob Marsh handles the strings (cello and violin). These sounds are exceptionally complimentary, and that helps to give these improvisations a comfy, warm feel.
Five of the tracks were recorded live, and the sixth was done in a studio. There is very little difference in either the sound quality or the quality of interplay between the two men. These guys have been playing together for years, and they obviously know how to bring out the best in each other.
Marsh and Wright use non-traditional sounds (squeaks, pops, and other "mistakes") as often as regular "playing." This could lead to a real mess, but the aforementioned ease these guys have with each other allows each man to go out on a limb without exposing his backside. There's always a way back to the core of each piece.
I'm a sucker for people taking the idea of music to the outer limits. Wright and Marsh aren't all that outlandish, but they don't play by many established rules, either. I really like the obvious affection these men have for one other. It makes this disc all that more memorable.
(Quarterstick-Touch and Go)
reviewed in issue #179, 3/29/99
Once the singer of Crowsdell, a buzz band which never quite got past the buzz, Shannon Wright kinda quit music for a while, and then just as obsessively shuttered herself in a studio and made this disc.
Hyper-intense, as such projects tend to be. Most of the songs are Wright singing and playing guitar, with the odd strings, organ or drums dropping in to add a bit of color. The immediate attraction is the sparse and yet pregnant phrasing Wright uses in her lyrics. Then comes the guitar work, which is something a bit more than the usual strumming and such.
And, well, everything is so well put together. The songs come at me from all sides, crashing upon my consciousness with the full force of an incessant tide. Irresistible, in an overwhelming way.
More the sort of thing Drag City might release, but I'm not one to stereotype labels or anything. This is a fine album, one of those things which people whisper about. "Didja hear?..." That sorta thing. And when the proper code words are exchanged ("Oh, my God, yes...", etc.), an emotional bond is immediately formed. That's some serious cachet for a album.
Maps of Tacit
reviewed in issue #199, 5/8/00
Despite spending a ton of time on the road supporting her first solo disc (she came through Chapel Hill at least twice and maybe three times in the last years), Shannon Wright has a new disc. Not surprisingly, her time on the road seems to have had an influence on her new songs.
There is more of a noise pop construction to the pieces, replacing the somewhat more folky approach she used on that first album. What I'm saying is that Wright uses repetitive lines in the music, providing emphasis (when necessary) by slightly varying the theme in question.
This makes the songs more coherent and accessible. Wright didn't ramble much on her first album, but there's none of that here. The ideas are stripped bare and played with on a sparsely-decorated stage. These arrangements provide a direct line to Wright's thought patterns.
I really liked her first album, though I thought the songs were a bit too jumbled up when she played them live. I don't think the show I saw was one of her best, and those songs required an intense emotional performance to work well. These songs should wear better on the road without sacrificing any connection to the artist. This is a mind-shattering disc, exquisitely written and performed. Simply a must.
Dyed in the Wool
reviewed in issue #219, 7/16/01
Whereupon Shannon Wright gives up the intense solo life, recruits a band and rocks out. Dig it the most.
Oh, that's a cheap shot, and I don't know why I threw it. After all, Wright still plays most of the instruments here, even if she does tour with a band nowadays. I think working out these songs with a band has reduced some of Wright's idiosyncratic wanderings, though she's still taking as many chances as before. Actually, there moments where the band actually might have driven Wright further than she might have ventured before.
Certainly, this is the most harrowing album Wright has recorded. She never has asked for any quarter, and on this album none is given. Rather, she's striking out with the same passion and intensity as she always has. Well, with more of just about everything.
Simply a distillation of the wonder of her first two solo albums. Wright sounds like she's really coming into her own as a songwriter and performer. This disc blisters my fingers.
Wrinkle Neck Mules
Pull the Brake
reviewed in issue #273, April 2006
Pitch perfect americana, folks. A little newgrass, a little folk, a little blues and a healthy dollop of rock and roll. Just the sort of thing for sitting out on the deck and downing a bourbon or three.
Almost too perfect, perhaps. These boys have instincts that so mirror mine that I wonder if I'm being swayed by personal affection rather that rational, impassionate critcism.
Yeah, and the Prez knows what he's doing in Iraq. Who cares if this is right up my alley? It does sound great (just enough edge in the sound to keep it on this side of commercial) and the writing is impeccable. Yeah, the craft is ultratight, but the playing is loose enough to sand off the burrs.
Got to go find that bourbon. It's not gonna wait another minute. Remember: Two fingers is the perfect pour. Just like this album.
Apprentice to Ghosts
reviewed in issue #336, April 2012
The Wrinkle Neck Mules sound like a western americana outfit (somewhere between Uncle Tupelo and the Meat Puppets on this outing), replete with power chords and a surfeit of twang. But the band hails from Richmond. Go figure.
I don't figure, period. I just let these songs roll over me while I lie flat, stunned once again. The power in this album is almost unbearable. And as often happens with the good shit, the quieter songs do the most damage.
Pretty much a template for what a thousand bands are trying to do. The Mules make these songs sound effortless. Listening is pure pleasure, and there's nothing much to do but hit start once more.
I've been a fan for a while, but this album far exceeds anything that has come before. The Mules are entering that golden period when greatness is within close reach. I'm betting they get there.
I Never Thought It Would Go This Far
Some time back I was mindlessly watching TV when I heard a song I knew. I couldn't quite place it (an occupational hazard of listening to dozens of new songs every day), but a quick Googler told me that Geico had hired Richmond-based Wrinkle Neck Mules to stand in as a Texas two-step band. This isn't as far-fetched as it might seem, as some of the Mules do, indeed, call Texas home. And "Central Daylight Time" is a nice two-stepper.
Still, I've always associated the Mules with the Appalachian and southern rock sides of their music. But that's probably a mistake. The real strength of this band is its mastery of a breathtakingly-wide swath of American sounds. This new album is just a continuation of the line.
By the way, I'm glad they got paid. Since it's pretty much impossible to make money by selling music--and the Mules don't tour much due to their geographic incompatibilities--the continued existence of this band is a wonder. A wonder that should stand for as long as possible.
As for the new album, it meanders through holler folk, a little western swing, some chunky roots rockin' and then some. There's no advancement of the sounds, just obvious familiarity and skill. And the writing craft is as deft as ever. When I first heard "Mustang Island," it occurred to me that the song would work well were it to be rendered by They Might Be Giants. I've been listening to TMBG a bit more than usual these days, as my newly-minted teenage son discovered them recently, so maybe that's it. But the clever lyrics and instrumental interplay would serve Flansburgh and Linnell well. Be that as it may, it would be incorrect to say that the ragged harmonies and southern rock riffage are merely patina. Nonetheless the bones of these songs cross all genres.
Which is why good music is good music and labeling genres is generally a useless enterprise. Wrinkle Neck Mules simply make good music. This album is as strong as anything I've heard from these boys, and I hope to hear many more. And hey, if they get some more TV work, more power to them. That just means more candy for our ears.
Message from the Yes Man EP
reviewed in issue #267, August 2005
And then there's prog prog. Wydown approaches this classic sound from the post-rock side of things, adding all sorts of interesting bits of instrumentation (strings, etc.) and often reverting to basic rock song construction. Still, the loping melodies and technical approach to playing are prog all the way.
Five songs, each of which has a decidedly different feel. And yet, each is decidedly a Wydown song. That's the sort of thing that is impossible to teach. A band just has to figure it out. And Wydown has.
These guys still have to figure out where they want to go in the future. The tracks here lay out any number of potential roads--many of them not prog in the slightest, of course. Who knows? The next disc I get from these guys might be pop hardcore. Um, probably not, but I do know one thing: It will sound like a Wydown album. And as far as I'm concerned, that's a good thing.
Bill Wyman & the Rhythm Kings
Anyway the Wind Blows
reviewed in issue #176, 2/8/99
Wyman is the conductor of a large groups of friends (Paul Carrack, Eric Clapton, Peter Frampton and Chris Rea are among the folks you probably would recognize) whipping through blues, r&b, jazz and back again through the rock and roll.
Smoothly executed, almost too smoothly for my taste. The playing and singing is quite expressive, though, and it saves the day. The band swings lightly here on the disc, though I figure live shows might be a bit more animated.
Which is my only real caveat here. Wyman and friends work and re-work a number of chestnuts, and Wyman's own songs fit in quite nicely. This is not rabble-rousing rock and roll, but it's still a nice trip through some great music. You gotta settle down, and as long as you don't settle for boring music, I'll say okay.
Plenty of fun and not at all stuck up. This is just a celebration of music, and a fun one at that. Sedate? Sometimes. But a good time, nonetheless.
When Sex Leers Its Inquisitive Head
reviewed in issue #185, 7/26/99
Peter Wyngarde played Peter King for a British TV show back in the late 60s. The character was apparently some kind of oversexed crime-writer/crime solver. Kinda like a randy Murder She Wrote. Perhaps.
This album, a continuation of that theme (I think Wyngarde is performing here in character; at least, I hope he is), delves into all of the interesting parts of sex (and more importantly, the cultural reactions to sex) that most folks generally prefer to avoid. In fact, the first full-blown song is "Rape," a description of rape in some 10 to 20 countries, complete with appropriate accents and musical accompaniment (though the underlying go-go backbeat is almost omnipresent).
The reason I'm reviewing this album is that this is the first re-issue since RCA yanked the puppy shortly after its release in 1970. I can understand why. Wyngarde's rather up-front style must have been disconcerting, but more importantly, the way he mixed spoken word bits with more regular songs, all sewn up into two seamless sides of an album is rather forward-looking. Sure, the Beatles did it, but not this way. This album sounds kind of like an avant-garde philosophical play. A one-man show, if you will.
Actually, it does remind me of Sandra Bernhard's Without You, I'm Nothing, though without the personal excess. Like I said, this seems to generally have been done in character. And it works. At least, it unnerves. A most worthy (and weird) find.
Steve Wynn & the Miracle 3
reviewed in issue #321, October 2010
Steve Wynn has been around since forever. I remember thinking he was "old" back when I was in college--more than 20 years ago! But I always liked his stuff; he sounds a bit like Lou Reed on those rare occasions when Lou wants to kick ass. Thing is, though, that Wynn likes to kick ass most of the time. His aggressive cynicism is a tasty treat.
This album is an accomplished set of uptempo rockers. That's pretty much the norm for Wynn. I think he does a better job than usual in melding his lyrics and music; the flow on this album is great.
Just about everything here shows off a master's touch. Wynn's first release was as part of Dream Syndicate in 1982, and he sure ought to know how to make a record sound good. What I like is that these songs are as energetic and assured as the stuff he was making almost 30 years ago.
Some folks should die before they get old--or at least, they ought to quit inflicting their lame-ass music on us. Wynn sounds like letting up hasn't even crossed his mind. Exceptional stuff, as always.
Artifical Intelligence EP
reviewed in issue #134, 5/12/97
That most unusual of punk forms: the laconic pop phase. The Wynona Riders have a fairly distinctive style that's hard to describe until the whole slacker notion becomes clear.
This lack of attention to crispness doesn't mean the songs are lethargic or dull. Certainly the opposite. But instead of being full aggro, the Riders are full cool. Oh, yeah, there are the requisite hoots and howls, but for the most part this is cool punk.
Five songs, all in the familiar format. Just because I know what to expect doesn't mean the guys don't knock me out. I mean, this isn't easy stuff to write and play. It takes a lot of work to sound so non-chalant. I'm damned impressed.
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