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The Heavy Circles – Self-Titled

September 21, 2010 Leave a comment

Dynamite Child, 2008

First off, this record was sealed when I picked it out, so yes I am indeed a dangerous man.  If this had been unsealed I could have easily opened the digipak and found pictures and pictures of feces, which would have been an instant no go (okay, well, I would have thought about putting it back).  Instead, I was left with the mystery of the cover art that I still can’t explain.  I also had no idea what the Dynamite Child label was all about, so I had virtually nothing to go on here.  I ultimately decided that the cute pink shadowed lettering was good enough for me.  Might as well start a band called “Shiny Prize Inside”, seal the crappy album with an official looking industry sticker, and sell the thing to this gullible dude right?  I’m too easy.

The Heavy Circles begin the record with the moody “Henri” and an atypical verse delivery that I found very intriguing.  The vocals of Edie Brickell are … wait, Edie Brickell?!  What I am is what I am and well okay okay, that was eons ago, but I was certainly surprised to find that Brickell’s vocals sound mesmerizing on this track.  Since her name isn’t plastered in a prominent spot, it’s possible that one could listen to this record without being reminded of her earlier ventures.  Name association can sometimes shake people off from a perfectly fine venture, y’know.

What I thought might be a more cool-vibed record based on the first track, “Better” and “Ready to Play” show that the direction that Harper Simon (son of Paul) and Brickell is more of whatever gets them going.  The songs are both peppy with bright guitar and upbeat drumming, which I appreciate but also kinda think that one can get confused as to what the Heavy Circles are about.  The group tones things down a bit with the exceptionally pretty “Confused” that utilizes a piano solo stirringly well.  When Brickell sings “I’m so confused” she adds enough inflection in “confused” that makes you think you’ve done something wrong and have to go buy some flowers.  At least my living room smells nicer now.

As the record floats along it is apparent that the sequel to “Henri” isn’t coming anytime soon.  Oh well.  There is a classic ska riff in “Need a Friend” that picks the album up a little bit near the end, but the song itself isn’t all that great unfortunately.  “Dynamite Child” takes on a rumbling surf-like theme that constitutes as the only rock track on the record.  Like I said before, even after seven songs the Heavy Circles still don’t know what they want to do.  I guess one has to take the good with the questionable, eh?

The Heavy Circles can be found on their niftily designed website and, of course, their MySpace page for some listening time.

With Brickell’s toned down vocals and Simon’s excellent guitar work make the Heavy Circles a solid band to follow up on if they put out another record.  This debut from the duo has enough on it for anyone looking for something poppy but not too in your face will enjoy.  It would be a real shame if these guys didn’t keep it going after this pleasant surprise of a record, so unless Edie Brickell goes on some kind of Bohemian reunion tour I suspect there will be another one along from the Heavy Circles soon enough.

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Piebald – If It Weren’t For Venetian Blinds It Would Be Curtains For Us All

September 13, 2010 1 comment

Big Wheel Recreation, 1999

I have a love/hate relationship with Piebald.  I will get into more of that later on, but at the time of seeing this album stuck between a few unknown local bands I had to save this one from its high-speed path to the scrapper.  Piebald, no matter what anyone says, had a strong rockin’ grip on the local Boston fans when they were around.  I felt that it was my duty as a Boston guy to give this record a chance.

What I like about Piebald is their volume and enthusiasm.  Every song on this record, even if it starts off slow, rises to a level of rock ‘n roll cacophony.  “We Believe in Karma” and “Rules for Mules” both begin comfortably with light guitar and some singing, but eventually end up with the full force of guitars and drums like all the other songs.  For a fan looking for consistent rock ‘n roll music, this can’t be a bad thing.

Travis Shettel’s dejected vocals in “All You Need is Drums to Start a Dance Party” fits in very well against the band’s chugging backdrop.  It’s a short song but it stands out because of its lower tone, whereas many songs including”If Marcus Garvy Dies, Then Marcus Garvy Dies” tend to go up up up in level.  That approach certainly builds the fury, but it obviously makes songs like “Drums” stand out as more unique.  Piebald’s best slew of songs come at the very end of the record, with “Still We Let It Choke Us”, “Location Is Everything” and “Fat and Skinny Asses” providing a consistently excellent burst to the finish.

Despite some songs that I find to be very good, there are a few problems I have with Piebald and this record.  First, I just can’t get into Shettel’s vocals.  Something about them grates on me, as if he’s trying too hard to sing high notes that just do not fit his level.  When he does sing at a lower level it’s more listenable, (like “Drums”) but that is a rare occurrence.  In a live setting I’m sure he gets drowned out or at least doesn’t sound as strained, but on this record it’s a bit irritating.

Some of the songs also have some compositional issues that I can’t get past.  “Grace Kelly With Wings” is a fantastic opening song to the record and should’ve been a surefire re-spin in my Discman (wink).  However, there is a point during the song where the band repeats the droning chorus four times!  It wasn’t all that great once, never mind four trips through.  I think the first time I heard this tune I thought the CD was skipping.  Another tune that is otherwise excellent is “Dirty Harry and the Thunderbolts”, but halfway through the song the band kills the momentum and spits out some riffs that sound as if their amps were broken.  Just a poor choice that lacks enticement.

Piebald may have called it quits, but they’re still up on their website and MySpace pages for a quick listen.

As you may have gotten a taste of from a review of one of their later records, I still can’t call myself a complete fan of Piebald.  Perhaps it’s just this album that gives me an impression as a mixed bag, for I actually did like the “All Ears…” one.   Ultimately, I generally like their sound and I do wish I could have caught them during their exciting period around Boston in the late nineties and early 2000s.   It is a real pity that they are no longer with us, but at least you could still be a part of their departure by having a look at their epic, 3 hour final show DVD.  That’s probably more worth the price than their reprinted back catalog because, well, you can still get their old stuff for a buck.  (grin)

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The Wrens – The Meadowlands

September 10, 2010 Leave a comment

Absolutely Kosher Records, 2003

At some point I read vaguely that someone somewhere liked the Wrens.  I don’t remember the context, whether the person gave a credible reason for liking them, or even if I got the band name right (maybe they meant the ren-tals .. oops).  The cover looked calming enough with its sepia tone of a weathered structure, so I knew this one was going to be a spin for a calm moment.  Since most of the music I had been listening to at the time was rather loud, I figured this would be a good addition for my current and likely future ‘peace and quiet, please’ movement.

Oh that heavy metal!!  Just kidding … the Wrens are as casual as one might imagine.  Well, at first at least.  After the sleepy and short beginning of “The House That Guilt Built”, “Happy” actually maintains a lengthy and sustained height of pop rock noise before changing its riffs halfway through.  Didn’t expect that!  Usually these low-key type of bands are content to just be soft, but the Wrens gave a nice pop surprise straight away.

Not too far into the record, it is suddenly apparent that the Wrens can really charge up a listener with their deceptively energizing music.  One of the best tunes on the record for me is “Hopeless” because it has all the appealing guitar work, harmonies, composition, and length that really resonated with me.  It’s also five minutes long and I didn’t even notice, which is a feat.  I also really like the pep and urgency that “Faster Gun” delivers.  Bissell’s vocals are muffled over the strength of the band, but the group still sounds great during the multiple choruses.  I found the poppier “Boys, You Won’t” to be really pretty on repeat listens, while the really engaging backing guitar riff on “Ex-Girl Collection” is an absolute stand out.  The song itself builds well amidst a gent’s tale of conquests and the expected emotional conflicts.

It turns out that there aren’t too many songs on this record that fit with my original thoughts on what these guys would sound like.  “She Sends Kisses” has Charles Bissell nearly whispering at the beginning only to pick up the volume at the inspired end.   On nearly the last song of the record, “13 Months in 6 Months” has got airy vocals, gently strumming guitars, and a plodding sense that the nearly seven minutes of song will never end.  If one dips into the lyrics, however, it makes up for the dreary tone with its rather sad description of a half-hearted attempt at a physical relationship, only to end with the excellent regretful line “I knew we’d never write … but this counts as calling three years out”.  Oof.

Despite the hiatus, the Wrens still have their website and MySpace available for listening and merchandise.  I particularly enjoyed reading their candid bio.

Reading a little further into this record online, I discovered that NME, Mojo, Pitchfork and many other music critics really liked this album when it was released.  They’re glowing over there at Amazon too.  Huh.  Well, it just goes to show that sometimes even well-received records find themselves astray in a dollar bin at some point.  The Wrens haven’t put out a new record since this one, so after seven years they’re either constructing the best record ever or they are done.  Looking at their website, I was pleasantly surprised to find it out it’s the former!  Well, we’ll see if it’s the best but at least they’re putting something out soon.

I have to agree with the critics on this one.  A great record to stumble upon, the riffs and consistent excellence that each song delivers forces me to bestow the Golden Dollar upon “The Meadowlands”.  They have my permission to put that acclaim on their promotional stickers for future re-issues of this record, yeah, that’s fine.  As a final word, the next time you’re flipping through the forgotten old dusties at a nearby music store, keep the hope alive that you might find something that will be the best record you will have heard in awhile.

The Datsuns – Self-Titled

September 7, 2010 Leave a comment

V2 Records, 2002

You pull out this record and you tell me you’re not digging that album cover?  Say what?  Look, there’s some raggedy-haired guys on the top of their band name aaaand they’re raggedy on the bottom too!  Speaking honestly, I like that black-and-white mirror effect.  Considering they likely named themselves after the sporty Datsun roadster, there isn’t much of a conclusion to make other than that these guys are a rock ‘n roll band.  What do you know, I like that stuff.

Based out of New Zealand, the debut from the Datsuns is everything one can expect from a debut garage rock band anywhere.  They make lots of noise, they prove they have plenty of energy, and they certainly wish to make an audio impact.  You have heard these guys before in other bands, but perhaps the fact that they’re from New Zealand will sway you that these guys are different from the usual American spinoffs.

The record begins with force as one might expect from a band that is out to prove itself to your ears.  “Sittin’ Pretty” begins with an excellent guitar riff that drums up steadily to a blazing speed.  It’s a great three minute intro to a slew of similar three minute songs.  However, Dolf De Borst’s vocals increase from mid-range to higher ranges as each song progresses.  By the time the listener gets to  “Harmonic Projector”, De Borst with a flutter in his voice.  Oh man.  The band thankfully exacts its powerful strength to drown him out a bit in “What Would I Know”, which showcases the group in its first prolonged rock effort.  Finally, the Datsuns have stepped it up a bit.

De Borst gets a little screamy after awhile on “At Your Touch” and “Fink For the Man”, which doesn’t diminish from the power groove the band puts on.  Still, you would think De Borst wouldn’t have to sound like his fingers got caught in a car door to get the zeal across.  As De Borst’s voice gets higher and higher one starts to tune him out as over-excessive.  Plus, after repeated listens of “Fink” one will wonder if the guy finally pops into an explosion of bloody guts.  Hey, it’s possible.  Really though … could use less scream, pal.

Despite the somewhat pedestrian first half of the record, the Datsuns really excel near the end.  By this time one has heard everything they could have thrown at the listener, so usually bands just regurgitate the same stuff or try to get artsy with a few quirky tunes that everyone inevitably hates.  The Datsuns choose to ramp it up even louder.  The songs “In Love”, “You Build Me Up (to Bring Me Down)” and the epic “Freeze Sucker” act as ignition/blastoff that sends the band off into rockout space.  These are really good tunes, and “Freeze Sucker” doesn’t get dull even after six minutes.  Regardless of what one thinks of the album as a whole, at least the Datsuns know what gets us to listen in the first place.

Listen to them on MySpace and read all about them on their website if you’d like.

Although the Datsuns’ debut is definitely a good time, they may not stand out as something one would pursue.  One might even say these guys were simply part of that Jet/Hives wave of garage revival and never caught on because they got drowned out from the rest of the long-haired rockers.  However, the Datsuns are still making records and touring in New Zealand!  That’s got to mean something, eh?  At least they’re big somewhere and are influencing youth to form their own garage bands.  Perhaps this means that some kind of new AC/DC will be sprung upon us in the near future thanks to these guys.  Oh never mind, they’re Australian… some other famed New Zealand rock band, then.

Dollar Bin Tragedies (or When I Cry in Public): Too Good to Be True Discs

September 3, 2010 Leave a comment

In another episode of gut-wrenching dollar bin shopping, I must remind the reader of a woeful scenario.  This terrible story is about the CDs that have been planted to make a mockery of your hope.  Do not read on if you wish to keep your music shopping optimism intact!

If one has been a regular purveyor of cheap CDs at their favorite music or item dump-off stores, one will eventually develop a scanning ability that enables one to swiftly scour racks of unfortunate music.  It is a bit hard to describe, but one eventually begins to memorize the features of some of the small, rectangular spines of CD cases.  These commonly discarded and forgotten CDs get mentally cataloged, for they are almost expected to be found in every dollar bin one sifts through.

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