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Starsailor – Love is Here

February 28, 2011 Leave a comment

Capitol Records, 2002

Picking up an album that has songs like “Lullaby” and “Love is Here” usually induces my gag reflex, but sometimes the price dictates the irresponsibility.  Starsailor’s debut album didn’t cost me a full buck, which really helps to stoke the free-wheelin’ fires that tend to keep my wallet warm.  I could say that I went off the deep end that day, but that’s another story for another time.  I will say that regardless of the price the album cover has a bright, yet desolate, vibe.  Include the color scheme as well as the cliched line of ‘where is my life’s train track going?’ and the cover made me feel that Starsailor was going to try and beautify and enrich my listening experience.   Well, either that or this is the view of the listener tied and bound to a train track while Starsailor cackles from afar.  Someone save me?

The album begins solemnly enough with “Tie Up My Hands” and … hey, wait, tie up my hands?!  I AM on the train track!  Someone get me out of here I’m with Starsailor and they are rubbing their hands evilly and (slap, slap) okay … okay … to continue.  The lead singer, James Walsh, pops in and curiously sounds like the guy from Swell Season.  It’s got a high pitch that quivers at its peak and contains the yearning necessary for the given song content.  Considering that the voice never wavers from this approach, it could get a little stale and ineffective as one is swept along from song to song.

Though “Hands” is a quieter track, Starsailor tends to aim for mid-level.  The band builds and maintains a comfortable tempo on tracks like “Poor Misguided Fool” and “Lullaby”, accentuated with a consistent inclusion of piano.  Most tracks are introduced with said piano as a quiet beginning, only to inevitably build up to a swirling pop concoction as evidenced in the popular British single “Fever”.  Really, if you listen to that track on itself you’ll know whether or not you’ll be into Starsailor at all, for it has got all of Starsailor’s musical tricks and choices wrapped into four minutes.

Other songs, like “Way to Fall”, pick up really nicely more than halfway through, but it’s a long three and a half minutes before getting there.  “Talk Her Down” is a great song until the nasally quivering exit. Oof, bad aftertaste.  Finally, given that this is an album that was released in the early 2000’s and certain gimmicks were still around, there’s a hidden track.  But Starsailor blows it.  The hidden track shows up after more than ten minutes of waiting and, surprise, you wait all that time to hear the guys get together and hum for less than a minute. I roll my eyes at you and your decision making, Starsailor.

Given their longevity, Starsailor is all over the place on the internet.  Check out their website, MySpace or Last.fm site if you want to experience some modern British pop.

I guess these guys were noted as a big upcoming band in England during the time that this record was released, and despite what one may think of the vocals and quality of their music they are still releasing albums with modest success.  One could say that Starsailor is wonderful for some people but a little overdone for others, so that means that Starsailor will always find an audience as long as they keep doing what they’re doing.  However, it seems that the group is on haitus so Walsh can pursue a solo career.  Doesn’t that always seem to happen?

Whether it’s the band or the solo artist, Starsailor is still around in some form after a decade.  Therefore, if you end up following Starsailor’s train track into the distance rest assured it’ll probably be a long ride.  Unless, of course, they’ve tied you to that train track.  Then you don’t have long, my pretty.

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The Court of Flippant Reviews is Now in Session!

February 25, 2011 3 comments

Due to being a music blog writer, sometimes other parties get wind that you like to write about music.  Granted, they may not know that it’s specific music (cast off albums that are worth a dollar or less, say) and they likely do not care either.  In the mail comes a package every once in awhile that contains a new album or two.  Believe me, this isn’t the new Radiohead or Johnny Cash retrospective, folks.  Though I feel that I do have a good sense of who the big indie names are these days, when I open up these packages I feel that I really don’t know any trendy groups at all.  If anything, these records are a free, tangible source of new music that I get to listen to at my discretion.  There’s a small problem, though…

When I have time to listen to music it’s often something I want to listen to.  In the car it’s sports radio or the local college radio stations.  At the computer it’s either something new I bought myself or a disc that I wish to write about for Rummaging Through the Dollar Bin.  Rarely do I think to myself that hey, I should really give that unheard band’s CD that was sent unprovoked through the mail to me a chance.  An mp3 here or there, sure, but a whole album?  I couldn’t do it justice.  Perhaps this is why I’m still listening to Dinosaur Jr these days … :/

Speaking of justice, I think this whimsical judge of musical credibility is finally going to take some time to don the gown of critical self-importance and bring down his gavel of truth (or mistruth).  Really, I have just enough time to write about a sentence or two from the gut to give for the following records, so if you are the type to base your musical purchases solely on a decimal number created from thin air (ahem), then keep reading.  These reviews are for you:

Read more…

The Coke Dares – Feelin’ Up

February 23, 2011 Leave a comment

Reibenbach Records, 2008

If the front cover didn’t contain three guys in jeans and black t-shirts I would’ve most certainly passed on this record.  What exactly IS that they are walking on?  It ain’t no yellow brick road.  Without the three guys I would’ve gone with from the hip judgment of a self-released solo artist vehicle with fay vocals and tepid songs.  Nope, I figure that with one of them pointing high towards a palm tree and the general unkempt vibe from their, ah, hairstyles I thought the Coke Dares had a chance to go loud.  I was right.

The Coke Dares sound as if they broke into a studio, banged out 33 songs, and were in a hurry to get their gear out of there before the studio owner caught them.  Yeah, you read that right:  33 songs.  Most of them are starts of an idea that end quickly mainly due to the idea running out of steam.  To put it another way, the song would lose its abrasive impact if it carried on for anything longer than a few minutes.  Sometimes you can tell when a band is just hanging on to something that was never there, so the Coke Dares cut the cord themselves before anyone gets too bored.  It makes for a fervent listen, but if that purpose of brevity was the basis behind the quick song exits then I applaud them.  Too bad they can’t hear me through the raucous.

There’s some really fun tunes on here, even if you can’t confirm much of what the guys are trying to say.  “There’s a Meth Lab On My Street” is less than thirty seconds of quick punk and unfortunate neighborhood situations.  A great rush that could have extended beyond its 28 seconds is “Radiator Hose” given its group-sung chorus, but the Coke Dares were done with it while I was getting into it.  On one of the few tracks one can actually hear with some clarity, the observation of “Some say I look like Ronald McDonald … with a beard” on “Ronald McDonald” adds a bit of levity amidst the blitzkrieg of rock.

The longest song, “Sleeping With Someone Else’s Girlfriend”, makes it past the two minute mark.  This song was deemed important enough to stick around for a whole 129 seconds, which is either due to the subject matter (eep) or because these guys enjoyed the slower, jangling rock pace of it.  Actually, perhaps it’s because it took the lead singer a long time to count to 6 during the song.  Hey, you don’t have to know how to count quickly to be in a rock band, folks.

I think this video sums up the fun these guys could be when seen live:

I like “Feelin’ Up” for what it is, but it’s not necessarily something I’d pop in often.  It’s great for multiple bursts of quick and jagged songs with fluctuating tempos, so perhaps when one is in a busy mood one might find the record handy.  Given its penchant for thirty second tracks, one could also use it as a musical timer for those activities or games with the kids.  For instance, instead of counting to 21 during Hide and Seek have the seeker wait until “Everybody’s Got Some Time to Die Unless You’re a Zombie” is finished playing.  Thanks, Coke Dares!

The Sounds – Living in America

February 18, 2011 Leave a comment

New Line Records, 2005

Do you remember those Geico commercials with the Neanderthals getting all angry about the hint that they aren’t very intelligent?  I thought the early ones were amusing, especially the one where two of them pull up in motorcycles and are approaching ladies in bright leather outfits like a young Michael Jackson used to wear.  The jagged, retro music that provided the backdrop fit the slow motioned commercial quite well so I sought it out.  It was the Sounds’ “Hurt You” from their second album and thus a mental note was made.  Unfortunately this isn’t the album that has that song but, as mental notes and a few quarters will go, I figured the Sounds were worth a spin.

Perhaps this has been discussed already, but the Sounds consist of four lightly leathered and loose men and a blonde chick as the lead singer.  They also utilize keyboards as well as a punk rock swing yet aren’t very edgy.  If you guessed Blondie the Sequel, you are in my head all the way.  Therefore, perhaps unfairly, I will sometimes compare these guys to Blondie throughout the review.  Do the Sounds have their own “Call Me”?  Do they slip into a “Heart of Glass” rap at any point?  Are they in a phone booth it’s the one across the hall?  Man, I love that cover.

In the year 2005 the indie music scene was caught up in a swamp of Interpols and Bloc Parties, so it’s not too much of surprise that the Sounds also specialize a bit in the punk dance genre.  They’ve got plenty of bursting choruses like on “Dance With Me” as well as fist pumping glitz on “Seven Days a Week”.  Maja Ivarsson (the concerned-looking lady on the leather jacket) who does emit a light raspy force that fits well with the style.  However, early on I felt that she easily gets drowned out by the tsunami of volume coming from the band of dudes.   Ultimately, after just a few songs I found that the Sounds might be trying a little too hard to pump up the masses.  If the whole record sounded similar to the first three songs then it would get tiresome rather quickly.

Even though they’re from Sweden, the Sounds do tend to get swept up with American and British stylings of the time often.  However, they do have moments that harken back to the earlier days of music from the countries they are emulating.  “Hit Me!” is one of the better tracks on the disc if only because it doesn’t sound so convulsingly overwhelming with audio flair.  It actually does sound like something Blondie might have managed in their earlier days, which is a good, quick rock song that primarily features Ivarsson’s vocals and Felix Rodriguez’s steady punk riff.  Also “Mine For Life” has a fantastic extended synthesizer solo … yeah, I said that.  It definitely tore things up like a neon light dance club from the eighties.

As one bops along through the album, one gets a feeling that these guys are not just trying to get in your face with their synthe-zeal given their early impression.  “Reggie” proves to be an excellent track with just enough modern trends to make it urgent but not too musically gluttonous.  In fact, it is better than any of that stuff they hurled at the listener early on.   “Hope You’re Happy Now” doesn’t have the strongest lyrics but Ivarsson sounds particularly miffed (if not husky) in what can be topically ascertained as a song that essentially flips off a former interest.  By this time the synthesizers have actually grown on me, so as the Sounds punk their way out on “Riot” I felt that this group may have earned their right to open for Blondie in an alternative universe time warp kind of way.

The Sounds are still making their way around Sweden, so if you happen to be out on that island these days then perhaps you can catch them in person.  If not, listen to a bit at their website, MySpace page, or Last.fm!

Dammit, I just looked around … some other sites have already compared these guys to Blondie!  Blast!  Well originality down the tubes, the album “Living in America” could be considered the Sounds’ attempt at getting familiar by being familiar.  They are still around putting out records that go a bit heavy on the electronically punk air, but I suppose that is what the popular flavor is these days.  Despite the mixed feelings gained from this record, I do believe I should catch up on what the Sounds, er, sound like these days.  I bet they’re fun.

Xiu Xiu – Life and Live

February 16, 2011 Leave a comment

Xeng Records, 2005

Well, where to start.  I will tell you that I have owned this album twice, but I will relate the story of how I picked it up the first time.  If you’ve read enough of the blog beforehand, I tend to pick up music that is on the loud side of the musical spectrum.  To shake things up, I sometimes go for colorful indie pop or solo artist releases.  However, in this case I wanted to pick up a random album from a band that I had heard of in passing as being a somewhat well regarded indie artist.  I didn’t know much about the group but thought that they chose a nice picture for the cover.  There it is, that’s what I went on.  Xiu flippin’ Xiu.

This has to be one of the most sparse, depressing, and agitating albums I’ve ever listened to.  It’s a recording of live Xiu Xiu (pronounced shoe-shoe) songs that mostly consist of a plucked guitar and brooding vocals.  I guess there are a few members in the band, but it sounds as if it’s just Jamie Stewart singing and the rest of them are just standing around looking morose.  It doesn’t sound like he needs any help in bringing the tears.

Since I’m not in the mood right now to listen to this music to such depth so that its crippling sadness could overtake me, I’ll keep it brief.  The track that epitomizes the album is “King Earth, King Earth”.  Stewart sings, which is really just him quivering bits and pieces before hiding for a few moments.  The instrumentation sounds like either a keyboard or a very shaky accordion.  Doing a little research, the lyrics “the dead bury their own dead” and “angel wear your ‘pray hard’ shirt” stand out a little bit.  This song goes on for nearly six minutes.  Folks, this is agony.

Other songs that raise an eyebrow are “Thanks Japan!”, which sounds like one of the band members left a recorder on while walking through a Japanese airport.  “Sad Pony Guerrilla Girl” contains some yelping by Stewart.  Actually, there’s also a part where it sounds like he’s being strangled but the strangler gets interrupted. He or she must have sensed that my eyes were hurting from rolling so much and attacked.  I do not condone violence, strangler dude … but yeah, it was getting annoying.  “Jennifer Lopez” does have an introduction that sounds like the Doctor Who theme, which is kinda cool.  Oh enough of this!

You wanna listen to Xiu Xiu?  Fine.  YOU listen.  Maybe reading is more your thing.

On “I Broke Up” someone actually tells Stewart to sing slower.  That adviser should be slapped.  To think that I’ve actually owned this album twice in my travels makes me feel a little sad in of itself.  Truth is, I’ve been able to trade this album to someone else who was interested.  Someone wanted to hear Xiu Xiu.  Whew … I gotta say they can’t be all that fun at parties.  Though I have tried a few times to get caught up with some of the more name acts in the modern indie world, this group I want no further part of.  In a slow arc filled with irony and self-resentment, I shoot Xiu Xiu into the Golden Trash Can of woe.

The Things – Wild Psychotic Sounds EP

February 14, 2011 Leave a comment

Big Neck Records, 2007

Check that cover OUT, man.  The red lips and tie, as well as the bleached aspect of the face, might make one believe this is a band of clowns who rock out when they’re not making balloon animals.  However, the title gives it away as something that will at least fill the quiet spaces when turned up high on the volume knob.  To add to the visuals of what the group probably sounds like, the inside cover shows a heavily sideburned, shirtless and leather jacketed lead singer in a few crinkled photos.  He’s also flaunting a butt crack protruding from his tight pants.  Er, should it be called a rock crack?  I wish I never looked.

The Things are an Irish rock band that, according to their Wiki page, formed in 2001.  I guess it took awhile before they started putting out records, eh?  Maybe it was because they were worried they didn’t sound like any sort of Irish punk band I had heard before.  In fact, their style is very reminiscent of most American garage punk acts with its swamp of guitars and surrounding noise.  Neil Moore even sings like Elvis Presley stuck outside in the cold without a coat, which sounds pretty good but also sometimes makes lyric depiction a bit tough.  Such difficulty might also be due to the recording of the music, which sounds as if it was recorded live from a stage and Moore’s microphone was jammed halfway into his mouth.

Of the six tracks on the EP, “The End” comes across as one of the better ones.  No, fortunately (unfortunately?) it is not a take on the Doors tune, but it has got an excellent clanging guitar riff in its opening.  Moore muffles his way through something that sounds urgent (a-huh, a-huh jailhouse rock) but it’s really the band that pounds out a fine rocker.  “Horror Movie” focuses more on what kinda speed the Things can put into their music.  The repeated riffs really pump up the energy as does the shared vocals.  It is also apparent on this tune that, if one listens closely, the Things incorporate some keyboards into their songs.  If it’s hard to hear on the EP imagine its ‘presence’ at a concert.

The band does prove on one track that it isn’t all volume and discombobulation.  “Going Home” is a gently consistent beat track that contains a few bluesy elements in its instrumentation.  I still can only pick out the title amidst the lyrics, but it’s a pretty good breather amidst the heavier stuff.  “La la la la la” isn’t a quieter track at all, but its live setting gives a pretty good feeling towards what one would hear if one saw these guys in person.  The resigned tone of the title after the collision of slide guitar and drum mashing makes a solid outro for the short time one got to listen to the band.

The Things from Ireland can still be heard on MySpace but not in too many other places.  Makes you think that … could they be …

Imagine my grinning surprise when I found that the Things had put out a full length record in 2009 entitled “Some Kind of Kick”.  Oh man, am I getting that.  I don’t care if it still sounds like the muffled ramblings of a half dressed man; something about the style and presentation of the Things from their EP have earned them another go.  However, further research on the band’s Wiki page proves that these Irish hooligans are no longer together.  Yeesh … just when they get an album together they are done.  They must have left some of the Irish youth with a pretty good impression and hopefully they’ve spurned some to take up the garage punk mantle overseas.  Too bad the rest of us missed our chances to see ’em.

Future Bible Heroes – I’m Lonely (And I Love It) EP

February 3, 2011 Leave a comment

Merge Records, 2000

Let it be known that I am a big Stephin Merritt fan.  I have pretty much everything he’s been involved in save for some of the more recent soundtrack albums and perhaps a compilation or two.  One item I had not picked up due to its length and cost was the “I’m Lonely (And I Love It)” EP, which has only five songs on it.  For a dollar and a return to electropop, I thought the time had come for me to own this quick one for myself.  The only resistant thought in my head was pondering the idea that maybe this piece of square plastic might be one Merritt product too much.  No … no …

Well, maybe.  For those in the dark about Stephin Merritt, he started up a few bands like the Magnetic Fields, the Future Bible Heroes, the 6ths, and the Gothic Archies.  All bands, apart from the ‘Fields, represent side bands for Merritt’s periodic penchant for dabbling in music that doesn’t quite fit the main mold.  The Future Bible Heroes are his bubbly electronic outfit and he managed to release an engagingly fun record in 1997 entitled “Memories of Love”.  During a time when the Magnetic Fields’ “69 Love Songs” was huge, it’s amazing Merritt had enough time to even put anything together for this EP given how busy he was.

The Future Bible Heroes consist of Merritt, singer Claudia Gonson and electronico Christopher Ewen.  Even though three years had passed since the last record, the five songs on this short album are actually only four new songs plus a remix of a song off of “Memories of Love”.  Hmm.  The title track is easily the best tune on here, but at nearly five minutes in length even Merritt’s fine lyrics about the thrill of being alone and away from an ex-lover get a little tired.  “My Blue Hawaii” never really catches on with any sort of hook and is instead rather abrasive with its pulsating beat and guitar chord jabs.

It is always nice to hear Gonson’s lilting voice but “Cafe Hong Kong” seems out of place with its brake-slamming dreariness.  It is a song that really sounds hollow and creepy with its echoed drum machine and sparse guitar plucking.  “Good Thing I Don’t Have Any Feelings” returns with Merritt and his deep baritone voice singing about a harsh parting.  Replace the synthesizers with some instruments and it likely could have been a Magnetic Fields song.  It’s a pity that the rest of the EP couldn’t have more of this kind of song.  Oh yeah, “Hopeless (remix)” … well, just buy “Memories of Love”.

The Future Bible Heroes can be found at the usual place as well as the usual MySpace.  However, if you want to check out why I’m into this guy’s stuff so much I suggest the House of Tomorrow website!

Is “I’m Lonely…” more of a b-side collection for the Magnetic Fields than an intentional Future Bible Heroes release?  Or did Merritt need something to distract him from all that love stuff that the Magnetic Fields just finished with?  Hey, it doesn’t really matter, especially if one likes his stuff to begin with.  Ultimately, this collection is worth a listen once or twice but doesn’t have a lot of reason to stick on someone’s music shelf.  Merritt, of course, continues to put out a Magnetic Fields record with his group every other year or so.  As for his other projects, it is unpredictable as to if or when another release will even happen.

Given that I tend to build up my expectations when I look forward to something, this EP is a personal Bust in music and long term desirability.  Maybe, even in its shortened state, I thought the EP was going to be brilliant.  I suppose there aren’t any musicians that are untouchable, so this one gets chalked up as one of Merritt’s few disappointments for me in his lengthy catalog.  I imagine that I’ll continue to keep looking forward to whatever he gets into, but this one is going back to the plastic dustbin.