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Scrounging through the Leftovers:
Catching up on 2000 

I got a lot of music in the mail for review this past year.

And while most of it was reviewed within four to six weeks of its reception, some CDs fell through the cracks, not because they're particularly bad or "didn't make the cut" but because nothing jumped out about them to spur me to my keyboard, and sometimes, quite frankly, because I forgot about them when a more shiny present came into focus or when I was buried under an avalanche of submissions. 

So, here's the "leftovers" for 2000. The intention at www.lazy-i.com remains the same: To review all or as many CDs received as possible -- and I'm gonna try my darndest to make good on that intention.

...Tim 

 

The Limes

Turn Your Lights Off

Deluxe Records

A must for Urge Overkill fans, so similar in style and sound you could mistake it for a tribute album. Same guitars, same throaty vox, same grease-stained blue jeans rural-meets-urban rock style, like a flannel-shirted farm boy dressing up glam in front of his bedroom mirror. The difference is that while Urge could craft some amazing singles, they were hard pressed to put out a satisfying complete album. Not so here. And when they stray from the basic formula, like on the ballad "Inside," and the title track, you see even more possibilities. Sure, this could have been roughed up a bit, been played faster and looser with the rules, but I suppose they had to save something for the stage.

 

Rating: Yes
Format: CD

 

010

Still Life with Peripheral Grey

No Karma Recordings

Mostly instrumental, low-key college rock bordering on New Age, though I'm sure that wasn't their intention. Kudos for using a variety of instruments, including cello, violin, saxophone, organs, though most only add to the wandering, overall tuneless drone. They seem to be reaching for spacey, perhaps even quasi-psychedelic soundscapes. Instead, they wind up sleepy and somewhat annoying. Unnoticeable and unmemorable.

 

Rating: No
Format: CD

 

Traindodge

Torch

No Karma Recordings

Another one from the angular school of art punk bordering on Fugazi rant. What sets them apart is the band's willingness to stretch out on a musical format that's usually reserved for 2- to 3-minute romps. "Mountaintown Fire Station" chimes in at over five minutes, and the CD closer, the ambitious "Cactus Flag," is a whopping 11-plus minutes. While each song is rooted on the minor-key bop, the Norman, Okla., trio does a good job layering one idea onto another, bringing in a different movement within the context of a song. For example, "Cactus Flower" starts with a laid-back shuffle, tinkly piano and low-key vocal before switching gears to an instrumental drone-dirge that lasts for most of the song before gradually growing in a Bedhead sort of way to a big, dense synth-toned monster. The track inevitably winds down to a final minute of distortion/noise, peacefully of course. Though they seem content being another player in an already crowded post-punk genre, Traindodge is looking beyond the borders to a territory with much more musical possibilities. Bonus trivia: Recorded at Dead Space in Lincoln, Neb.

 

Rating: Yes
Format: CD-EP

 

DARYL

Communication:Duration

Urinine

On first blush, a mix of The Rentals (zoopy synths) and early '80s anthem bands like Psych Furs and Simple Minds (thanks to lead vocalist Dylan's throaty, swaggering vocals). These Dallas guys have a jonze for leg-warmer-donning New Wave pop, occasionally giving a nod to modern punk structures, but only occasionally. You walk away remembering Dylan more than anything, since he's belting out these numbers like he's opening for U2. Passionate? I suppose, which isn't such a bad thing in this era of droll sing/talk/rant indie vocalists. At least he sounds like he cares and wants you to, as well. 

 

Rating: Yes
Format: CD-EP

 

86 (the band)

True Life Songs and Pictures

Fresh Corn Records

Obviously there's a Grateful Dead thing going on here -- tweedy, twangy, hang-dog vocals and harmonies; banjo, simple acoustic guitars and plenty o' yeehaw. And though I profess to despise jam bands, 86 has a structure that gives more of a nod to The Band than Garcia. They're at their best when they most resemble a hippified Pooh Sticks or Apples in Stereo. Problems creep up, however, when they begin to incorporate an Outfield-style mandolin (a mistake, since not enough time has passed to erase that dreadful band from our collective memories). Almost all the tracks would be improved by shaving a minute or so off their dearth, but overall it's hard to beat if you're into acoustic rock with a drawl, or even if you're not.

 

Rating: Yes
Format: CD

 

 

Love Kit

The September Heads

Ginger Records

Sort of retro all over, opening with an acid-trip psychedelic maneuver before heading into Beach Boys harmonies with a ton of bu-bu-baas. Look, there's nothing wrong with retro, if it's done with respect and creativity, and you don't try to drape it with any sort of artistic pretension, which they fall into on the next track -- a little over a minute's worth of filler noises. It's a small distraction, as are some of the poorly conceived instrumentals dropped in as more filler throughout the disc. Sometimes Love Kit gives a Material Issue or Big Star vibe, but with none of the edge. They play well and sound good, but there's nothing here we haven't heard before. Overall, the rockers sort of kick and the ballads sort of mope, but ultimately this is a harmless, uninteresting listen that doesn't beg to be heard again.

 

Rating: No
Format: CD

 

Q and not U

No Kill No Beep Beep

Dischord

Reminds me of Fugazi, but then again, it's on Dischord (and Ian MacKaye is behind the knobs), so what did you expect? When they're pumping it up and getting in a groove, this is a gas. Cool out of the blocks, changing from driving post-punk to a new-angular math stab. Best when under two minutes; though even the longer, more detailed numbers provide enough tension to keep things interesting. The vocalist's (players are listed, but not positions) snide howl sounds halfway out of control, which is the mark of your typical D.C. AYM (angry young man). As are the lyrics, which read like pissed-off beat poetry  -- from "The More I Get the More I Want": Unlock doors but keep them closed/Severed ties taste of shit/Unlock, you unlock/Can't stop the train/Right between the eyes. You get the picture. It's a hard act to keep entertaining, as halfway through it starts to sound very samey-samey. But you'll still have a good time getting there.


Rating: Yes
Format: CD

 

Drive-By Honky

Thrift Americana

Sailor Ripley Records

The trio straddles a rather wide tightrope between indie rock and Neil Young-tinged alt country. When they're not a-twangin' they have an energy and guitar-driven sound similar to Bob Mould's poppy solo ditties. No more so than on opener "The Ways and Means." The CD immediately shifts gears to a more Son Volt-ish sound without losing the guitar buzz on the 6/8 anthem "When Flagships Collide." "Engine Blocks Eggs (no idea)" is a shimmering guitar stomper closed out with theremin (just for effect). The acoustic-driven "Ease Down" is sort of Silos meets Foo Fighters by way of the Black Crowes -- that's a handful of styles to cross on one track, but they manage it effortlessly, thanks in large part to vocalist Dan Jenkins' relaxed delivery amidst the ever-present wall of sound. Most tracks deal with matters of the forlorn which we've all heard before, but isn't that was rock 'n' roll is suppose to be about? Here's a tip for the next one: Don't print the lyrics on the CD, kinda makes it hard to follow and listen to at the same time, ya know?

 

Rating: Yes
Format: CD

 

Matt Whipkey

The 'Innocence' EP

self-release

Something tells me in a couple years, Whipkey will look back at this slight collection of overwrought coffee-shop folk and smile at where he was as a songwriter and performer. Having seen his excellent new band, The Movies, I know he rocks with more honesty than is heard on these acoustic songs, which, for the most part, sound both forced and half-hearted. 

The first two are music box lullabies, with Whipkey's dry, gravelly drawl making the lyrics hard to follow (There's no lyric sheet included, so you better listen closely, again and again and again). "The Ballad of Frankie" is Whipkey's stab at gritty Nebraska-style Springsteen. You know the story: The guy coming home from the factory; the starving child; the guy with a scheme to make $1,000 a day; "No factory is gonna feed my family," etc. The last line: "I wanna thank God for a class society," appears to be a stab at irony. The closer and title track -- the best of the bunch -- has Whipkey filling out the arrangement nicely with accordion and the comfortable verse, "Goodbye, innocence, you were no friend of mine/And so long security for you I could not find." 

Though the EP is a disappointment, there's no question that Whipkey, especially working with The Movies, is talented and someone to watch for. He's gotten past his freshman funk. Now it's time to stand back and watch the real fireworks.  

 

Rating: No
Format: CD-EP
The Mediums

Caved-In

self-release

Vocalist James Schaffner has more than his share of swagger on these power-pop nuggets that do little more than convey a bright, shiny modern rock backbeat. And you could just as easily dismiss it, except that these guys sell it like it's something brand new instead of the fun-pop Rick Springfield excelled at a couple decades ago. They're true believers whether you are or not. The potential deal-breaker is always lack of hooks, but there's plenty here, mixed with some nice guitar that brings the sound into the '90s (though I would have pulled the ax up front a tad more in the mix). Track 6, "Heaven Calling," even has a drum solo -- when was the last time you heard one of those?

 

Rating: Yes
Format: CD

 

 

Boxing

Dig the Final Time

Robert Barry Construction Associates

Funky like a coolest pair of loose-fitting pants in your closet, and twice as comfortable. Each song is like finding money in your pocket you never knew was there. "Jaw Drops Out" sounds like new-twang Pixies. "Candy Bricks & Similar Tricks" is a two-and-a-half minute jangle rap. "Snacks" is the campfire song that Black Francis never wrote. "Shouts Out and Goodnight" sounds like Major Tom-era acoustic Bowie. After starting off like an old Robbie Robertson song, "Saves 9" has a jammy Feelies vibe. "Math Factory" is a minute-long acoustic punk song. In other words, Boxing is all over the map; they sound more like a hippie collective than a trio. The sonic thread throughout is some of the best melodies I've heard this side of Galaxie 500. With 19 songs and a total play time of 37:28, there's a lot of short stuff but none are throwaways or filler. This is one of those incredibly rare discs (these days) where as soon as it ends, you hit the "play" button again. An absolute find if you can find it, so obscure you won't at any record store or online. At least I couldn't.

Addendum: Two hours after posting this, Boxing's Josh Kasselman e-mailed to say copies of the CD are available at their shows or for $5 via e-mail at jokass@earthlink.net

 

Rating: Yes
Format: CD

Buss

Low Noise/High Density

Kitten Sparks Music

Sure, you could bunch it in with the angular mathy guitar-bands (the late, great Chavez comes to mind), except that lead vocalist/guitarist Paul Jarmer likes to throw a soaring guitar solo in the middle of things to give songs a flight plan that Chavez never had. Jarmer's vocals have an interesting depth -- don't know if that's from recording effects or just his throat, but I'm leaning toward the latter -- they're echo-y and hollow in a very good way, but never swarthy. Opening tracks "Radar" and "Breathe for Now" are driving post-punk rockers, followed by a chiming guitar-as-keyboards echo-based instrumental that acts as a palette cleanser for the 6/8-timed B. Mould-ish anthem "Basket." Which sets the stage for "Last Time," one of the best indie-rock song of 2000? Buss makes complicated arrangements sound effortless and natural, and above all, satisfying. This should have been on my 2000 top-10 list.

 

Rating: Yes
Format: CD-EP

 

Blume

Self-titled

Three Daze Records

I suppose they're okay for your run-of-the-mill white groove rap outfit. Obviously influenced by RHCP, Sublime and Royal Crescent Mob, they don't take any chances and as a result, don't go very far. It's pleasant enough, well-played, nice voices, and a decent scratch guitar. But nothing stands out, and nothing begs a second listen. The talent is there, now Blume needs to forget what they've heard on the radio and begin doing their own thing.

 

Rating: No
Format: CD

 

Blinder

Calamity A Foot Behind

Solarmanite

Art rock to me means songs that don't follow the typical format -- chorus/verse/chorus -- or seems purposely weird (but not creepy, creepy is another genre all together (goth?)). Blinder is art rock verging on math (another amorphous term, that). Maybe itís the sum of the parts, but it sounds right. Complicated compositions, angular guitars, break vocals, ultimately majestic, especially when they're firing on all cylinders ("Is It Just Me"). They're obviously not making this up as they go, but you'll eventually discover the formula -- it's similar to beat poetry jazz or free-form urban jamming. Megan Wendell's thin, high-pitched yodel-scat is the biggest hurdle to overcome -- it's too pretty and fey at first, then adopts a sort of everywoman desperation. Though her voice most resembles Jonatha Brooke's (of The Story), I can't imagine her singing these songs, though I can imagine your high-school-aged little sister trying to.

 

Rating: Yes
Format: CD

 

Sloth

The Voice of God

Eccentric Man Records

Part of the burgeoning stoner rock movement, but by way of London. Tons of fuzzy, elephantine-speed power chords and a guy doing a bad Ozzie impersonation. Good stoner rock has a cool melody or power that makes you either wanna drive fast or kill someone. This merely bores. Bonus points for being sacrilegious.

 

Rating: No
Format: CD

 

Namelessnumberheadman

100,000 Subtle Times

Knee-jerk Irony Entertainment

This one's all over the place, and I like it. The opening track sounds like Violator-era Depeche Mode with a lazy Mark Eitzel on vocals, loungy club keyboards and cool samples. "Suddenly Winter" starts off as a slightly twangy acoustic lament, complete with (synth) orchestration before abruptly shifting gears to a thumping scat rocker, then back to the lament, and so on (my copy is slightly distorted on the high end, apparently due to recording levels). The remainder of the CD is dominated by techie, synth-driven instrumentals. The dreamy "Douglas Rossback's Indecision" sounds like an outtake from the last CD by The Notwist -- which, ultimately, this band most resembles. They take simple melodies and, with technology and know-how, craft beautiful soundscapes. And these guys are from Kansas City, no less. http://namelessnumberheadman.webjump.com

 

Rating: Yes
Format: CDR-EP

 

The Eternals

Self-titled

DeSoto Records

This stab at futuristic lounge is a wreck. "Billions of People" is a quirky, jazzy track, sort of Beck-ian with weird bloop sound samples. It ain't bad, but don't be fooled. This track actually has some form, melody, something to make it listenable, as opposed to the rest of the CD. "Stirring up Weather," while having a delightful (yes, delightful) rhythm track (as do all of these songs) is ruined by ugly vocals and noisy sound effects. Ugh. "Feverous Times" is another track with a real dark jazz, almost loungy feel, and wandering, out-of-control vocals that aren't improvisational, just sloppy in a Peter Brady-hits-puberty sort of way. On "Phase 3," they've managed to isolate the worst moments off The Doors' albums -- the ones where Morrison just bellowed bad poetry over annoying organ. It's seven minutes that seem like, well, an eternity.

 

 

Rating: No
Format: CD

 

Hell Mach 4

Ten Meter Resolution

Porcelain Productions

Not terrible by any means, just not particularly interesting stab at grinding neu-Metallica rock. You got your fuzz-stomp guitar, your intricate (and well-performed) rhythm section, and, like a breath of fresh air, pretty good (though hoarse and gravelly) vocals instead of the usual Cookie Monster growling. They're at their best when doing it low-key, like on the tonally-pleasing "Blues for Dave." Unfortunately, most tracks sport one-dimensional melodies and bore quickly. The CD is anchored by a 23-minute art piece that failed to hold my attention.

 

 

Rating: No
Format: CD

 

Lock Up Your Daughters

Please Bear Please

Play Nice Records

Wimpy indie-rock from Minneapolis. But it's done very well. The girl's flat, undecorated voice reminds me of that girl in The Beautiful South, while the guy has a plain Lloyd Cole presentation on slow campfire songs that have a distinctly Northern flair -- I mean, how many times have you heard such a regional lyric as "I challenge you to a curling match/Pick your flat stones, pick them fast"? It's mostly keyboards, plain guitar and slight drums, with touches of synths/samples here and there, playing music that's like stripped-down Beach Boys' ballads. Pretty, but what did you expect from a CD that starts off with the sound of someone winding up a music box?

 

 

Rating: Yes
Format: CD

 

Smalltown Superstar

Lanes 23 & 24

Porcelain Productions

X punk bordering on metal -- in other words your typical 7 Year Bitch/L7 outfit. Their music is more tribal, less showy and more to the point. "Empty Bottle" sounds like a Thalia Zedek (Come) toss-off about what happens when you run out. "Chump" is pure blue-collar punk, while "Yes No" sounds like metal injun music. I dig.

 

Rating: Yes
Format: CD-EP

 

 

Whitford

Orson Wells:Planetdevouringrobot

Rotary Dial Records

An instrumental-only 4-piece from Pittsburgh does its best to integrate jazzy-math college rock complete with supporting saxophone and lots of droning guitars. I like the idea, and opener, "Until He Comes Home," and "[T]andem." would fit in fine next to Tristeza and the like. But oftentimes the saxophone only gets in the way, and on some tracks, sounds off key and off-kilter. When the combo tries to reach for sound variance, it more often comes up with art-jazz noise.

 

 

Rating: No
Format: CD

 

Flatus

Blindsided

Black Pumpkin Records

Has more in common with straight-ahead rock than punk or hardcore. Has even more in common with Bad Religion than your typical Dischord CD. The Explosion did this better because they sound like they don't give a shit. These guys sound like they're trying too hard to be liked. And that ultimately will work in their favor, if they're after the MTV crowd, that is. Note to the songwriters: Two songs about getting drunk is one too many. It's a rather schizoid set, with half the songs sounding punk and the other sounding like KISS-lite. The snarling I-hate-you numbers sound like watered down G'n'R.

Flatus have their work cut out for them. The angry young man punk verging on radio rock has been done a lot these days. So how do you set yourself apart from the other venture capitalists? Answer: satisfy all of them, which gets you nowhere. 


 

Rating: No
Format: CD

 

Crossphade Family

Middlenium

Self-release

There's nothing innovative or earth-shaking about it; instead it's about a handful of talented rappers and a smooth producer taking the tools and making the most of them. As a result, it's more of an ode to things past from a genre standpoint, and maybe that's what makes it so good. We're talking Old School circa mid-'90s with a touch of gangsta thrown in, except these threats are more about defending beats and rep than acts of crime. As a result, the language is much harder than on their previous effort (681), which was more of a snapshot of Omaha than a statement. Everything but the language seems to flow naturally. I mean, how many times can you use the nigga word and the shit word? How many threats can you make? Do they come off as defensive? You bet, but I guess that's to be expected from a hip-hop outfit out of Omaha, forced to prove before they'll get the respect they deserve. I tend to remember the lines more than the message. "Mama say 'You can't beat it then you shoot it.'" (Dat's Dat Shyt); "Bitch niggas, bound to get laid" (Da Anthem); "What goes up, must come down, niggas in a circle here don't fuck around" (What Goes Up), and so on.

 

Rating: Yes
Format: CD

 

John Ludi

Hell's Laughter and Heaven's Ache

Self-release

Ludi has to be targeting all of those MTV 120 Minutes watchers from the late-'80s and early '90s. His highly textured, smooth-synth pop owes everything to Peter Murphy, Bowie and a handful of British low-synthpop outfits -- an era of artists that I happen to love. You'd never know it was a home recording, except that levels seem weak and I'm not crazy about the overall mix, which is a bit mushy. If Ludi ever gets signed, he might want to consider rerecording and rereleasing this. Standouts: "Dysfunctional" Sonically, very tuneful, much better than Bowie's or Murphy's output over the last decade.

 

 

Rating: Yes
Format: CDR

Dakota Suite

Signal Hill

Badman

Much in the same vein as Red House Painters, almost to a fault. But whereas RHP starts out slow and builds tension around personal lyrics about loss, leaving and alienation, Dakota Suite merely starts out slow and stays that way. No question these are beautifully sad songs and Chris Hooson's soft, forlorn voice hits the mark, but how much mope can one take? Lyrics are summed up on "Riverside": "Is it true, is it true, are you breaking up inside?" You get the picture. Without the pathos, it's just whining (and  beautiful whining, at that).

 

 

Rating: No
Format: CD

 

 

Shanti Project Collection 2

Various Artists

Badman

The fact is, with the exception of Kristin Hersh (who continues to rerecord the same yodeling mantras), I love all these artists and have wondered where they've gone. I found the first spin through, however, a disappointing, droll acoustic walk through slow, sad territory. Missing, of course, were the rock songs these female pioneers are known for, but maybe a benefit CD whose proceeds are headed to the Shanti Project of San Francisco -- which helps people with HIV and AIDS -- isn't the proper place for twanging power chords.

These women pretty much shaped the pre-Lilith indie female singer-songwriter movement or played a role after its unfortunate erasure from the music landscape. Low's Mimi Parker contributes a bluesy, slow two-stepper (early Cowboy-Junkie style) followed by a sonic dreamscape. Kristin Hersh (ex-Throwing Muses) has a couple that sound like everything she's ever released. Paula Frazer (ex-Tarnation), gives us a nice 6/8 rocker followed by touching duet with Mark Eitzel that's my favorite on the disc. Eitzel's dry, low voice comes as a shock amid the high-end beauty. Rebecca Gates (Spinanes) has a couple harmonic slow ones, followed by two Edith Frost tracks that sound like Belly outtakes. The CD closes with three somber songs by Julie Doiron (ex-Eric's Trip) and a couple rave-ups by Melissa Auf der Maur (ex-Hole) that includes a trip-hop cover of "Love is the Drug" that, by itself, makes the collection worth owning. After repeated listenings, I got more into the vibe. Now if these chicks would only get their electric guitars humming again.

 

Rating: Yes
Format: CD

Stewboss

Wanted a Girl

Self-release

Their sound obviously is influenced by Counting Crows, though they seem to have an even better sense of hooks. We're talking southern-esque pop songs that paint rural pictures of a time gone by, or so it seems. Singer/songwriter Gregg Sarfaty is the unknown, undiscovered Van Morrison, Robbie Robertson, and Adam Duritz all in one. The obvious problem is that they sound almost too much like Counting Crows and Safarty is almost a dead ringer for Duritz -- I could see someone discarding this as a rip, which it really isn't. 

 

Rating: Yes
Format: CD

 

The Wrong Way Home: A Tribute to Supertramp

Various Artists

Urinine

It was a tough row to hoe to begin with because almost everyone is familiar with these classics. So when the bands, which include Panoply Academy Corp. of Engineers, Free Range Pilgrim, Not Funny Anymore and Hell on Wheels try to mix things up, the results are not only different but also awful and unlistenable. The most fun part about the experience is seeing how long it takes someone to figure out what song is being covered. Sometimes it takes a couple minutes, sometimes you never figure it out at all. And when you do figure it out, you're sure to be outraged.

 

 

Rating: No
Format: CD-EP

 

Four Corners

I Hope You Feel Better Now

Self-release

A respectable example of straight-ahead '80s rock that brings back memories of The Call (Remember them? They sang "Let the Day Begin," that song you never, ever want to hear again), not only on the vocals but in the music department. Two guys handle the lead. The guy on the majority of tracks is a crooner who makes every song into an over-the-top rock anthem in the Creed/Hootie vein. Nothing wrong with that, if that's what you're into (unfortunately, I'm not). In fact, for those so inclined, this could be a gold mine.

Then there's the second, better vocalist, with a more low-key, controlled intensity. The two songs he handles teeter on the edge of gutsy Pearl Jam rock. "Bridge to Nowhere" isn't a huge departure from the grunge days, but it sounds like a revelation when nestled among the rest of the tracks here. "I'm Free" gives a glimpse of what Toad the Wet Sprocket could have been if they ever learned how to rock. Both songs should be released as a single/EP, but it's probably too late for that, and something tells me they don't represent where the band was (or is) headed. And that's a shame. 

 

Rating: No
Format: CD

 


back torevhead.gif (1924 bytes)   Portions published in The Omaha Weekly Feb. 7-21, 2001. Copyright © 2001 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.