MM March III
Welcome back from spring break, Easter vacation, or wherever it is you've been enjoying the nice weather. An interesting variety of releases this month, so let's get right to it. -The Vinyl Junkie

Record of the Month

The Soundtrack of Our Lives - Behind the Music (Hidden Agenda [CD]; Stickman [2xLP] )
[Göteborg, Sweden]

[Admittedly, I'm a little late catching up with the phenomenon here. This album has been universally hailed on almost every independent "best of" list as one of 2002s finest releases. In their infinite wisdom, the Grammy folks even saw fit to nominate it for Best Alternative Album of the Year. In their infinite stupidity, they gave the award to the wrong album...some piece of crap from Coldplay. Hello! Didn't these losers get the award last year? How about spreading the wealth around! Nevertheless, in case you've not heard about this album, I wanted to include my review for your entertainment and encourage you to rush out and pick this up. It's also just been reissued (on VINYL!!!) by Stickman.]

"Behind the Music" is the name of a VH-1 documentary series which strives to give us the dirt via a warts 'n all biographical look at some of the most popular bands from the 60s up to today's biggest (s)hitmakers. By coincidence or design, it's also the title of the third album from Swedish psych pranksters, The Soundtrack of Our Lives as well as a virtual jukebox of the British and American pop/psych/mod music scene of the last 35 years. It is, in effect, their own look "behind the music" of the bands that have influenced them over the years. 

And "spot the influence" is a game I love to play, usually while listening to a Nick Lowe album. So listening to this becomes a fun game as well as a most enjoyable experience, and while I am sure you will hear your own influences, here's what I've come up with so far (another advantage of well-made albums like this is that you may hear a different "song" with each subsequent listen):

"Infra Riot" opens the album like Oasis, full of their trademark sweeping, anthemic wall of sound; the latest single, "Sister Surround " offers a Jeff Lynne-inspired, British take on what The Kinks might have sounded like if produced by Phil Spector; then like a left hook from right field, "In Someone Else's Mind" bleeds vintage Lennon ca. his Plastic Ono Band debut, right down to the title. And as long as we're getting "behind the music" from the British psych/mod 60's scene, "Mind the Gap" is an outtake from an old Floyd album, specifically something off their soundtracks More and La Valee (Obscured By Clouds) or side one of Meddle.

"Broken Imaginary Time" is sumptious and baroque, like The Zombies crossed with Supertramp and 10cc, with an evocative, almost Gothic use of organ, and a vocal coda straight out of "Strawberry Fields Forever." "21st Century Ripoff" is a mod-infected, pub rock stomper - imagine The Kinks meets Rockpile; "Independent Luxury" returns to the Britpop 90s, and sounds like something from The Stone Roses Third Coming with a Kula Shaker chaser floating on top; "Keep the Line Moving" is "Tusk" crossed with "Come Together;" and "Nevermore" is America's "Sister Golden Hair" updated for a different kind of 21st century ripoff. In fact, the pessimistic among you may hear this entire project as exactly that, and I will admit that the downside to albums like this is that the true personality of the performers often fails to emerge. So while the Soundtracks have impressive record collections, I'll be curious to hear what THEY sound like. Until then, though, I can't get enough of Behind the Music.

Roamin' Gabriels - Smile (Sling-Shot)
[New Jersey/Pennsylvania]

One of my favorite bands of the 80s was the quirky, avant garde, off-kilter, jazzy, loungey pop of Felt, who released ten vastly different albums in ten years. Two of the more unusual entries in their impressive catalogue were Let the Snakes Crinkle Their Heads To Death and Train Above the City. For fans who've been stockpiling bachelor pad music since the popularity of the Austin Powers' movies, have I got a treat for you! Another in a seemingly endless line of punny band names (Brian Jonestown Massacre, Dandy Warhols, John Cougar Concentration Camp), this northwest NJ/northeast PA instrumental trio was named after the former all-star quarterback of the old Los Angeles Rams football team. (It's also a multi-layered inside joke for fans of leader Len Mooney's weekly radio program over WNTI-FM, 91.9 in Hackettstown, NJ called "Gabe's Lunchbreak," making him the pseudonymous roamin' Gabriel.) Smile is loaded with wonderful, groovy, 60s-styled lounge vibes with an occasional jazzy twist--Mooney calls it "groove music." "Marley's Bones," for example, is one of several funky, organ-based softshoe shuffles reminiscent of some of Quincy Jones' soundtrack work from the late 60s/early 70s ("The Hot Rock" springs to mind immediately). It also reminds me of the rockin' salsa grooves of early Santana.

The two lengthy openers (the 7:00 "T. Groove" and the 6:00 "Chicken Fingers") set the stage for a night of frosty cocktails and hot babes in the penthouse suite. The fascinating fretwork of Kevin Siebold, particularly his solos on "Chicken  Fingers," "Wonder Years," and the finger-popping "Retrofit," perfectly compliments Mooney's equally impressive organ fills (with many solos throughout), which add a nice rock element, leaving fans of both hard jazz and smooth rock instrumentals begging for more. There's even a goshdarn Buddy Rich-inspired drum solo from Drew Siciliano in the middle of "C Bop," and "Sweet Suit" reminds me of Nelson Riddle backing Francis Albert leading the Rat Pack through a boozy rendition of "Swinging on A Star."

While we've never landed anyone in the Billboard charts or an MTV video (so this may not be as impressive as it sounds), but this is simply the finest release to emerge from NW NJ/NE PA corridor. So, major label A&R dudes and dudettes, get your heads out of Nora Jones' ass and slide on out to lovely, bucolic NW NJ and check out the next big thing. A pivotal release in the loungey, neo-space age bachelor pad revival.

Aarktica - Pure Tone Audiometry (Silber)
[Brooklyn, New York]

Backward tape loops, an ethereal wordless vocal duet with Lorraine Lelis reminiscent of His Name is Alive's Livonia, and rhyming "pure tonography" with "oceanography" are some of the highlights of "Out To Sea," the leadoff track on Jon DeRosa's third full-length under the name Aarktica. "The Mimicry All Women Use" adds a normal vocal track that will be more familiar to DeRosa's other project, Dead Leaves Rising. His relaxed, late-night, sexy vocals reminded me of Richard Baskin's soundtrack for Welcome To L.A. (well worth seeking out, btw). A lengthy, full-band jam, "Mimicry..." will also be a surprise to fans of Jon's debut, No Solace in Sleep (also on Silber), which was a completely ambient, guitar-based solo effort.

"Snowstorm Ruins Birthday" is closer to those ambient effects and is an excellent example of "glass music" - the sound made by running the index finger around the rims of glasses filled to various levels. The harmonics thus created are determined by the amount of air displaced by the liquid in each glass. Now I'm almost positive this is not how DeRosa created these sounds (almost all of his music is guitar-based and the by-now familiar "absolutely no synthesizers were used in the recording of this release" parental advisory applies), but you get the idea of what to expect. It's a relaxing technique that warms the blood and the heart, although I don't think there's been any tests on any correlation between the brand (and proof!) of liquid used and the resulting harmonics!

A more traditional song structure suits DeRosa well on "Ocean," a gently whispered love song that will appeal to fans of Bill Callahan/Smog. An interesting arrangement/production decision is made halfway through. Up to this point, it sounds like the song is emerging from a radio--then we edit to the "studio version," thus enhancing the song's immediacy. I also applaud Molly Sheridan's mournful violin playing.

The title of the album refers to the audio test administered to measure one's hearing sensitivity (DeRosa is deaf in one ear) and it comes into play frequently throughout the recording with very quiet spoken-word segments in the background of both "Out To Sea" and "Big Year." It also results in a hearing test of your own, crossed with one of those subliminal recordings you would listen to to help you calm down or improve your driving techniques, etc. Since the tests are administered with headphones, this is best appreciated thusly and is one of the best "headphone albums" in recent memory.

This allows the listener to pick up sounds and nuances that might have otherwised been missed. And knowing what DeRosa is doing, I began to question my own hearing abilities: am I hearing things that aren't really there and viceversa? Am I missing things that are there? That challenge of hearing things that aren't there v. not hearing things that are makes it a very educational experience which questions the entire concept of "listening" and "hearing." But that's not to suggest this is a clinical, antiseptic recording. On the contrary, it's very warm and tender, with strong melody lines, particularly the lengthy "Ocean" and "Big Year."

The source of the sounds you listen to on a record is also examined on "Water Wakes Dead Cells." Could that be a heartbeat...a vibrating eardrum...or the industrial machinations that went into creating those sound effects in the warehouse scenes of David Lynch's Eraserhead where our hero makes the erasers? Or, just as easily, is it none of these? I don't think identifying the actual source is as important as the fact that it could be any, none, or all of these. In keeping with the analysis of the perception of sound and the experience of listening and hearing, the fact that a single sound could be produced from a myriad of natural causes, or created or manipulated in the recording studio in the mixing/engineering/production process is key to what's going on here.

At 12½ minutes, the finale, "Williamsburg Counterpoint" (DeRosa lives in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn in NYC) goes on twice as long as necessary, but the first half is a lovely, ambient guitar piece worth hearing at least a few times. In closing, let me just suggest you rush out and pick this up and decide for yourself: is it live, or is it DeRosa's studio-enhanced vision of what "sound" sounds like. In light of his expertise at recreating the limited "sounds" that he can pick up, this truly is the sound of one ear hearing. For students of the act of creating sound and lovers of those creations alike, Pure Tone Audiometry is an essential listening experience.

Various Artists - Themes Volume:01 (Ochre)

Subtitled "Soundtracks from the World of Ochre Records," this 17-track sampler gathers some of the more interesting instrumental recordings from over half a dozen acts in the Ochre stable. Only about half of them are worth repeated listens, but this is still an excellent introduction to the current state of wordless music (er, instrumentals), of which I am one of the world's biggest fans. As Dale Bozzio said all those years ago, "What are words for?"

Skyray begins things in a mellow mood, with a gently cascading piano piece entitled "Neptune Variations, Part 1" and the driving electronic pulse beat of The Land of Nod's "Timeless Point" is certainly hit worthy on many a dance floor around the world. But then we hit the wall on Longstone's "Traffic" and "Seasons" and 90° South's "Lola and The Northern Lights," all of which are annoying, headache-enducing experiments in replicating bleeps, bloops, and sound effects from a penny arcade, although the latter tosses in a tape loop of a cooing baby, which is certainly different, but not necessarily better. 90° South redeem themselves further on with "Citroen DS" (presumably the model of a French automobile), which marries a French techno beat to a jazzy/loungy guitar line reminiscent of Tortoise crossed with Saint Etienne. Smooth and frosty, it's cool, man, cool. And their third contribution, "Hut Point" nicely reminds of Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark. Sadly, the same can not be said about Longstone, whose "L.I.F.Espan" is a loud, annoying, metallic piece of electronics that reminds me of Nine Inch Nails, whom I had hoped we would never have to suffer through again. If this is their legacy, get me the hell out of here.

Helicopters, people stumbling into things in the dark, and electronic gameroom sound effects also ruins Lakescene's "Total Switchoff," which begins with a lovely piano melody and deteriorates into noise. Piano is also the predominant instrument on The Land of Nod's "Quadrant Zero," but the addition of traditional guitar/bass/drums adds to its enjoyment as not just another Yuppie exercise in background music. Stylus' "The Cosmic Beekeeper" has a soothing, metallic air about its melody, with a sputtering backdrop that sounds like Kraftwerk crossed with a purring kitten and its John Phillip Sousa-styled martial beat is a winner.

The third time is also a charm for Stylus' "Migration," a lovely walk through the aviary section of the local zoological garden, complete with chirping bird sound effects. The always wonderful Will Sergeant (ex-Bunnymen guitarist who also records ambient pieces under the name Glide) contributes "La Via Luonge," an experimental, ambient tone poem complete with myriad sound effects, and the whole project returns to the beginning with the second part of Skyray's "Neptune Variations."

Overall, it's nice aural wallpaper for cleaning the house or reading a book, but it does get a little dull if taken all in one sitting and is probably only worth borrowing from a friend. As to its marketing impact, I will be checking into Stylus, 90° South, and Skyray and avoiding Longstone, so the good folks at Ochre may have succeeded in their task afterall!

Label samplers are often marketing ploys to introduce the listener to a wide variety of artists and, hopefully, empty their wallets in the process of seeking out the full-length sources. Instrumental label samplers are a little tougher to deal with, as they will become tiresome in a hurry if you are not interested in the style of music the label is promoting. For the most part, that's the case here. I found myself hitting the skip button more often than not, but there was an occasional treasure worthy of further investigation.

SubArachnoid Space - Also Rising (Strange Attractors Audio House)
[San Francisco, California]

One of the finest instrumental psychedelic jam bands returns with their seventh full length and first for SAAH, the fine Portland, Oregon imprint that's been making wonderful noises recently with exceptional releases from Kinski, Surface of Eceon, etc. Similar to their radio station jam session, These Things Take Time, this is intended to be experienced in one lengthy, continuous listening session, and is divided into eight segments, roughly based on mood and chord changes. [In all honesty, it's actually closer to a mini-album, supplemented with new recordings of the track on their recent split LP with Bardo Pond ("Tigris") and a previously available mp3 ("Tucson"), and a rough, fuzzy, distorted, bargain basement, boombox-recorded hidden track (that was, frankly, a little too easy to find, and should have remained in the archives).]

"The Harsh Facts of Life" is essentially your kitchen sink approach to instrumental psychedelic rock: ten minutes of driving, pulsating, white noise guitar skronk, intermingled with several lengthy pure drone guitar sections and a couple of Crimsonesque syncopated, angular mood enhancers tossed in for good measure. "Deep End" is hushed, mournful, and tentative - a classic case of waiting for the other shoe to drop and a marvelous updating of The Cure's "A Forest," which is a very good thing indeed. In addition to the spot-on Robert Smith guitar pyrotechnics, the "MJ Guitar Connection" (Mason Jones and Melynda Jackson) can make their six-strings sound like just about anything, including a violin ("Deep End" and particularly "Down Nod Out," where it was almost three minutes before I realized it wasn't a violin!), and a theremin ("Angel Food"). This secret weapon enables SAS to vary their sound without getting into electronics or synthesizers and is one of the reasons I place them in the upper echelon of instrumental spacerock bands.

I'm almost afraid to ask what a "Burn Shot" is, but the musical version is a spiky, punky, hard-driving white noise explosion. Pay particular attention to the magic spell Jones weaves in the background: a blistering commingling of the finest distorto efforts of the Re(e/i)d Brothers (that would be Lou and William). I also like the way SAS albums vary the sonic textures and moods, rather than going for the jugular on the first track and maintaining warp speed throughout. The "Tucson" segment is a fine example of this laid-back, relaxation technique which features in all their releases. Again, Crimsonesque syncopation drives the piece forward, yet the hesitancy, perhaps the astonishment of experiencing an Arizona sunset is the inspiration for this track, which was previously available on their mp3 site. It's also a nice companion piece to the work of Tucson's finest instrumental psych band, Black Sun Ensemble. In fact, BSE's Jesus Acedo and SAS's Jones are two of America's finest avant-guitarrorists, and Also Rising is another excellent addition to an already impressive catalogue.

 Why this band isn't a household name is one of the modern mysteries of independent music. I know that if someone told me about a band whose guitarist(s) sounded collectively and individually like Roberts Fripp, Smith and Hampson (of King Crimson, The Cure and Loop/Main, respectively), I would certainly want to check out what they had to "say." Here's your chance. Don't delay.

Donovan's Brain - The Great Leap Forward (Career)
[Bozeman, Montana]

Following three albums on the independent Get Hip label (owned by the leader of Pittsburgh's finest garage band, The Cynics), musician, DJ, producer, recording studio owner (God's Little Ear Acre), archivist, music critic (I-94 Bar), restaurateur, and all-around solid sender Ron Sanchez adds label owner to his hat rack with this debut release on his Career Record label, co-owned with Radio Birdman guitarist, Deniz Tek (see below).

"Neuro Psych Trail Head" kicks off the new era of Brain matter with a light, airy, flower-powered by love ditty, sounding like it came straight off the Peter Cook-Dudley Moore soundtrack for Bedazzled or the Rubbles collection of 60s British psychedelia. The driving, funky jungle rhythms and wall-of-vocals (courtesy Megan Pickerel) of bassist Jeff Arntsen's "Crystal Palace" (from the repertoire of his other project, Racket Ship) is sure to be a crowd pleaser at the discos, sounding like Laurie Anderson fronting the Tom Tom Club, and guitarist Colter Langan's "All Fall Down" continues mining the gold from 60s Brit pop by copping the bass line from The Kinks' "Tired of Waiting," but all is forgiven once we're treated to the excellent solo from guest Braincell, Tek.

The sleepy, cotton-mouthed John Lennon vocals on "Cloud Maker" (perhaps Langan's finest composition to date), would place it somewhere in the Rubber Soul/Revolver era, "Loving Indifference" sets the controls for the heart of Syd Barrett in a whirling dervish maelstrom of space rock, and "Ocean of Storms" is what sitting crosslegged on the floor sifting nature's finest on that gatefold sleeve spread accross your lap is all about.

With the participation from former Man/Help Yourself stalwarts Malcolm Morley and Richard Treece and ex-Fleetwood Mac/Savoy Brown guitarist Dave Walker, The Great Leap Forward is knee-steep in obscure, esoteric, British blues and psychedelia. It's not as poppily accessible as the Soundtrack of Our Lives, but it is just as essential, and perhaps more richly rewarding upon subsequent listens. 

Most Brain albums have sounded like compilations, collated from many archival recordings excised and dusted off from the God's Little Ear Acre vaults, and "Great Leap" is no exception. However, with only the ballad of the band on the run shenanigans of "The Ballad of Where's Jim" (presumably a reference to former member Jim Kehoe), the Residents-at-a-frat-party confusion of "My Little Town," and the hesitant omnidirectional uncertaintly of "The Known Sea" failing to impress, this is a great leap forward (duh!) and an otherwise stellar presentation from the finest band ever to emerge from Big Sky country.

Denis Tek and The Golden Breed - Glass Eye World (Career)

The sharp, punky delivery and slicing guitars reminscent of The Damned and Lords of The New Church (Tek is a remarkable ringer for the snarling delivery of the late, great Stiv Bators) on opener "Always Out of Reach" (featuring a guitarline so familiar I'm ashamed I can't remember its source) introduces us to the first batch of new songs from Ozzie punk icon (and Ann Arbor, Michigan native!) Deniz Tek in over two years. From seminal punkers Radio Birdman through MC5/Stooges offshoots New Race and Sonic's Rendezvous Band, Tek has been frightening oldsters (an early Birdman gig was stopped after only three songs for fear of killing some of the weaker constitutioned pensioners in the audience) and delighting the young punters for over three decades. Hooking up in the early 90s with skaterboy twins Art and Steve Godoy (tattoo artists whose billboard bodies are a walking cross between Rod Steiger's Illustrated Man and Henry Rollins), Tek joined the lads and their Exploding Fuck Dolls on mini tours across the East Coast and Southern California. The album at hand was recorded over three years and at several sessions in Montana and Vancouver, Canada.

Fans who recall Cook 'n Jones follow-up to the Sex Pistols, The Professionals will once again pogo to the catchy, power punk riffage and anthemic chorus of the Fuck Dolls' "Let's Go," my choice for leadoff single. Heck, even the New Found Glory/Good Charlotte kiddie punks would love this one! "Flight 19" starts out like a dirty, garagey Dolls-meets-Elevators snarl and changes horses midstream for lengthy, psychedelic pyrotechnics, while "2 Pam Chloride" (ask your favorite chemist what it means) is classic Ramones that unfortunately, due to several deaths in the family, the lads never got around to recording. It's presented here in all its live glory, recorded in a shed in Montana in front of some of Deniz' daughter's friends.

A lyric from "1 Eye Sam" provides the album with its title, "What It's For" is pure punk for now people, again reminding what St. Stiv and his Church of the New Dead Boys might sound like if he were alive and kicking (although chances are fans of the reformed Radio Birdman may recall hearing this at recent gigs), and "Clifford Possum" is a Tek rap over 100% certified Stooge sludge that probably goes down like a house afire live, but loses a lot in this studio presentation. 

In sum, the more discerning kiddies interested in tracing the family tree of seminal punk will find one of its godfathers in top form, although this collection will probably appeal more to punks like me who've been there...done that...and want to do it all over again.

Gingersol - The Train Wreck Is Behind You (Rubric)
[Los Angeles, California]

Call it emo with balls, although Slacker Pop will probably go down better in family magazines, this pleasant collection of over a dozen pop confections (a reissue of the band's self-released third album) is a very enjoyable, easy listening experience. Hookladen and catchy as hell, this is one of those albums where every song sounds great while you're listening to it, but once it's over only a few tracks remain in your head--sort of like a Chinese dinner. But let's see if we can't pay special attention to the lovely harmonies on "King Sized Doubt" or categorize "Face Up Again" as the best song Teenage Fan Club never wrote and a surefire Top 10 hit. Radiohead fans may find a lot to like in the sleepy, blink-and-you-missed-it title track, while folks living on the Tobin Sprout side of the Guided By Voices fence will fall in love with the 70 second "Fall Beneath the Radar," as infuriating and great as the best minute-long GBV tracks. The punchy "Make It Stand" is one of several tracks which lovingly recall the best of Shoes ("I'm Sure" is another such highlight) and lead songwriter Steve Tagliere even breaks into a sweat over his brief, but competent guitar solo on the former.

The short instrumental "Still Life" sounds like an Angelo Badalamenti outtake from his Twin Peaks soundtrack sessions--it's out of place in it's current surroundings, but lovely nevertheless. Overall, I can think of worse ways to pass the time between bonghits. To paraphrase Dimone's classic guide to getting laid from Fast Times at Ridgemont High, "When in doubt, slap on side two of Gingersol's Train Wreck is Behind You." Because, boys, if you can't score with that hot betty you've been ogling with this on in the background, you might as well hang it up and head back to your collection of Maxims you've got stuffed under your mattresses. I've got a feeling I'll be remembering this one at my yearend "best of" ceremonies.

The Barnyard Playboys - Corn Dog Love (Rubric)
[New York City]

Shitkickin' music with a shiteatin' grin, this is rude, obnoxious, hilarious, drunken, fratboy nonsense and I love it to death. Imagine Mojo Nixon leading Southern Culture on the Skids, or an X- rated Five Chinese Brothers at a backyard barbecue singalong and you're on the right track. With titles like "Corn Dog Love," "Turd in the Mail," "Hi You're Dead," "Whiskey Dick Mountain" and the ever-popular crowd pleaser, "My Heart Is In The Right Place (But My Head Is Up My Ass)," this is not the kind of shit you listen to with the parents in the next room, but with a couple of buckets of fried chicken and a couple of cubes of Bud.

"Last Round" is countrified Stones a la "Sweet Virginia," and masquerading behind all the stale beer farts and cold chicken breath are some John Prine-quality melodies from a party band that's as tight as a monkey's bum! Another highlight worth mentioning is "Alligator Song," which sounds like Charlie Daniels driving the devil down to Georgia in Commander Cody's "Hot Rod Lincoln."

There's not much left to say. Just grab some brews, some broads, and some birds and dive right in. This is a finger-lickin' toga party waiting to happen. Just remember to put some helmets on those soldiers, boys!

Marianne Nowottny - Illusions of the Sun (Camera Obscura)
[New Jersey]

Expanding to the enhanced-CD format for the first time, Australia's premiere independent label combines an EP's worth of new and re-recorded material from child savant Nowottny with 12 minutes of video footage from a Washington, DC concert. The title track borrows its organ sound from an old Strawbs' break, giving it a proggy air, while her voice comes on like Nina Hagen with a headcold, singing in eight different keys at once. It has a tendency to grate and distract from the compostion. "Bourbon Prince" continues in this same vein, sort of like Lene Lovich-meets-Diamanda Galas, and her Sybilian vocals sound like eight different women contributing to the mayhem. This is not pop music by any stretch of the imagination.

A vaudevillian piano backs Nowottny's singspeak non-sequitor lyrics on "Rainy Days and Vinyl," where her musical ideas are again impossible to grasp. Like a Chinese fire drill, the omnidirectional melody is everywhere and nowhere...the musical equivalent of a Marx Brothers movie, with just about the same surrealistic logic. "Mustard Seed" sounds like a bad Saturday Night Live skit, and by song's end, Nowottny's fragile voice has deteriorated into a bad Marlene Dietrich impersonation. But that's not the worst of it: no, that honor would go to the finale, "Sweet and Low." Atonal moaning verging on a painful bowel movement, typically non-sequitor stream-of-consciousness lyrics, and angular music all lead up to the aural equivalent of Plan 9 from Outer Space.

I think Marianne should pick a style and stick with it - the "kitsch"en (out of) sync approach leaves me cold and confused. I've been reading reviews of some of her earlier releases to see if I was missing some joke, but apparently not. There are actually people who like this sort of thing, and their defense is fairly similar to my offense. I guess some folks appreciate out-of-tune vocals, non-linear musical lines, and nonsensical, stream-of-conscious lyrics. If you are one of them, this may be your bag. Me? I'd just as soon put this in a bag and bury it as far away from my CD player as possible. Of course, if you read those reviews carefully as I have, you'll notice the critic never really comes out and says he LIKES the record.  It's this obvious obfuscation and smoke and mirrors that you can expect to avoid in my reviews.  If something is disappointing and not worth investigating, I'll come right out and say it. I also think it’s unfair to hide behind a “non-review.” I’ve spoken to a few friends who also hate this record, but they’ve elected to not review it at all rather than publish their negative thoughts. I respect their decision, but think this cheats you into thinking that everyone loves this – since you haven’t read anything negative, it must be good. So I’ll just flap out here in the breeze on this limb by myself and encourage you to borrow this from a friend of you’re curious enough to want to form your own opinion.

Camera Obscura has an amazing track record over the last five-plus years and across over 50 releases. Every once in a while, there's a misstep and, in my humble opinion, this is it - an anamoly in an otherwise impressive catalogue that looks set to get back on track with upcoming releases from The Petals and Lazily Spun. I'm gonna forget about this one and look forward to those.

And the strangest thing of all is that Marianne lives about 20 miles from me and I've been unaware of her existence until now. So if even the locals don't "get" what you're on about, it's a sure indication that your offerings are for a very limited, sophisticated, pooh-pooh, cogniscenti and beyond the ken of a normal hick from the sticks like me.

Anton Barbeau - King of Missouri (Woronzow)
[Sacramento, California]

Woronzow brain trust (Nick Saloman and Ade Shaw, also of The Bevis Frond) met Barbeau when they were touring in California and he handed them a tape of his music. They liked what they heard and agreed to put out his next album. They even went one step further, and, while he was in London visiting friends, they, along with Frond drummer Andy Ward, agreed to be his backing band on this punnily titled album (aka King of Misery?)

The opening (title) track and “Octagon” are fun, power pop rockers, with the latter’s toe-tapping, hard-driving, memorable riff sounding exactly like Woronzow stablemate Mick Crossly and his Flyte Reaction. “It’s OK, Maybe” is one of those sweet little ditties that John Lennon and Nick Lowe used to toss off in their sleep and once you’ve heard it, it’s stuck in your head for days. Marvelous, and the obvious choice for the lead single.

The more elaborately arranged tracks like “The Clothes I Want To Wear,” “I Remember Everything”, and, particularly “I’m Always Offending My Sensitive Friends” are a little more difficult to wrap your arms around as Barbeau’s crackling vioce struggles to emote in the upper registers. But that’s a minor quibble. After all, it’s the rockers you’ll return to again and again, including the power pop party anthem, “I Don’t Like You” and the otherwise relatively sedate “Sylvia Something” and “Retabulation,” which both benefit from Saloman’s trademark ripping guitar solos. These alone are worth the price of admission and a must for Frond completists, although Barbeau can hold his own with his enjoyable sense of melody and raspy voice custom-made for the pop overtones. I’d also recommend this to fans of the poppier side of the Woronzow stable, such as Alchemysts, Lucky Bishops and Flyte Reaction.

Keith Christmas - Acoustica (Woronzow)
[Wivenhoe, Essex, England]

If Barbeau reminds you of Woronzow artist, Flyte Reaction, them this acoustic solo album will bring back fond memories of former Woronzow artist, Mick Wills, who released similar albums on Woronzow back in the early 90s. Keith’s (indirect) Woronzow connection goes back a bit further, however, to the days when Ade Shaw contributed bass to his Pigmy album (B&C, 1971) and cover of “My Girl,” which also appears on the US version of Christmas’ Brighter Day album, released on Emerson, Lake & Palmer’s Manticore imprint back in 1974.  (Lake also co-produced it.) Christmas is a bit of a legend in certain well-respected circles, having played and recorded with David Bowie and Rick Wakeman (on Bowie’s Man of Words/Man of Music, aka Space Oddity), King Crimson alumni Ian MacDonald, Ian Wallace and Mel Collins (Brighter Day), Rod Argent (Pigmy), and Cat Stevens, Steve Cropper and “Duck” Dunn (Stories from The Human Zoo). In the 70s, he performed at the first Glastonbury Festival, and toured in support of Zappa, Beefheart, Hawkwind (of whom, Ade is an ex-member) and The Kinks. Voiceprint recently reissued his 1992 blues album (with his Weatherman project) and in ’96 he released the Love Beyond Deals album (produced by Fairport Convention/Steeleye Span guitarist, Ashley Hutchings). He ended the 90s touring with his wife, Julia, and in 2001 began recording an album with her. He’s also got another blues project, KCBlues that he’s been recording with recently. 

So now that we’ve discussed his background, let’s tell you a bit about this marvelous release. Christmas’ playing is a bit more aggressive and rocking than other artists releasing this style of material, so think more in terms of Vini (Durutti Column) Reilly and Richard Thompson and less Jansch, Renborne and Graham. The songs are all uniformly great, particularly the Hawaiian/Calypso groove of “Easy” and the happy-go-lucky, strolling minstrel vibe of “Awakening;” from the finger lickin’, chicken pickin’ of “Sliding” and the hesitant, staring-into-the-campfire melancholia of “Ascension” right on up to the toe-tappin’, finger poppin finale, “Inside Out.” Acoustica is a must for fans of the instrument and a welcome addition to your collection of Jansch, Thompson, Fahey, Graham, Drake, and the like.

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