Cassowaries/Pssprtt “A Ghost With Teeth”

Cassowaries / Pssprtt

A Ghost With Teeth
(I Know A Lot About Magic;2008)

I’ll start off by explaining that I’ve been sitting on this mini-CD for a very long time. Since Ryan Carter, hereby referred to as Cassowaries, sent me this little EP that he shares real estate with Pssprtt on, both artists have gone on to grow and change as musicians tend to do over time. That being said, this review could be completely moot, and I’m only continuing on with sharing my opinion because of this website’s insistence that everything sent in will be reviewed. The real point I’m trying to make is this: despite the word’s I’m about to write you should check out these two artists yourself and hear what they’ve been doing since this split EP. Awesome. Enough disclaiming.

A Ghost With Teeth, on first listen, doesn’t sound like the work of two separate musicians. Both Cassowaries and Pssprtt (aka Eric James, who’s since changed his moniker to Phantom Youth) sound so heavily influenced by the reverberated compositions of Panda Bear, White Rainbow, and others of the psychedelic/ambient/”experimental” nature that discerning the two was difficult. In fact, I had to request additional liner notes in order to ascertain who actually made which songs. As I listened to the split EP more, referencing the additional notation I requested all the while, I was able to make out some slight differences. The three songs contributed by Cassowaries are driven more by distant beats and warped samples while Pssprtt’s chunk of music is more of a vocals-and-guitar-in-a-massive-hall sort of affair. The distinctiveness of each artist is strong enough to warrant personal separation, but the sounds they seem to emulate all rest on the same sets of shoulders.

The songs heard on A Ghost With Teeth are mostly 2 minute experiments, save a 4 and a half minute mini-epic each. No track stands out greatly from the others in terms of sounds or composition, but each have their moments. I’d say the EP is a nice introduction to both North Western musicians, anchored with equally positive and negative aspects. This doesn’t sound too much like a review, more like an artist’s bio, but I prefer it that way in this case. You’ve got some references now, a little bit of opinion, and you’ll find some links pretty soon. This time around I’m leaving you, the reader, to make final decisions based on your own critical thought. Thankfully, you’ve got some free download options care of the release’s label, I Know A Lot About Magic. God bless the internet.

– Patric Fallon


Loose Shus “Demos”

Loose Shus
(self-released; 2008)

Save for a few horrible frat houses in the midwest or even some godforsaken trailers in the deep south, if you put on Michael Jackson’s Thriller at a dance party people are going to have a great time. There is something in the uninhibitedly inhibited sounds of late 70’s and early 80’s dance music that just keeps bringing everyone back for one more listen. Contemporary producers like Chromeo and Kavinsky know the beauty to be found in these sounds, and they’ve given us quite a twirl with their revitalized revivals of the golden age of dance music. If you have room for one more, please lend your ears to San Francisco’s Loose Shus. He’s got a few extra steps to show you.

Through a smooth blend of vintage samples, recreated classic synths, and overtly consistent sexual energy, Loose Shus calls you to move with his revived brand of motorik disco. His style could seem contrived and tired if not for it’s utmost purity of influence and genuine dedication to reliving the biggest decades of dance through music. Those aspects gain my musical respect, but it’s the epicly-written-yet-immediately-enjoyable songs that capture my love. Whether you’re being carried along by the bouncy bass line of “Taurus” or the squealing synths of “Six Minute” Loose Shus doesn’t wait til the destination to drop grooves on you; the whole journey is a well-crafted dance experience. Even on the CD’s closest cousin to a slow jam, my personal favorite, “mmmm hmmmmm”, we’re moved by a solidly mellow beat accompanied by a soft, whistling synth. No matter what he does in his music, Loose Shus’ motive is consistent and clear; put your feet and your pants on the dance floor. Won’t you listen?

– Patric Fallon

Maus Haus “Lark Marvels”

Maus Haus
Lark Marvels
(Pretty Blue Presents; 2008)

Maus Haus is a band, like many others these days, that not only embraces technology, but also utilizes the medium to craft their sound with ingenuity and precision. Their debut album Lark Marvels succeeds in being an interesting and all together rewarding listen because of the bands’ reluctance to hold back their plethora of seemingly endless musical ideas and the technical abilities they use to harness them. Chances are that throughout any given song you couldn’t count on two hands the different instruments and sounds used to drive Maus Haus’ music home. This kind of instrumental decathlon songwriting brings to mind artists like Menomena and Architecture in Helsinki, but one word can easily break Lark Marvels away from those other bands and their music. Tension.

With their off-kilter timing and penchant for ambiguous melodies, Maus Haus envelops the listener with a sound that radiates a strangely cool urgency. More often than not there is no light at the end of their enjoyably dark tunnel. This technique works greatly in their favor, giving that much more importance to the brief yet brilliant moments of release. Sometimes the contrast of their cacophonous tension, minimalistic clarity, and upbeat grooves is jarring, but primarily it goes to support the large number of ideas at work in Lark Marvels. The quick switch between electronic slow burner “Irregular Hearts” and the neo-punk follow up “Reaction” sounds almost like the changing of albums, but that’s just Maus Haus; everything the members love about music quickly and expertly mashed together with loving skill and finesse.

Despite the strange powers at work in the music, Lark Marvels is populated with  surprisingly accessible songs. “Dead Keys Drop” opens with one of the coolest grooves I’ve heard all year, and the song’s sing-a-long refrain, ‘Your speed is not like our speed/La La La Laaa/La La La La Laaa Laaa/Ride the bullet like a banshee/La La La Laaa/La La La La Laaa Laaa’, is a prime example of the hidden catchiness found all throughout Maus Haus’ debut album. After recieving this music for review I spent somewhere over a month getting to know Lark Marvels. In taking my time I’ve discovered a lasting album from a band that I’m sure will be populating the independent music community’s “Best of” lists in years to come.

– Patric Fallon

Casey Chisholm “October Rest”

Casey Chisholm
October Rest
(Ascension Records / Pretty Blue Presents;2008)

I’ll be honest. When I recieved October Rest in the mail I was in absolutely no state to objectively listen to and review the kind of slow and loving music that Casey Chisholm recorded for the EP. I was dealing with my own heartbreak and couldn’t separate what Casey was playing and singing about from what I was going through in my personal life. I almost decided to not review the CD myself until I realized that October Rest was precisely what I needed to help mend my wounded soul. This isn’t music meant to drive you deeper down, this is meant to lift you up! This music isn’t made to perpetuate the feeling of love lost, this is here to remind you of the love you’ve found! October Rest is an upper dressed in downer’s clothing.

The kind of positivity found in Casey’s music is a rare breed these days unless it’s shrowded in religion or a creedo of some sort. Instead of finding his happiness in a lifestyle or a higher power he celebrates life because of the people he has a chance to share it with. My favorite example of this is a lyric from the song “Alive” that goes ‘Isn’t it nice that you and I will go through life/At the very same time/Isn’t it nice we both laugh/We both cry’. That kind of genuine sentiment is what I find so alluring about October Rest, but the music is just as equally wonderful.

The sounds here are primarily electronic, reminding me of early M83 in it’s grander moments and Casiotone for the Painfully Alone in it’s more personal moments. Though synths and drum machines are the meat of the songs, Casey also utilizes live guitars, percussion, and ambient room recordings that all compliment the core of the music quite well. One of the best moments comes about midway through the EP’s longest song “If Only” when the chorus of synths and vocals slowly gives way to a parade of distorted synths, reverbed percussion, and harmonic guitars. This ending goes on for three minutes, and not once do I ever want it to stop. October Rest is a short listen, but you feel that Casey showed you everything he needed to in those 20 minutes. I look forward to hearing what he has to share in the future.

– Patric Fallon

Ben Woodward “Spinning Webs”

Ben Woodward
Spinning Webs
(Around Town Collective / iknowalotaboutmagic;2008)

Whether or not he realizes or admits it, Ben Woodward aspires to be a one man Radiohead circa The Bends / OK Computer. The qualities shared with the songs on mini-album Spinning Webs and the music that Radiohead released in the 90s is so unbelievably similiar that it’s almost painful to write about. Between the soundscapes made of clean guitar tones, pianos, and sparse electronics Woodward interjects his not-always-in-key singing voice in a very particular Conor Oberst impersonating Thom Yorke style. Of course, he sounds like he’s in pain, but just incase you didn’t catch it he’s written some quasi-obscure lyrics to let you know exactly why he’s losing it. No surprises there.

Now don’t get me wrong, I love Radiohead. I even love some bands that take large cues from Radiohead’s catalog. Those bands, however, also intermingle their own ideas with those of the almighty ‘Head, and they do so without sounding overly contrived. The difference here is that Spinning Webs doesn’t sound inspired by Radiohead, it sounds like it’s weak doppelganger. It’s not just these similarites that drive me away from this CD. When Ben Woodward sings ‘All alone in a crowded room/But he don’t mind’ on the all piano album break “He Don’t Mind” or when he pronounces the title of follow up track “Scaremongering” as ‘scare-mon-JUH-ring’ I can’t help but physically cringe. As the ill-placed final song “Go to Sleep” trudges through it’s meandering, reveresed vocal track underneath the repetative acoustic guitar riff I count myself lucky for making it all the way through Spinning Webs.

In closing, I should say that Spinning Webs isn’t a complete let down. He actually sounds like himself on the two acoustic guitar numbers “Stationary” and “Elizabeth”, the latter of which is a genuinely likeable song. If I could offer up a small amount of advice to Woodward it would be this: Be yourself. Radiohead is a wonderful band that has released many amazing records, but we don’t need to hear any of them rehashed again. Take the music that influences you to heart and build from it, but don’t wear it so blatantly on your sleeve. Besides, if you keep taking Radiohead’s ideas the karma police might arrest you.

– Patric Fallon

The Blank Tapes “Daydreams”

The Blank Tapes
(self-released; 2007)

The last single CD album I listened to that boasted a 25 song track list and wasn’t a compilation was probably a punk album. With their 2007 release Daydreams, The Blank Tapes have taken that slot, but similarities between this record and some of my old, punk favorites remain; the songs are relatively short, the structure of the music meets basic standards, and each track could be easily switched out for most of the others. This seems to be the case with the majority of genre-dependent bands. When the “style” you aim to achieve supersedes your drive to create new and interesting sounds you’re left with music that appeals primarily to people who are hoping to hear something they remember listening to before. Breaking that mold is the least of their concerns.

Thankfully, for us and The Blank Tapes, Matt Adams and his friends make up a pretty talented group. In Daydreams they offer us well played and passionate revisions of old-timey standards in a sound that comes off somewhat like Wilco meets The Black Heart Procession meets The Decemberists. These songs are fun, on point with their fathering genre(s), and sometimes even a little charming. It’s just that there’s so goddamn many of them! Had the track listing been a bit more concise I could see the potential for a truly brilliant album. In the first half, we’re presented with relatively the same idea about fourteen times over. It’s not until the refreshing and almost form-breaking song “Smoke and Mirrors” that The Blank Tapes give us something truly different and rock out a bit more than usual. They slide right back into mid-tempo, acoustic character, however, with the following tracks, and don’t bring the rock back again until instrumental number “Part the Clouds”. The glimpses of change are few and far between, making Daydreams a laborious listen.

I should reiterate that these aren’t bad songs. The Blank Tapes’ music is wonderfully played and highly enjoyable, but good songs don’t always make great albums. I think that a bit of self-editing and experimentation would do this band and their next record a whole lot of good. As Daydreams stands, the album is more susceptible to mixtape fodder than full, uninterrupted rotation.

– Patric Fallon

Japanese Motors “Single Fins & Safety Pins”

Japanese Motors
Single Fins & Safety Pins
(Vice; 2008)

Japanese Motors are from Costa Mesa, CA which makes their name sort of incongruous; if there’s a Japanese car anywhere in Orange County I’ve never seen it. Added to which, this band makes music that’s more muscle-car than fuel-economy sedan. The sound on the first track we hear from their forthcoming album is a little old-fashioned but wears like a sunburn. The bass is quaintly cut-and-dried, the guitar echoes with a rockabilly kick, and the drums sync with groovy handclaps. Lyrically, there’s the kicking off of shoes and the tasting of wine. It sounds suspiciously like they’re having fun. They’re a little too late for a summer album, but you can still feel the wind in your hair and the sand in your shorts. “Single Fins & Safety Pins” is the first single from the Motors’ self-titled debut out this month on Vice. Just don’t call it surf music.

– Anthony Strain