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
Posted in ambient, electronic, EPs, experimental, indie, noise, psychedelic, split releases
Tagged ambient, electronic, experimental, indie, noise, psychedelic
(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
(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
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
cities vs. submarines
(Gold Robot Records, 2008)
The debut EP by railcars sounds like it could have been recorded in Jamie Stewart’s kitchen. Imagine Jamie Stewart’s kitchen! He’s both a brilliantly bonkers aesthete and a multi-media extravaganzist whose principal outfit, Xiu Xiu, is practically a genre unto itself. Anyway, I envision Jamie Stewart’s kitchen containing things like a neon green, clay stove and talking cookie jars he designed himself. (– Ed. note: It’s probably normal as hell.) Full disclosure: cities vs. submarines was actually recorded in said kitchen and includes all the smash and grab you’d think that might entail.
Employing drum boxes, effects pedals, sketchy noise and distorted vocalisms, cities vs. submarines is primarily a cover for Aria C. Jalali, who likes his letters lowercase and his song structures non-linear. His EP isn’t noise per se, but it was still recorded in Jamie Stewart’s frickin’ kitchen. Even the linoleum has stories! Jalali used to perform under his own name; the live edition of railcars incorporates various helps from assorted besties, but the general thrust belongs to Jalali. Besides the debt owed to Stewart/Xiu Xiu, railcars cops from other sonic semi-radicalists like the Spencer Krug Affair, my own sobriquet to cover Wolf Parade/Swan Lake/Sunset Rubdown/whatever other band he might be in. When he brings his A-game Krug produces music that can shut down your central nervous system. There isn’t anything as totally arresting as that on cities vs. submarines, but Jalali is at least reasonably good at burying his hooks. That may sound as no-good a tactic as burying the lead or as redundant as the term “freak-folk”, but there’s something to be said for subtlety and for the joy of repeated listening.
Track 1, “there is ice; it is blue”, despite reminding me of that idiotic “Violet Hill” lyric about the white snow, is railcars’ strongest Sunset Rubdown credential. It’s got the choppy back beat, hand claps, and air-raid guitar that Krug put to such mad use on “Shut Up I Am Dreaming”. Next is “saints are waiting for me (outside my door)” which is essentially Jalali ‘luving the valley-oh!’. “concrete buildings” gallops off thinking it wants to be a Frog Eyes cut. “through the trees lay smokestacks” is an under a minute instrumenta-lude that inexplicably contains a lot of wolf-like yelping. cities vs. submarines ends with its best song “bohemia is without a sea”. If a song can safely be said to chortle, this one does. It’s so cheerful you can practically see the cookie jars dancing.
On cities vs. submarines Jalali hits and misses, but the hits are when you tear up the cheap, snaggy, loud carpeting and discover a pretty rad hardwood floor. To put it another way, it’s like with the best electronic music; how bells, whistles, bottles, and bedsteads on top of songs create diversions that only the impatient get lost on. You have to dig a little. You might be thinking I like cities vs. submarines more than I do; railcars has a ways to go. Then again, it’s only a ten-minute EP.
– Anthony Strain
From Here to There
(Around Town Collective, 2008)
Don’t you just love structure and simplicity in music? Doesn’t the straightforwardness of a voice, a guitar, and maybe a drum or keyboard just allow you to lose yourself in the ideas and emotions the music is trying to convey? Isn’t it awesome when a singer/songwriter is so confident in what he/she has to offer you that they don’t have to shroud themselves in a veil of superfluous sounds and aimless production tricks? Well, whether or not you agree with my point of view, I know at least one person does. His name is Zach Zeller and he just released his third solo album. It’s called From Here to There and I think it’s wonderful.
Armed with standard, yet beautiful stories about friends, family, and faith, Zeller presents us with a record that conquers territory we’ve followed brilliant artists like Will Oldham, David Bazan, and Sam Beam into. He heads straight into the thick of his personal contemplations on “Bluejays” before sharing the tale of a girl headed nowhere on “A Faded Light”. Sounding like a young Johnny Cash, we’re sung a story about abuse from a drunken father on “Oh My Son” with the same quiet reflection we remember from the now deceased musical icon. Even when the music aims for the more inflated styles of The Wallflowers or Coldplay, Zeller skirts on the edge of going overboard before coming back to us with a warm, banjo-tinged ballad to his unborn child. This love of the basics is what draws me in so close to the songs on this album.
Zach Zeller displays true ambition with his dedication to musical simplicity and could-be-your-life storytelling. Whether or not his guitar and banjo style appeals to you is almost irrelevant. It’s Zeller’s voice and the words he chooses to share with us that are the true epicenter of From Here to There, a marvelous solo album that couldn’t force itself to be more true and welcoming.
(self released, 2006-08)
After listening to the compiled CD of 14 songs that were recorded over a three year span under the name fpodbpod, most anyone would come to the conclusion that this is the music of an unmistakably wacky musician. After listening to this CD multiple times a day for weeks, I have concluded that singer/songwriter Sean Olmstead is a wonderfully talented, musical genius. Nearly every song on fpodbpod’s demo invokes the spirit of late, great music without sounding the slightest bit derivative or contrived. Such sincerity and ingenuity is rarely heard from artists who can be primarily compared to household names like The Beatles, Marc Bolan, or David Bowie.
Though many would just peg him as an indie, psych-rock revivalist like Devendra Banhart, I think there is more truth and personality to be heard from the music of fpodbpod. Most lyrics are either too odd to understand or just plain indiscernible, but the words come second to their delivery and the beautiful music their wrapped in. As sole writer, performer, recorder, and producer (save the song “Cold Wind”), Olmstead has given us the near equivalent of his most personal thoughts and emotions in this music. Songs like “Bad Baby” and “Hey, Nate” show his more fun loving, extroverted and strange side while other tracks such as “Without Prior Warning” and “Overfed” display his subtler, discreet side. The ability for him to shine with such versatility is credit to his skill as a songwriter and self-producer. I couldn’t be more enthralled and drawn in by a group of demo recordings.