(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
(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
(Bailey Park Records, 2007)
Normally, I wouldn’t write a review for an album that I contributed the slightest sound or production idea to, but this time around is different for a few reasons. The first reason is that Tomorrow’s Re-Taken is a remix album composed primarily of source material from singer/songwriter Ian McGlynn’s debut album Tomorrow’s Taken. Reason number two is that the one remix I contributed to this ten song album was produced as Such, Broken Glass which is a moniker I no longer use. The last reason is that my remix was completed over three years ago. From the way the rest of these remixes sound, it’s safe to assume they were all written and finished years ago.
There are a few semi-interesting sounds for the casual listener here, but certainly nothing the seasoned music fan hasn’t heard before. The remixing styles range from 90’s-era, 100% Dance club music to ‘are you kidding me?!’ acid jazz to fake, 80’s post-punk with not a whole lot in between. This motley crew of genres wouldn’t sound so completely off the wall if Ian McGlynn’s most noted influences weren’t the likes of Coldplay, Ben Folds, and The Beatles. I’m sure he got a kick out of hearing his voice and instrumentation re-worked a whole album’s worth, but after the 9 minutes of preset drum and bass that works as the album’s centerpiece I’m quite ready to give Tomorrow… back.
Unless we’re talking about one artist re-writing the entirety of another artist’s record (which would be more of a cover album), a remix album is, by default, a mish-mash of many separate ideas. This common trait makes remix albums appeal to very distinct crowds; the die-hard fans, the remixers of the music, and the writer of the original music. Sadly, I doubt many people outside of those three groups will be looking for Tomorrow’s Re-Taken.
– Patric Fallon
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.