So, it is March now. You've used up your leap day for 2008. There is no going back, the rest of the year will proceed as scheduled. Now would be an excellent time to get organized, get caught up and generally feel like you can get your act together before the demons of the year drag you down into your own personal Quar'toth.
In my attempt to do this, I really really really need to clear off a bunch of albums off my desk, and considering I don't work for Maxim and can't just make up my reviews, I've sat down, poured myself some nice, strong (Dunkin' Donuts) coffee and decided to get down to business. And taking my cue from those baseball writers who try to sum up piles and piles of information and rumors into a single column, I'm going to try to blast through this pile in a similar fashion, so apologizes to those who feel short-changed, but sometimes, less is more.
The Fireflies have really put together a lovely package of sweet, adorable pop songs in the lo-fi tradition of Tullycraft, Belle & Sebastian, Her Space Holiday and pretty much anything released on Double Agent Records. Goodnight Stars, Goodnight Moon (Music is my Girlfriend/Lavender Records, 7.1/11) has all the hallmarks of the sort of disc that those sensitive guys and girls will want to curl up with at night. Everything sounds like it was recorded in a dream – all the dream of the "band's" only member, Lisle who does everything himself – that it comes across like the child of Galaxie 500. It is hard not to be charmed by any twee band that can sound perfectly sincere singing lines like "you wouldn't even love me if I was a rock and roll star" ("The Dunes") or can get away will calling a song "I Was Brontosaurus".
If you want something with a little more teeth, Mohawk Lodge's Wildfires (White Whale Records, 7/11) are clearly a rock band. The Vancouver, BC 6-piece have that classic modern rock of the Replacement, Husker Du or My Dad is Dead, that sort of pained but post-punk rock that isn't afraid of being catchy. You could easily imagine the opening track, "Wear 'Em Out" nestled into an afternoon playlist on KEXP. Sure, it is not like you haven't heard this before, but there is definitely something that can be said for a solid-sounding rock band in a world of wannabes.
Now, if you are looking for something more adventurous, Maserati will fit your bill. Pretty much an instrumental beast, Inventions for the New Season (Temporary Residence, 6.2/11) runs amok in a world of complex melodies, rolling rhythms and pretty much anything a music nerd, especially a true "music" nerd rather than just a fan of music, might appreciate more than I do. Sure, Maserati is still in love with heavy drums and cymbal crashes, but you might think of them as Godspeed Lite or a poor man's Explosions in the Sky.
Skeletons with Flesh on Them (really, who isn't?) are part of the thriving Seattle pop scene and then really know how to write a power pop song. Their EP, The Fish Don't Mind (self-released, 7.5/11) is ridiculously catchy, especially songs like "Houseguest," a song that attacks you like a lost Ted Leo track or "Neon Lights of Reno," the most developed and complex song on the disc. Sure, they might not have figured out how to write a really captivating slow song, but when they let the floodgates open, you know that if anything, they can really write a song that will make you move your feet.
I know IgLiz loves Fishboy, and I can see what there might be to love in this Texas band. They're spunky, they're irreverent and they're obviously having a blast playing music. Their debut, Albatross: How We Tried And Subsequently Failed To Save Texas With The Power Of Rock And Roll (Happy Happy Birthday to Me, 7/11), is really a thrasher, ripping across your stereo with tales of crushes ("Tacqueria Girl"), power failure ("Blackout"), trying to land gigs ("Proper Name Spelling Bee") and trying to keep calm ("Hard Earned Money"). Fishboy has that same charm of early Green Day, a sort of "rough on the edges" rock band that survives on its moxy and enthusiasm – at least at this point in their career.
If you feel the need to be a little more serious and down-to-Earth, Carol Bui is exactly that. Everyone Wore White (54-40 or Fight, 6.6/11) has that PJ Harvey dark sound that is hard to deny, mixing in a bit of the Lush-like ethereal sounds that just make Carol seem even more mysterious. You can think of Carol Bui as a real American post-punk singer-songwriter – you can really hear the angst and grit that are at the core of many of the songs that could bust out into a real screamer, but instead Bui keeps the tension quotient high, holding back from lashing out at the listener (just listen to "The Year After" for the phenomena). Carol Bui is the real deal, and as soon as she can break from her obvious influences, she could really start kicking arse and not taking prisoners.
And I know when people think of real, sleazy synthrock, they think of Missouri! Sure enough, Ssion, hailing from Kansas City, are about as sleazy as they come, and their Fools' Gold (Sleazetone, 6/11) is just that: dirty, filthy and debaucherous. Sort of in the same vein as YACHT or Panther, Ssion is very much influenced by the dancerock of !!!, Supersystem and Daft Punk. They might not take as many musical chances as the Portland bands, but they still know how to keep the party going. And really, that is what Ssion is really interested in: keeping you moving, hopefully in the direction of some sort of randy orgy that the band has invites to. Of course, if you want to see the band's real talent, check out the video they did for TIlly & the Wall's new single "Beat Control".
Now, sometimes there are those albums that you don't even realize you have on your iPod and when they come up, you think "my lord, how have I missed this?" That is what Food for Animals' Belly (Hoss Records, 8.5/11) exactly is. The album is a trash/hip-hop/electronic blender that is about as subtle as a bat to the forehead, but heck, "Belly Kids" is vicious, pushing the needles fully into the red, like Dalek on speed or an American version of Atari Teenage Riot with rappers instead of a howling Alec Empire. It is almost impossible to sit down and listen to Belly from start to finish – not because it isn't good, but instead it is so in your face that it can be exhausting. "Grapes" hammers away at you with the caustic beats and snide comments like "now every time I hear the word cancer I need a cigarette". "Bulk Gummies" rumbles like a Hummer on a highway, taking on anything that comes
along, and if you want to feel like a post-apocalyptic hero, just walk down the street with this in your headphones. No, Food for Animals is not for the faint-of-heart, but if you really want an album that you can sink your teeth into, something that will challenge you and your boundaries of music, Belly is it.
Monade is really Laetitia Sadier of Stereolab when she's off on her own. Well, on her own with another band. And don't worry, she doesn't stray too far from the sound that made Stereolab the indie kids' darling. Monstre Cosmic (Too Pure, 6/11) is full of dreamy French pop that will leave you feeling calm and relaxed. And that is really where my mind goes blank. I suppose if I really appreciated the post-Gainsbourg French music scene more than I actually do, I might have more of a reaction to Monade, but it all blends into one for me. Sorry.
I suppose the same might be said for Basia Bulat, except substitute "female singer-songwriter" for "French pop". Yes, I think I can appreciate the vocals-and-strummed guitar of her Oh, My Darling (Rough Trade, 7.5/11), and heck, she has one helluva a voice to power her songs. It would be hard not to talk about Basia without bringing up folks like Joni Mitchel or Joan Armatrading, especially on the real gems like "December" or "Snake and Ladders". It is nice to hear Basia take some chances like on "I Was a Daughter" that has some of the quirkiness of Frida Hyvonen rather than just sticking to the "sensitive female" formula. The album itself is a little scattershot, but there is a lot of promise in there.
And way out on the branch of modern rock sits Cryptacize. You can't really be sure where to fit them on the evolutionary tree of rock as they seem to just exist off in their own continent, like the platypus, developing traits that really don't seem to fit together congruously yet somehow there is an undeniable appeal to the mess. Dig That Treasure (Asthmatic Kitty, 8/11) is one part Brian Dewan, one part home recording madness, one part Ennio Morricone, one part who knows what. That being said, there is an inherent charm to songs like "Cosmic Sing-a-Long" or "Willpower" even if you have no idea what to do with the songs. The album just seems to be one big musical experiment, tapping on bits and pieces of the history of music and reassembling them to their amusement, and really, somehow it works more often that not.