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Published: 2001/12/19
by Jesse Jarnow

Holding The Bag: Capsule Reviews of The Brothers of Invention, The Cool Waters Band, Rik Ekstrom and Boneshaker, Emergent Evolution, Floydian Slip, Loose Change, Ruby Dune, The Jack Smead 6

Holding The Bag
We get too many CDs here. I don’t know what to do with them all. They’re overflowing out of boxes on top of my filing cabinet. What it amounts to is that recording and reproduction technology has finally become financially and technically easy to master. The power is to the people (or something) and, truth be told, there’s probably too much of it. Still, if somebody is playing a guitar with his local jamband outfit it means that he’s probably not watching television. That in itself is grand. Instead of trying to get every disc we receive out to a reviewer for the deluxe treatment, I’m gonna grab 10 or so CDs each month and offer up 150 words or so on ‘em. Nah, it ain’t entirely fair to treat a whole album in that amount of space, but it’s better’n nothing, right?
Unless otherwise noted, all discs are self-released.
Yo Mama Dresses You Funny – The Brothers of Intention
Rock-based political satire just ain’t what it used to be, mostly because – since the heady days of Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention – corporate culture has so thoroughly commodified rebellion as a marketing strategy. If you don’t believe this, listen to The Brothers of Intention’s "Yo Mama Dresses You Funny" and just try to get worked up about lugging a cinderblock through a Starbucks’ window. The Brothers’ hearts (or is it their heads?) are in generally the right place, but tend to come off as Zappa knock-offs with lyrics and snarling blues-rock not really stepping any further than the critiques offered on "Freak Out!" like Trouble Every Day and Hungry Freaks, Daddy! In some ways, this is a traditional vein – suburban malcontents championing sick humor – not yet explored. Still, the lyrics are a little too overly simplistic to really make anybody open their eyes anew. But, then again – these days – neither is Zappa. More info…
The Steamtrain – The Cool Waters Band
These Cool Waters fellas have an old-fashioned sound, at least if one measures them by the trends of the past few years towards electronica and funk. Granted, they still have groove issues, but they seem to be rooted more in a Southern fried sorta situation — kinda like a more feather-weight version of The Hatters (remember them?). Greg Waters, their primary vocalist, has major Dave Matthews damage, which is to say that a lot of the vocals tend towards overemoted drawls: occasionally incomprehensible with a hint of syllabic articulation. Some of the songs feel like they maybe have too many sections, with a self-conscious push towards boogie-woogie eclecticism. As usual for bands these days, they could serve to slow down a whole fuck of a lot. Mike Willis is a tasteful keyboard player, whose piano and organ sounds fill the sound out richly and keep it from sounding ineffectual. The Allmansy Rareform seems particularly representative. More info…
The Philosophy of Brown – Rik Ekstrom and Boneshaker
Like Rusted Root with more punch and less tribalism, Rik Okstrm puts forth 11 percussion-heavy folk-tinged tunes, all delivered in his deep pseudo-soulful voice. Beneath him, strummed guitars, fiddle, organ, and accordion make a dense wall of sound that is often more overwhelming than it is effective. Though it is not very exciting, Boneshaker amply succeeds in deriving an original sound. Their rampant Strangefolk-like hippie-ness is offset slightly by Okstrm’s dark lyrics and their open and abundant use of the minor chord. The upbeat tempo, however, cancels out any penetrating effect this darkness might have, reducing the music to a warbling shuffle no more engaging than most lite rock.
self-titled – Emergent Evolution
Though they have perhaps taken too many acid trips far too literally (if such a thing is possible) and wandered deep into the depths of a truly wired cosmically collective psychedelic religion, Emergent Evolution somehow manage to (mostly) escape the cliche-ridden claptrap of most admittedly hippie units on their self-titled debut. Their sound is dense and, for the most part, derivative but rarely ventures into soulless uptempo funk of many of their contemporaries. Instead, the band relies on an easy Grateful Dead/Allman Brothers Band space groove. While guitarists Mark Berguland and Todd Patnaude do engage in numerous Allmans-like harmonized guitar parts on songs like Love the Way You Feel and Hot Roddin’, there is something more frenzied about EE’s attempts. Another element which adds greatly to the band’s sound is keyboardist Jason Hedrington, whose analog electronic swells blurp and vibrate like a lower-grade version of The Disco Biscuits’ Aron Magner. The band has their sound together better than most of the bands playing the same circuit. More info…
Field Trip – Floydian Slip
Floydian Slip’s lead vocalist sounds oddly like Al Yankovic. This can be good or bad, depending on your perspective. The songs on "Field Trip" were obviously conceived for a live situation based on the dynamics of performance. This is a trap that many bands fall into, playing lowest common denominator grooves that cut through a club and keep people dancing steadily. While this may be a goal, even an admirable one from some kind of populist perspective, and it definitely puts a damper on any sense of art that might be involved. After all, isn’t an audience member more likely to be emotionally moved by a piece of music if – just for the briefest moment – he is forced to stop dancing, pulled out of his reverie into a differently conceived world? These are all tricks, of course, and some are easier than others. Much of the band’s psychedelia is seriously undermined by overuse of strummed acoustic guitars hovering blandly in the background, such as on Eyes Like The Sea, and ends up sounding unfortunately like Soulfarm. More info…
Saturday’s Child – Loose Change
The most striking thing about this disc is its arguably frighteningly "Lolita"-like cover art. Once inside, though, there are no songs about even non-literary child molestation — though a dandy Good Morning Little Schoolgirl would fit Loose Change’s sound quite well. Instead, Loose Change hits with an early-‘70s-arena-rock-shrunk-to-tinny-bar-band blues wallop, like Max Creek – whose Scott Murawski sits in on three cuts – only less effective. And even Max Creek aren’t that effective. Two drummers, two guitarists (plus guests), a bassist, and a keyboardist make for a terribly cluttered sound on songs that would clearly work far better with a more austere approach. ‘I met her back in ’69/She had a love that was more than kind,’ vocalist and songwriter Mark Bandpsach sings on Don’t Tell Me About Love. I won’t. More info…
Wanderings – Ruby Dune
This quartet seems to have trouble locking into a vibe. While their music doesn’t sound like any specific group, their overall presentation is heartily derivative of a variety of sources, not in the least, Phish and moe., among others. There is a bright sound, topped with swirling wah-wah guitar leads (here performed by Vim Tingle), and colorful piano parts (performed by Jason Zubiel). To their credit, the album has a unified tone production-wise, sounding wispy and wistful throughout, even if the songs are anything but. Occasionally, it gets to be a little too much, such as on the over-produced, synth-driven Tide: ponderous lyrics over culturally tensionless music. The band might try playing with dynamics a little bit more , relying less on a steady rhythm (for example) or maybe just being a bit more conscious about the way they break up melody or even just the way they arrange their tunes. Just because they are a guitar/keyboards/bass/drums quartet doesn’t mean that the traditional roles of their instruments have to define what the songs sound like. More info…
Aishitelu I Shot Lou – The Jack Smead 6
The Jack Smead 6 has the right idea. Their songs are conceived concisely, with an emphasis on melody. And, despite a predilection towards crooning, vocalist Mikey Keane occasionally taps into a deep Johnny Cash trip that few attempt these days. His singing is hit or miss, though, and it often becomes wearisome. More, the problem with this disc is in its uniform production. The band most assuredly has a gentle sound, and one that suits them just fine, but one that is presented the same way across the disc: mid-range acoustic guitars, lite percussion, tight vocals, and – when they need to throw in some sorta trick – a harmonica. It’s a nice sound, but – as the only technique employed on the disc – it makes the total effect a bit one-dimensional. Not exactly refreshing, but perhaps enjoyable on a somnabulant autumnal evening.

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