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Published: 2002/06/28
by Jesse Jarnow

Holding The Bag: Capsule Reviews of Beecraft, Birdhouse, The Cool Waters Band, Edge City, Fallen Skyward, Metagroove, Skiptrace, Spookie Daly Pride, Transcendental Hayride, Eric Zielinksi

Dark Matter – Beecraft
Beecraft are good, but they’re redundant. It’s not that they repeat
themselves so much (though they do, occasionally), but – rather – they tread
the same territory that’s been covered often before. The material on their
album sounds a bit like old Percy Hill with a bit more of a contemporary
electronic influence thrown in. The Steely Dan flourishes are there, as are
the rolling Santana-like grooves, and the fusion. Oh, the fusion. The songs
are long – the shortest clocking in at slightly under seven minutes, the
longest at about thirteen-and-a-half – and don’t very too much in tone or
tempo. Lyrically, the band is mad low status, smashing too many syllables
into a condensed space, creating their imagery out of chattering nervousness
instead of a confident vision. There’s some neat stuff from time to time – some cool panning percussion buried somewhere within the nine minutes of
"Black Hole" – but the vibe is just too meandering to latch into. More info…
Stumped – Birdhouse
Almost unbearably generic, the Maine-based power-trio is comprised of former
members of The Beatroots and Colorado’s From Cosmos To Chaos, including
drummer Mike Bennett, guitarist and vocalist Miriama Broady, and bassist
Phil Kell. Each band member contributes several songs, with Bennett acting
as the group’s primary songwriter. The band also turns in a funkified cover
of Neil Young’s "On The Beach", not entirely unlike viperHouse’s reading of
the grizzled Canadian’s "For The Turnstiles" on their Shed disc.
Birdhouse’s rendition robs the song of vitality and, like the rest of the
album, distills it to a bland fusion-funk with aimless guitar solos, an
unerring beat, and perfunctory bassline. The music here is well played,
though heartily unexciting. Even the Romanian song "Joc DeLeagne" is turned
into a boring display of instrumental jazz voicings. More info…
Been Here Before – The Cool Waters Band
For their sophomore release, Dan and Greg Waters shed the three other
members featured on 1999’s The Steamtrain. The results are decidedly
mixed, though more thoroughly polished. The disc is framed by a more
professional production, well-mixed drums, and tighter arrangements. It is a
step in the right direction. Unfortunately, the songs are still subpar, with
the emphasis on harder-edged tones that hover near the edge of vaguely wimpy
alternapop, with the occasional Southern rock-style solo or jazzy set of God
Street Wine-like chord changes thrown in. The output sounds, at times, not
entirely unlike the North Mississippi All-Stars’ Phantom 51. The
hippie bent in the lyrics is mostly gone, too, but the forced
Americana-style clichremain — "Bury Me In New Orleans", for example,
forgets that it is physically impossible for one to actually be buried in
the city of New Orleans. Better, but still severely lacking. More info…
Mystery Ride – Edge City
Forced profundities and even more forced vocals seriously mar Edge City’s
Mystery Ride. It’s not so much that songwriter and primary vocalist
Jim Patton’s voice can’t handle the strain – that’s fine – but his sheer
overemphasis swiftly removes any subtleties that might have been lying in
his tales-of-the-common-man lyrics and, ultimately, he comes off as a poor
man’s Jimmie Dale Gilmore. Patton’s lyrics occasionally tap into something
interesting, which is usually side-swiped by how proud Patton seems for
having written the lyric. The one place where the style works – on
"Outsider" – is the exception that proves the rule. Mostly, though, the band
relies on clichunnery such as "Prisoner of the Blues". Particularly
offensive is the band’s hyperspeed take on Bob Dylan’s "It’s All Over Now,
Baby Blue", in which Patton half-raps the song’s lyrics in a manner
not-unlike Mickey Hart’s post-Grateful Dead renditions of "Fire On The
Mountain". The version is capped by tasteless echo vocals by Sherry Brokus.
Musically, the band is competent enough, fronted by former John Mellencamp
guitarist David Grissom, but it’s not enough to save the album. More info…
All The Same – Fallen Skyward
Fallen Skyward’s All The Same is a sleepy, pretty, dreamy album — a
concept LP, if you believe the copy on their website. The band has found an
original sound, a taste derivative of Pink Floyd’s melancholic pop, but
unique nonetheless. The guitar tones shimmer in silver water, and the songs
press together as if riding a tide. Rhythmically, there is enough variation
from tune to tune to keep the flow varied, though the band might do well to
explore some other textures besides their underwater slide guitars and
glistening keyboards. It sounds like they might just have the foundation for
something solidly experimental and still utterly accessible, they just need
to exploit it. From time to time, the grooves become a little too focused on
snappiness (such as "Escape You") but, for the most part, they remain
groovily propulsive without being overbearing. They don’t quite have the
vocals to match yet, but – with more layering and more stripped down
melodies – they could. Really good stuff. More info…
Send Us Your Children – Metagroove
Metagroove has some proggy tendencies, and – oddly enough – many of them
serve the band well. The band also veers into hippie funk from time to time.
That’s not as cool. The proggy stuff seems to inform their rhythms and,
consequently, their song structures a bit, such as on the opening "Dear
Agnus", or the organ led section of "Silent Revolution"; these are
interesting grooves. On the former tune, it gives the band a momentum that
shifts between styles without sounding extraneous — a tough feat these
days. The vocals are done in that sort of half-chanted/half-sung thing
that’s drawn a little bit "Run Like Hell", and seems to grow naturally out
of the kinds of builds and changes native to this kind playing. It’s a bit
of a challenge to differentiate from tune to tune, but there is often a fair
variety within the songs themselves, if that makes any sense. They hover on
the brink of a semi-magical world that exists on the brink of our own,
medieval values of gallantry mixing with the confines of modernity. The
effect is a bit dated, but so wrapped up in itself that it’s hard to fault
them. More info…
self-titled – Skiptrace
Self-described "indie-jam", Skiptrace’s debut EP sticks mostly to neatly
produced post-punk, occasionally delving into cresting arrangements that
show little hints of improvisation. Produced by Bill Janovitz (Buffalo Tom
guitarist) and John Agnello (Dinosaur, jr, Son Volt, Come), the disc retains
its indie-rock feel throughout, relying on an ultra-clean sound coupled with
guitarist Scott Sellwood’s John Linnell-like vocals as opposed to lo-fi
histrionics and indie-whine. Several songs contain interesting guitar
arrangements, such as the outro to "Where You’re Thrown", but many of the
songs – "Don’t Support The Band", for example – are simply appealingly
catchy indie-pop in search of a wider audience. The band’s songwriting is
fine, but the have yet to find a sense of experimentation. More info…
Marshmallow Pie – Spookie Daly Pride
I kinda like some of this. The New England quartet gets a nice
hip-hop-in-New Orleans vibe going on throughout. Frontman Spookie Daly
adopts a growl-howl from time to time that sounds a bit like a less gravely
Tom Waits, albeit without the lowlife lyrical bent to match. The hip-hop
grooves are nice, though I wish the beats were a little more distinct, a
touch weirder, and a lot more treated. Though it seems like the band is
committed to the live setting, they would probably be served pretty well by
a commitment to the studio and more focused abstraction of what they’re
getting at. Marshmallow Pie is a fun record, but it sounds like a
sketch of what the band is capable of doing There are, for example, some
great delayed guitar parts on "The Bump", but they need to be emphasized,
brought out in the mix, and separated from the funk vamping that permeates
the rest of the tune. With the elements brought into the proper balance, the
band could create some gritty mood grooves. More info…
Hell and Gone… – Transcendental Hayride
So, I’m pretty sure I’ve pegged what this sounds like: an Irish drinking
band fronted by Brak from Space Ghost. That is a remarkably good
thing. I certainly didn’t expect drinking music when I popped in this fairly
typical lookin’ CD. But, hell yeah, I’d love to sit drunkenly in a
kitchen in a college town somewhere and sing along: "In the back! In the
back! My best friend just stabbed me in the back!" Dano Kildsig’s voice is
weird, though not as intentionally so as Brak’s. He’s got the
befuddled narrator down pretty pat — odd notes going slightly flat in a
state of confusion. The songs are pretty well-tailored to this vibe.
Unfortunately, the band feels a bit sluggish at times, never quite living up
to the stumbling promise of the tunes, though they get a cool (perhaps
unintentional?) response delay between Kildsig’s vocals and the band’s
accompaniment on "Cold Comfort". Moments like this make the CD work
extremely well. The band name’s gotta go though. I suggest Dano and the
Stumbling Drunkards. More
Java Incident – Eric Zielinksi
Eric Zielinksi’s Java Incident is good natured, mostly acoustic,
folk-blues. Zielinksi works with pretty simple tools – usually just guitar,
with some bass and drums occasionally thrown in to paint the corners – and
adapts them well. The sound isn’t big, but it’s not insubstantial either. It
feels personal. Somewhat paradoxically, the music actually feels smaller and
more individual when he introduces walls of guitars (such as on "Speaking In
Tongues"). This probably isn’t the desired effect. It certainly doesn’t
sound like the rock albums I suspect it’s drawing its inspiration from, but
all the better. This regeneration of ideas in an unintended way works
because, clearly, there was something about the original form that inspired
Zielinksi and this is simply how it filters down. Given some of the song
titles ("Harmony", "Just A Dream", "Imagination"), it’s a pleasant surprise
that the songs don’t bubble over with clichthough Zielinksi might serve
the tunes better with a less affected delivery). Rock dreams filtered down
through one set of hands can be pretty. More

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