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Reviews > CDs

Published: 2002/08/24
by Jesse Jarnow

Holding The Bag: Capsule Reviews of Buddha’s Belly, Caraher, Mad Melancholy Monkey, Mind, Mountain Mirrors, Mr. Blotto, Persun, Rare Blend, Ubiquitone, Who’s The Fat Guy?, Zubot and Dawson

Waking Up Ugly – Buddha’s Belly
These guys sound a little bit like Fat Mama, though without all the rough
electronic edges that frizzed and flung the Mamas’ music head-on into the
dark ether. Instead, the horn-driven Chicago quintet seem to be a good-time
party band with an ear for interesting brass arrangements. Their approach is
good, and their changes are neat, but they seem to rely a little too much on
typical funk rhythms to keep the structures grounded while the horns
tag-team solos. The drive behind the music is fairly keen, though. The other
major problem is that they seem to only have one dynamic setting, with equal
disregard for both chaos and quietude. A neat breakdown midway through "The
Creepy Song" shows some promise of achieving the song’s title, but never
quite develops into a fully developed theme. Likewise, "Concerto in D"
begins with an interesting musical idea, but soon falls back into the usual
funk (pun only slightly intended). In a few years… More info…
self-titled – Caraher
There’s a gimmick behind Caraher, though the music might not’ve been
conceived with that in mind. Justin and Paul Caraher are a jazz duo. Between
the two of them, they play guitar, drums, keyboards, bass, and percussion.
The music is fairly straight-ahead — covers of Joe Henderson, Chick Corea,
John Coltrane, and Al DiMeola split disc time with four originals. As a duo
acting out the part of a full band, they don’t quite make it. On the disc
opening "Isotope", the pair has an awfully hard time swinging. In a music
where anticipation is the name of the game, it’s not easy to anticipate a
musician who simply isn’t there. The two do much better when working in
pieces designed (and executed by) the pair, such as "Spanish Irish Dance".
More info…
Drive – Mad Melancholy Monkey Mind
Mad Melancholy Monkey Mind’s eight song debut is filled with jagged,
fuzz-driven guitar pop created by Mark Rich and Martha Borchardt (the former
being the predominant songwriter). The songs are well-crafted enough, though
even at an average length of around four minutes, the choruses might repeat
a few times too many. The production is rough but consistent. There are no
drums on the disc, though fuzzed out synths (or are those madly distorted
acoustic guitars?) add muffled grooves underneath the surface. Rich’s voice
is distinct and a bit nasally affected (in a good way), not unlike Tom
Verlaine of Television or even Tom Petty. There are some interesting mixing
tricks tossed around the disc – a good, subtle use of stereo – though the
pair might consider some varied sonic approaches next time out. All in all,
though, a decent disc of home (or close-to-home) recorded fuzz pop. More info…
Improvisations from a Void – Mountain Mirrors
Improvisations from a Void, the first release from Jeff Sanders’
Mountain Mirrors project, is a strange, personal record of occasionally
ambient psychedelia. With a blend of swirling guitars, muted keyboards, drum
machines, and idiosyncratic rhythms, the disc is one of those home recording
projects that truly feels like a look inside the mind of its creator. Though
the tone of the disc is consistent, there is something a bit incoherent
about the flow of the mostly instrumental tracks, and the progression of the
sounds in general, across the 30 minutes of music. Things seem to happen too
abruptly, with little sense of a broader dynamic. More info…
Cabbages and Kings – Mr. Blotto
Mr. Blotto’s Cabbages and Kings begins more promisingly than it
delivers, with a whimsical bit of Lewis Caroll set to music. After that, the
music veers into a well produced, well mixed, well executed kind of
Americana that actually owes far less to the Grateful Dead than one would
expected based on the amount of Dead tunes listed in the setlists on their
website. The band sounds completely natural in their studio environs, having
nailed the elusive blend of acoustic and electric instrumentation that most
bands struggle with when they try to set their work to tape. It is thick,
but not overbearing. Bits of imagery turn up through the disc – Harleys,
bunks, movie stars, and literary references – that inform the album with a
cohesive intelligence. While the music isn’t revolutionary, it is a pleasure
to listen to. More info…
Empty Rooms – Persun
The 13 songs on Persun’s Empty Rooms are informed by the sprawling
rhythmic sensibility that make it tough for the songs to be considered as
anything but pieces of a longer, jammier whole. It can be heard in the way
the verses feed into the choruses and out into guitar solos, written out
guitar parts, or jams. Though the band pulls off a blend that’s less edgier
than moe. and a little ballsier than Strangefolk, there is a lack of tension
in the music that makes it easily forgettable. The band’s vocals are
passable, though bland. The vaguely technoish "Acropolis" has an appealing,
swirling momentum, though drops into space before it can build to anything
substantial. In songs like "Fall Apart", Nick Menza and Brett Tabano – the
guitarists – occasionally drop into interesting moments of
Schnier/Garvey-like post-Allmans tandem, though the moments rarely build to
the epic, soaring peaks that the dynamic might imply. More info…
Evolution Theory – Rare Blend
On Evolution Theory, Rare Blend mixes fusiony guitars with a little
bit of electronic and world music. The results are kind of indistinct and
bland, though have their moments of beauty. A big drawback is the guitar
tone of Vic Samalot, which is a bit too over-processed for its own good. At
times, the band sounds a bit like the Ozric Tentacles as they slip
occasionally wanking runs over swirling synthesizers. For example, the
so-called "Techno Jam" is really anything but — instead, typically
psychedelic guitar soloing over a standard groove-rock drumbeat, with the
slightest hints of electronic music in the keyboard effects. In general, if
the guitar were a little less ostentatious, it might blend nicely into the
textured grooves the band seems more than capable of producing, such as the
percussion driven "Fifty Thousand Years" (which could maybe do with a little
less didgeridoo, too). The most interesting playing on the disc comes during
"Rod’s Migraine", when two relatively clean guitars wrap around each other
in a discordantly repeating melody. More
The Essex Shuck – Ubiquitone
An unabashed jamband from Virginia, the seven-piece Ubiquitone has a little
bit of everything. Their drummer and percussionist – Andrew Wright and Rob
Wickham – create a thick rhythmic base. Meanwhile, mandolinist and acoustic
guitarist Brett Naylor and Eric Starr add folkish textures to often
funk-based grooves. The band pulls in a lot of directions — too many, in
fact. The group’s sound is an acoustic-electric mush, too lumbering to
groove gracefully and too oversized for any instrument to really find a
voice. The album’s eight songs, most clocking in at around eight minutes,
are pretty banal. Though the band seems to want to switch genres, the
furthest it can get is turning up, say, the mandolin in the mix. There are
some good players in the band – keyboardist Fred Miller displays a fair bit
of talent – but the group is far from developing the original sound they
sorely need. More info…
14 LB Ball, Please – Who’s The Fat Guy
The starting point for Who’s The Fat Guy is the Steely Dan strain of
jambands, albeit without the usual plinky pseudo-funky guitar. The chorus of
"Humility" sounds a bit like God Street Wine, where some of the band’s
spacier songs sound a touch like Brothers Past’s songwriting. The trio (who
recently split up) is centered around keyboardist and primary songwriter
Mark Ross, whose songs alternate between a forced funk and a less artful and
bitter Ben Folds-like angst ("Someone Stole My Bike", being one example).
The songs are sad, lyrically, but the music rarely finds the melancholy to
match. Rhythmically, many of the songs fall into the same traps, in terms of
momentum. "Inside Out" is a pleasant exception to this, which has enough
variation (new keyboard sounds, falsetto vocals) to keep it interesting. The
hidden bonus track which follows ten minutes after "Anything You Want" is
the best song on the album, falling quirkily between They Might Be Giants
and some of Brian Wilson’s post-freakout novelty numbers. More info…
Tractor Parts: Further Adventures In Strang – Zubot and Dawson
Two things on the cover of Tractor Parts made me pick up the disc.
The first was the beautiful Ralph Steadman-like illustration. The second was
the little bilingual logo from the Canada Council For The Arts. Word up to
government grants, yo. The music these guys make is nicely mature, somewhere
between the bluegrass swing of David Grisman’s dawg music and the spooky
resonance of Edgar Meyer’s chamber string bands, with occasional touches of
more contemporary effects (drum loops, synthesizers, and the like). The band
is most successful – which is to say, most spooky and atmospheric – when
blending these elements, such as on "Army Days". The song features a
haunting, almost indistinguishable spoken vocal part, that runs as a nice
counterpoint to the rest of the music. The band also makes good use of
resophonic and slide guitars and other distinctive instruments. Zubot and
Dawson make interesting music with a very real voice. More info…

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