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Published: 2003/10/29
by Jesse Jarnow

Holding The Bag – Barefoot Manner, The Burning Dirty Band, The Churn,Homemade Water, Tim Keyes, Post Jubnk Trio, School For The Dead, The Tappas,Urban Funk Monkeys, Wildman

B>Holding The Bag: October 2003
Center – Barefoot Manner
Though it seems weirdly unfathomable now, just a decade or so ago, a band
that mixed acoustic and electric instrumentation wasn’t really possible —
at least, not in the way Barefoot Manner mix ‘em. Which means, basically,
that Barefoot Manner’s of-the-land songs are actually products of
technological innovation, despite the facade of trickling mandolins,
strummed acoustic guitars, and whatnot. It’s the drums that give it away,
dropping the old-tyme instruments atop a rhythmic drive that almost robs the
instruments of the percussive chops that once made bluegrass such a vital
force. Despite this, Barefoot Manner make bright, enjoyable music that’s a
little silly (both intentionally and accidentally) in its fusion of acoustic
goodness and quasi-forced proggy/hippie weirdness. A good time will be had
by most. Oblique Strategies sez: "Twist the spine." More info…
Caught – The Burning Dirty Band
Wow, a jamband. I was beginning to wonder if they still existed, but these
guys are almost throwbacks to the kind of close-quarter lunacy that produced
me., the Ominous Peapods, and the like. There’s not so much genre-splicing
with the Burning Dirty Band as there a collective sense of humor that ties
together distorted Allmans-style guitars, slightly funked rhythms
(there are few overtones of The Funk, thankfully), and occasional
group-composed weirdness ("let’s all go double time here"... "wait, how
‘bout if I go double time and you slow down"... "okay, I’ll add a dissonant
break to underscore that"). They’re clearly having fun, though the results
are still missing a clear original voice, either from the collective or an
individual. Without the remotest bit of electronic influence, or even
bluegrass, they sound positively quaint, which is pleasant. Oblique
Strategies sez: "Don’t be afraid to do things because they’re easy to do."
More info…
Big Buttah – The Churn
I can’t help but like a band whose motto is "We give world music the beating
it deserves." Yes, yes. Definitely smile-worthy. Big Buttah contains
a baker’s dozen of the band’s takes on traditional folk instrumentals of
Celtic, Irish, and American derivation. Besides Mitch Lawyer’s mandolin, the
band’s lineup is electric, which makes some of the material sound a little
like the middle section of Spl Tap’s "Stonehenge." Still, the band takes
the material with a characteristic sense of humor, which extends easily to
their arrangements. For "Nonesuch," they write "A popular Renaissance dance,
often played over and over. We get our revenge by playing it over and over.
Jim got to pull out his cool Danelectrio 12 string guitar for the intro."
And, gee, that sounds cool (really!). Now, electrified versions of old folk
dances probably aren’t for everybody. But, should you ever get that
particular urge, The Churn fills that niche admirably. Oblique Strategies
sez: "Emphasize repetitions." More info: 18410 Hazycrest / Spring, Texas /
The Apple Pie Conspiracy – Homemade Water
The Apple Pie Conspiracy showcases 13 brief tracks of heady hippie
folk pop from this Nashville quartet. With handdrums, acoustic and electric
guitar, softly impassioned high-pitched/double-tracked vocals, and liberal
use of one o’ those hanging chime sets, Homemade Water’s music in
appropriately sensitive lite rock for a new generation. Jody Duvall’s lyrics
mix paint-by-number love songs ("Girl, I wrote this song for you…"),
down-home authenticity ("Well, I was born on the Muddy Possum River / And
that’s where my pap taught us to play"), and a sprinkling of acidhead Zen
("Now we’ve come so far, but don’t you realize / We’ve gotten nowhere / And
we’ve been to the stars..") with a self-identity of minor rebellion ("Mom
and dad, you think I’m wrong, ‘cause I’m not like you"). The sensibilities
might be a little different, but – mostly – Homemade Water are like
Mom and Dad. If Mom and Dad listened to lite folk music. Oblique Strategies
sez: "Use an unacceptable color." More
Sketchbook – Tim Keyes
Tim Keyes’ Sketchbook is a dense, angsty album filled with
introspective, um, introspection. Keyes songs brim with darkness, splayed
and diagrammed via a layered ProTools-style production. Musically, the disc
is adventurous — frequently successfully, at that. Drums and synths and
horns (maybe?) and drones and whatever else all fit together in an
exploratory production that has a genuine movement to it. The downside is
often Keyes himself, who sings with a clenched teeth melodrama that sounds
like an unintentional fusion of the late Warren Zevon and Tenacious D’s Jack
Black. Both are fine role models, but some of the vocals on
Sketchbook border on unfortunate self-parody. If one can get by this,
Sketchbook is an engaging, even arrest, listen. Oblique Strategies
sez: "Tape your mouth." More
Piano – Post Junk Trio
An obvious point of departure for San Francisco’s Post Junk Trio is the late
Morphine, also made up of a bass/drums/bari sax lineup. Though there are
obvious differences (ie. no pop for Post Junk), the mission is the same:
create interesting music within a set of limitations. And they do.
Piano is filled with 17 short cuts, all presumably sliced from larger
improvisations. In places, the segments are so short as to be genuinely
boggling, such as "Californians Don’t Know Shit About Pizza" (which is true,
by the way). But, most of the time, they have a great ear for implied
structure, each instrument grinding and building just correctly for the
duration of the segment. Instrumentally, they succeed admirably, Frank
Swart’s bass sounding like a cross between a sparklingly broken Rhodes and a
guitar, David Robbins’ saxophone layering warbling echo chamber drones
beneath ("Izzy"). Oblique Strategies sez: "Take a break." More info…
The Chain CD – School For The Dead
Okay, these guys are some serious music dorks, and I can respect that.
Seriously. When I checked their website, they had a link to their blog, with
a recent entry about the top five XTC albums or some shit. Impressive. They
sent me three copies of their four-song CD in a converted AOL tin, which was
a nice gesture, with instructions to leave the other two in public places
(and to register mine on their website, which I did). Which perhaps I’ll do.
It helps that I like the music a whole lot. The music rings with a silly
power pop charm. Any generica in the songwriting is more than made up for by
inventive and creative production, all kindsa of cool swirling keyboards,
horn arrangements, and – what the fuck? – a tango-like breakdown in the
midst of "One Lady Dancing." "Everybody Loves Martha" is an Apples in
Stereo-worthy tune that sounds maybe a little too much like the theme to an
unmade quirky Sunday night sitcom. But that’s okay. Even if I don’t entirely
like their music, something about it makes me like them, which is a
cool effect. You guys should drop ‘em a line and say "hello." But where to
leave those CDs? Oblique Strategies sez: "Breathe more deeply." More info…
Soupa – The Tappas
There’s something right generic about The Tappas — it’s a kinda predictable
blend of funk, hip-hop, and hippie grooves. The Tappas are particularly
adept at it, however, and there’s a nice syncopation between elements.
"Earf" sounds like a modern college rock rendition of the Talking Heads’
funk rhythms, intellectual nerdiness replaced with a party-ready pack o’
dudes. As such, there’s not too much that’s transportational about
Soupa. And, while it’s good music, it lacks that final push into pure
originality that would put their talents as a band to good application. The
songs are even — no dissonance, no experimentation, no drama. In that, it’s
good ‘n’ safe without being particularly compelling. Oblique Strategies sez:
"Feed the recording back out of the medium." More info…
Flow – Urban Funk Monkeys
There is something incredibly muddled about the production on the Urban Funk
Monkeys’ Flow, a mix of (what I think are) electric and acoustic
guitars, keyboards, bass, and drums. On songs like "Barbaric Matzoh," the
band tears through hyper-speed quasi-funk rock. More than occasionally, they
seem to be tripping over their own feet in an effort to surprise with
dexterity. In the bargain, a lot of it ends up sounding like Phish’s
"Llama." If the pictures on their website are any indication, the Monkeys
are still pretty darned young (high school? early college?), and this is
evident both in their hyperactivity (it’s not just a clever name), and their
vocals. It’s gonna take a few years for them to flush all that excess energy
out, anyway. Who knows what they’ll grow into? Oblique Strategies sez:
"Don’t be frightened to display your talents." More info…
Flag Retirement – Wildman
There’s something plain heavy-handed about David Wildman’s politics. Still,
one can’t help but smile a little at cover art of a burning flag next to the
title Flag Retirement. If Wildman’s mission is to personalize
politics, then he does it admirably well, albeit in such a fashion that
probably won’t win too many new followers to the cause. Lyrics like "There’s
no dissent while the government’s / Taking our liberties / And up in
Congress there’s a shaking knees as they fall into line," will make some
simply snort, and others say "yeah, and…?" It’s for the latter that
Flag Retirement is made, and Wildman does a fair job filling in the
"and…?" with a few nice tricks that makes one feel it. The production is
heavy, with layers of distorted and jangling guitars creating a dense wall,
mixed with a few keyboards. Every now and again – just enough to keep the
disc moving along – Wildman comes up with a line that properly nails the
emotional movement of the rhetoric. "It’s a god damn mistake / One we’re
dying to make," hits with surprisingly literally. "Like A Wave"‘s chorus
crashes in the best possible way in the worst possible world. Oblique
Strategies sez: "Question the heroic approach." More info…

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