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Published: 2003/12/29
by Jesse Jarnow

Holding The Bag – Nero, Halley Deverstern, Dinosaur Construction Unit, Finisterre, The Inhalers, Kynda, Solid 8, Spoonfed Tribe, Dmitri Silnitsky, Van Davis

Is It Morning? – Nero
Is It Morning? is the kind of album that bands start disavowing in
interviews a few years down the line when they start talking about how ‘it’s
about the songs, man.’ And Nero is the kind of band that seems to have the
ambition that will get them to that point — both as a band that will
survive that long to begin with, and as a group that will evolve to the
point of having to explain their earlier actions. But for now, they’ve put
their pointy little ‘eads to the grindstone (or down into the wind, or
whatever metaphor you want to use for it) and charged into Is It
Morning?, a varied collection of mostly improvised instrumentals, a
ballsy move for a debut album. Thankfully, Nero has both the listening
skills and a varied enough vision to back it up. The band remains hooked up
with a flowing Phish-like syncopation throughout, twirling dandily through
electronic-influenced jams (including some nice Sound Tribe Sector 9-like
atmospherics). Definitely a promising debut for people who think that
jambands should actually jam. Oblique Strategies sez: ‘Spectrum analysis.’
More info…
Superhero Killer – Halley Devestern
I had my hopes up for this disc: tasteful cover art, good song titles
(‘Superhero Killer,’ ‘New York City Happy Song,’ ‘Glow In The Dark Baby
Jesus’), and was a bit bummed by what was inside. Devestern’s voice is
muscular, recalling a more gospel-tinged Patti Smith (or even a punky Grace
Slick), though the music doesn’t quite do it justice. The arrangements are
fairly staid blues-funk-rock charts for the most part (which aren’t served
too well by the vaguely distorting production). Yes, yes, Devestern clearly
enjoys delivering the quasi-racy feminist-charged lyrics, but the songs just
don’t deliver with the punch they need to communicate whatever ideology
she’s communicating. The music skirts on the edge of the street razor energy
of late 1970s Manhattan, but fails to draw blood. Oblique Strategies sez:
‘Do the washing up.’ More

From The Caves, volume 1: 11/16/01 – Dinosaur Construction
Word up to the DCU, who named something ‘volume 1’ and actually put out
volumes afterwards (their From The Caves series is up to four now).
There’s something elegant about the way they split up their jams here into
unnamed sections — two improvisations (46 minutes and 18 minutes, with a
cover of Miles Davis’s ‘Nardis’ in between). The jams meander quite
thoroughly, in a way that must have been enthralling to experience live but – for all the same reasons – isn’t quite so enthralling on tape.
Nonetheless, it’s the kind of small venue music that absolutely hits the
spot if you’re in the right mood to get your head around it, which is to
say, if you’re in the right mood to go into a little half-empty cafe or club
and have your mind blown by some random dudes. That’s how The Slip started,
gradually building a voice out of sympathetic and careful improvisation, and
more bands would do well to follow their model. Oblique Strategies sez: ‘Do
nothing for as long as possible.’ More info…

Storybook – Finisterre
This one has languished in the milk crate for a year or two, admittedly. It
was released in 2001. But it was recorded in 1997, so what’s another two
years? With a picture of a Manhattan subway train on the front, it was a
little surprising for the first words on the album to be ‘From Italy…’ Yet
they are, and Finistere sound it, in a way. There is a lush European quality
to their intensely progressive compositions and jams, which sounds like a
cross between ‘T’Mershi Duween’-era Frank Zappa and something out of
Fantasia. It’s all more than a little wanky, but that’s sort of the
point, and they do maintain a fair level of surprise from moment to moment.
They are at their best when they lay low and let Sergio Grazia’s flute paint
pastoral tone poems above wispy (though perfectly supportive) accompaniment.
In all, Finisterre do much to do disprove David St. Hubbins’ theory that you
cannot play a free-form jazz excursion in front of a festival crowd. You
sure can, especially if that festival happens to be Prog Day ’97. Oblique
Strategies sez: ‘Towards the insignificant.’ More info…

Asses of Evil – The Inhalers
From the looks of things, The Inhalers are one of those part-time bands
that’ve been around forever-and-a-half, playing gigs in between day jobs,
somehow holding on as the bandmembers themselves progress towards middle
age. The music reflects that. The Americana-tinged bar/arena-rock sounds a
bit like Max Creek in places, though occasionally hits on a unique vibe that
somehow evokes Van Morrison’s ‘Wild Night.’ Other than that, though, the
ultra-dry production is too sparse to offer much in the way of creativity.
The songs themselves are documents of a life on the relative fringe of
culture (that is, the life of a bunch of guys who continue to play in a rock
and roll band despite the lack of all-encompassing success). There are tunes
like ‘Reefer Roasters,’ ‘Got Smoke,’ and ‘Beer and Cigars.’ It’s charming,
in a way, but hardly enthralling. Oblique Strategies sez: ‘Mechanicalize
something idiosyncratic.’ More

Play Through – Kynda
It’s funny, really. Call a band ‘Kinda’ and they might sound like anything.
Change that ‘I’ to a ‘Y’ and suddenly – goofy spelling calling the barely
encoded pot reference to attention – they pretty much have to be a
jamband — a one-letter change suddenly uncorking a full-on aesthetic. Kynda
play the Rubik’s Cube strategy to the hilt, replete with crowd participation
(‘Siaka’), quasi-cryptic/inside jokey song titles (a pair of tracks are
titled ‘Han’ and ‘Solo’) and after-Phish gigs. The music itself is fairly
generic blues-funk, albeit with a little more of a swampy feel (thanks to
Pete Orenstein’s organ) that places the band firmly in the South. The music
is easy-going enough, though there are a few cringey moments (the
overbearing vibrato from whichever member is leading the aforementioned
crowd participation), but it’s mostly okay. Well, they’re just getting
started. Oblique Strategies sez: ‘Cut a vital connection.’ More info…

self-titled – Solid 8 Solid 8 is a perfectly placeless band — there’s no mailing address on their CD, a website that seems to be dead, and a sound that doesn’t obviously come from any region. If an archeologist were to dig this up in 100 years, he’d only be able to place the era and the country. And that’s what Solid 8 sounds like: the post-hippie-funk groove band from down the hall with beats that are obviously/instinctually linked to hip-hop but don’t literally sound anything like it. Vocalists D.C. and Andrew May don’t quite succeed in sounding menacing in their vocals (sounds like they wanna, but there always seem to be one or two many syllables in their rhymes), which makes it sound a bit comical at times. The songs are occasionally repetitive, such as the constant return to the chorus of the opening ‘Straightjacket’ or on the vaguely sweet ‘Made.’ They repeat, though, in a manner lifted right outta the jamband playbook: the band building the intensity of the song underneath the singers. It’s new, and could be fantastic – the vocalists becoming like auxiliary lead guitarists, wanking the song over the top – but it comes off as fairly bland, despite its original conceit. Oblique Strategies sez: ‘Change nothing and continue with immaculate consistency.’

We Are Part of the Problem… – Spoonfed Tribe
Spoonfed Tribe’s We Are Part of the Problem alternates between
totally earnest post-Pearl Jam/Rage Against The Machine social/personal
soul-baring and forcibly complex Frank Zappa/Primus angst workouts. The
former are a little much sometimes, and the latter are surely a tad immature
— but Spoonfed Tribe definitely seem to be pushing way hard at whatever it
is that they’re doing. It is in the latter – such as the weird arrangements
in between verses on tunes like ‘Uncle Donnie’ – that seem to contain the
band’s most original moments — or, at least, their most idiosyncratic and
genuinely personal (which basically amounts to the same thing). It’s not
perfect, but it does feel like a sort of cocoon from which an original band
might someday emerge. Spoonfed Tribe is creative to be sure, on the right
track, and most certainly not part of the problem. Oblique Strategies
sez: ‘A very small object. It’s center.’ More info…

Ariaphonics – Dmitri Silnitsky
Well, here’s an utterly boggling release: a gatefold sleeve about the size
of an old fashioned 7-inch, topped with a thoroughly ’80s sci-fi
fantasy/illustration of a nimble goddess (hair all a-flow) in a flowing
black dress (with spider-like jewelry crawling about her) reaching out
towards both the viewer and some crystal ball floating in the air, plus some
dude with a headless electric guitar (remember those?) and a drummer who
appears to be floating in space; shipped from – get this – Russia.
The music is a perpetual bed of hovering synthesizers, topped with
occasional chime-like bursts, all floating atop a downtempo beat and topped
with a bloody opera singer (hence the Ariaphonics title, I guess).
It’s definitely different, and even kinda cool in places — something to
alternately get lost in (nice drifting vibes) and be utterly cracked-up by
(in addition to the literal operatics, there are also samples of gurgling
babies and straight-faced vocoder recitations). Ah. Oblique Strategies sez:
‘Disconnect from desire.’ More

self-titled – Van Davis
Van Davis would appear to be a project of passion for its three members,
whose day gigs range from Woody Allen’s Dixieland jazz band to pit
orchestras for Broadway shows to Lisa Loeb and Nine Stories. Van Davis’s
self-titled debut album hardly reflects all of that determined American
working musician eclecticism though and instead focuses on (it would seem)
the kind of stuff these guys would prefer to play at the end of the day —
modestly experimental jazz fusion, laced occasionally with meaty rock
voicings. As such, there’s a laid back air to much of the music here, which
makes it both a comfortable pleasure to listen to (they’re having fun) and a
bit transparent (they’re only having fun, not really reaching for any
grand statements). But the three – guitarist Jake Ezra, bassist Roberto
Ruiz, and drummer Patrick Carmichael – communicate well enough, which counts
for a lot, and unconsciously saves the disc from any lame wank strainings.
Oblique Strategies sez: ‘Into the impossible.’ More info…

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