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Reviews > CDs

Published: 2004/01/27
by Jesse Jarnow

Holding The Bag – Aquila, County Road X, The Hydrotones, Keezing & Florio, Grey Larsen and Paddy League, The Mocking Birds, Secondhand Jive, Shake, UncleFucker, Whet

Say Yeah – Aquila
Whoa. When I opened up the booklet to Aquila’s Say Yeah, the first
lyric I spotted read as such: "Yeah the kids wanna rock / and we’re gonna
give all we got." The song was titled, not coincidentally, "The Kids Wanna
Rock." Then I flipped back and looked at the cover and realized it was a
Photoshop-blurred picture of a lone dude standing in a leather jacket and
sunglasses, a solemn frown on his face, holding an electric guitar and
thrusting his fist in the air. Then I went to their website, and was greeted
by a big picture of an eagle. Aquila is more Tenacious D than
Tenacious D themselves — bolstered by strings and frontman Fred Hendrix’s
positively Axl W. Rose-like pipes. Well, sort of. I figured, then, that
Aquila was either a.) the most genuinely outsider band I’ve ever come
across, b.) a cover band of some stadium act that I’d never heard of, or c.)
from some small, Eastern European nation. Turns out they’re from Holland,
which isn’t an excuse so much as an explanation. This is Big Rock and Roll
as filtered through a bunch of cultural transfers that I can’t quite fathom
at this point in my life. Oblique Strategies sez: "Is it finished?" More info…

self-titled – County Road X
I’ve put off reviewing this for a while. It’s got two ex-members of the
beloved-though-doomed Fat Mama — keyboardist Erik Deutsch and vibraphonist
Kevin Kendrick. I listened to it excitedly when it first came in, then put
it off for a while, because I wasn’t so nuts about what I heard. And I’m
still not. The Boulder-based sextet provides an easy-going fusion. The
defining instrument, though not always the most prominent, is Glenn Taylor’s
pedal steel guitar. The result is an album that sounds like a more
Flecktones-informed rendition of one of bassist Edgar Meyers jazz-informed
chamber excursions. Indeed, James Hoskins’ cello adds to that mellow-ass
vibe as well. The eight songs glide along agreeably, but never quite set
their hooks in. The improvisation is non-aggressive, to say the least
(though performed with subtlety, for sure), and the drums are so far back in
the mix that the grooves are more implied than actual. So it goes. Oblique
Strategies sez: "Turn it upside down." More info…

Hydrophonics USA – The Hydrotones
Fuckin’ A. "May you never hear surf music again…" Jimi Hendrix once
intoned. Hendrix was spot-on about a lotta things (see Lester Bangs’ great
posthumous "interview" with him), but was dead wrong on that. (Well, mostly
just dead.) Anyway, bands like The Mermen (who, ironically, take a big
influence from ol’ Jimi) and The Hydrotones are a pleasure to listen to —
‘cause there’s somethin’ nice about ultra-tremelo’d guitars and those cool
chromatic riffs. The saxophones on Hydrophonics USA alternate between
lending the disc a nifty-arse John Zorn/Naked City vibe and sounding
like a lite jazz addition, but the disc is a tidy l’il bundle o’ fun, from
the bikini wearin’ model who kneels in the surf, sun setting in the
background, on the impossibly low-budget cover to the track-long drum solo
accompanied by the sound of gently lapping waves and cooing birds, to tunes
with names like "Escape From Tiki Island" and "Rubout in Ybor." The distant
trumpets behind the rain-drenched "Tsunami" are, well, tropically soothing.
This one is gonna get filed on the regular shelf and mined for mixes.
Oblique Strategies sez: "Don’t stress on thing more than another [sic]." More info…

All Rivers Run To Rain – Keezing & Florio
There are no track titles on this CD (gotta pump ‘er into iTunes to figure
them out). Likewise, "Chris" and "Jon" are both referred to in the liners
notes, but there’s no explanation as to which one’s "Keezing" and which
one’s "Florio." So, like a great comedy team, we’ll just have to assume that
they’re one and the same, and that their album is a disc-long routine
undifferentiated to our ears (though maybe to theirs). As it is, the disc
contains a little over an hour of their two-man acoustic guitar improv.
There are lots of open strings, some harmonics, and a pocket full of
influences, most of which combine into an easy-going acoustic world-jazz.
The music is mellow, and the melodies are complex but entirely consonant —
in other words: they’re just as easily sonic wallpaper as they are something
to really listen to. The disc as a whole falls prey to that frequently, but – since it’s improv – moves along at a good clip, anyway, since the only
real momentum is Keezing and Florio’s collective curiosity which, while
always pleasantly familiar with its own conversation, is nonetheless happy
to keep talking intimately well into the night. Oblique Strategies sez:
"Allow an easement (an easement the abandonment of a stricture)." More info…

Dark of the Moon – Grey Larsen and Paddy League
I have no idea if this music is authentic or not — if the sounds of Grey
Larsen and Paddy League’s tin whistle, guitar, harmonium, anglo concertina
and Irish flute sound organic or if they sound like bad, early 21st century
too-richly-recorded approximations. But, then, it doesn’t really matter.
It’s here. Reading the liner notes for Dark of the Moon is
interesting, unfolding an unfamiliar geography as if it were common
knowledge and using it to describe the differences in the reels, airs, and
jigs collected here, as if the reader should instinctively know how the
differences in climate between those localities should have an impact on the
music. That’s fine, it’s regional music, and there are people for whom this
is a very real region. And, from my perspective, it sure reads like a
rich one, but just as simultaneously exotic and distantly familiar as the
dialects and histories J.R.R. Tolkien employs in Lord of the Rings —
a history that isn’t mine, but resounds anyway. Oblique Strategies sez:
"Disciplined self-indulgence." More

Still Here – The Mocking Birds
The Mocking Birds’ Still Here is an unassuming collection of
contemporary roots-rock — undoubtedly holding true to the genre’s tropes,
but also happily (or, at least, bemusedly) embracing topicality. A nicely
blended Casio keyboard mixes with panned news samples on the novelty country
number "Gas Masks and Vaccines" and suggests that the band might have
success if they ever decide to think of things like the Casio as something
more than novelties. Either way, the music on Still Here is solid,
with numbers like "Honey Blonde" and "Melancholy Blue" capturing the band at
their catchiest. Occasionally, singer/songwriter James Velvet seems to have
a bit of a problem with syllables, not quite having enough to fill out the
songs (such as on "Gas Masks and Vaccines" and "I Like The Music"). In
general, he manages to evoke standard roots-rock imagery without sailing too
far into clichOblique Strategies sez: "Tidy Up." More info…

self-titled – Secondhand Jive
Secondhand Jive’s self-titled debut was released in 2002, though the liner
notes say it was recorded five years previous. Which is weird. If it was, in
fact, in recorded in 1997, Secondhand Jive successfully predicted both the
rising influence of funk in the jamband scene and its subsequent
ossification into bland stylization. Two guitars, bass, drums, organ, and
quasi-soulfulness keep the disc in check, and there are few moments where
the bandmembers seem to be expressing anything personal through their
instruments, rather, plugging into an imagined notions of what their
instruments should be (which is noble and vaguely egoless and all,
but is still kinda boring to listen to). It must’ve been fun to make, but
the songs are a little too friendly for a radio format that never really
existed, perhaps a lovely and clean human jukebox for an evening at the bar,
but not much for listening at home. Oblique Strategies sez: "Don’t be
frightened of cliches." More

self-titled – Shake
I hate the "is it jazz?" game, so I’m not gonna get into it, really. So,
even though Shake has a l’il ol’ "file under jazz" thing on their album,
which kinda confuses me, I’m not gonna accuse them of being "not jazz"...
‘cause, well, man, if you wanna be jazz, you can be jazz. A lot of the
songs, such as "Red," have guitarist Kevin Burnes sailing ably in blues-rock
mode, while hippies cook rhythmically behind him. There is some jazz
here, such as the marimba-laced "Heitor’s Villa" (which also features a
lovely muted trumpeter trumpeting over "Bolero"-like changes before dropping
into a slow-building rock groove, ala the Dead’s "Spanish Jam."). Shake
fares best on when there are horns around, actually, such as "Tumbleweed."
There are no extremely striking voices in the instrumental trio, though they
all have more interesting things to say in conversation than they do when
they are soliloquizing. Oblique Strategies sez: "It is quite possible (after
all)." More info…

Usurpers of the Tradition – UncleFucker
Thrash-grass. Sure. How obvious. Seriously, it makes sense. Grizzly old-tyme
death mourns like "Slewfoot" and "Long Black Veil" are instinctively stocked
with the same kinda gruesome images that theatrical, make-up lovin’, Satan
worshippin’, wank shreddin’, head bangin’ dudes have been drawing since at
least the sludgy quasi-metal of the early ’70s. So, sure, thrash-grass is
just fine, and UncleFucker are deeply amusing in their delivery. The hoary
fiddle tops deeply distorted tight-wristed downstrokes and hyper-speed banjo
flickers in and out of the fragmented gutter-squall vocals. And, while you
listen to it, you can ruminate over a package that features some delightful
B-movie grotesqueries, including (but not limited to), a mauled woman’s bare
back, a portrait of the band hanging from tree-tied nooses, and
pentagram-bedecked stuffed animals. This seems like fine, late night in the
kitchen whiskey drinkin’ music… but, being the Lord’s Day and all (and two
o’clock in the afternoon, taboot), I’m not gonna test that at the moment.
Oblique Strategies sez: "Reevaluation (a warm feeling)." More info…

First Chair – Whet
For musicians, it is a hard balance to mix what is purely emotionally moving
(likely some variation on what they experienced as adolescents) and what is
artistically invigorating (likely something new and unfamiliar). Chicago’s
Whet lean heavily on the former side of this balance, and their music sounds
a whole lot like various implacable stadium rock bands, with a slight amount
of Pearl Jam mixed in for good measure. The imagery in the band’s lyrics
skirts on the edge of dreams and memories without ever delving into the kind
of surreality and strikingness that accounts the reasons dreams and memories
take hold as they do. "I jumped into your pool of love / I swam throughout
the night," goes "Stop Stoppin’ Myself," and doesn’t unpack the scene any
more than that. "Learns To Live With It" cuts an almost sharp scene
between a father and a son, but never quite hit home with any one image that
would make the story jump out. Oblique Strategies sez: "Be dirty."

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