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Published: 2004/02/26
by Jesse Jarnow

Holding the Bag: Berkleyhart, Tim Flannery, Ice Cream Sandwich, Brian Kaplan Band, Levitt8, Lythic Blue, Old Union, Revelation Theory, Shark Hat, Sunfire Pleasure

Twelve – Berkleyhart
Now here’s a combination you don’t see very often anymore — two dudes, one
with a guitar, both singing, Simon & Garfunkel style. Berkleyhart – Jeff
Berkley and Calaman Hart – fit that bill. Filled out by a full crew of
musicians, the duo meander their way through a dozen or so cuts of laid-back
country-folk. The arrangements are rootsy, though occasionally lean a little
too heavily on bar-band electric guitars, and the vocals are what you might
imagine that Paul & Arty would’ve sounded like if they’d grown up in the
Deep South, which lends a kind of schizophrenic quality to the music — one
part sensitive singer-songwriter, one part tough guy. In other words, you
might imagine ripped dudes on Harleys with acoustic guitars slung over their
backs. Or something. But the music is unassuming, for the most part, Doug
Pettibone’s pedal steel guitar, when it surfaces, provides for nice
atmospheric sunbursts. Oblique Strategies sez: "Children – speaking – singing." More info…

Kentucky Towns – Tim Flannery
Kentucky Towns is a stunningly well-produced sixth album of simple
bluegrass, folk, and gospel from former San Diego Padre (!?) Tim Flannery.
The acoustic guitars and fiddles and banjos blend deftly beneath Flannery’s
calm and collected voice. The melodies are familiar – lifted, borrowed,
stole, whatever – and the tunes come at a relaxed clip. Flannery’s storied
past as a pro ball player never comes into play (I didn’t know ‘til I
checked the website, and I was a baseball dork at one point), nor does it
have to. The best compliment is that the music holds up for itself, a warm
and inviting listen. The arrangements find creative nooks within the tight
boundaries of traditional acoustic music, and Flannery finds a way to make
the most handed-down music sound as personal as can be. Oblique Strategies
sez: "Cut a vital connection." More

Soda Fountain – Ice Cream Sandwich
What is it about the Midwest and funk? Ice Cream Sandwich, from somewhere in
Ohio, delivers typical good time cheer on their debut. Brevity is not their
specialty, however. Each of the songs clocks in at around eight minutes
long, and almost all could deal with about three less choruses and two fewer
solos. So it goes. But guitarist and songwriter Jon Artbok has a good head
for melody, and good fingers to play it. The delightful "Polynesian Pizza
Breakfast" dances through nimble section changes before landing in a jam
that could be called "calypso" if it weren’t for the rollicking backbeat.
The band, meanwhile, seems to know how to have fun, and – more importantly – translate that to the studio. For "Big Day At The Fair" it sounds like the
band recruited about 20 of their friends, got them blindingly drunk, and
passed out illegible lyric sheets. The resulting vocal track is hilarious,
with some of the singers roughly on cue, and a few stragglers impossibly
behind the beat. Unfortunately, it’s the only place on the disc where they
really flex their studio creativity. A good start. Oblique Strategies sez:
"Think of the radio." More

Resurface – Brian Kaplan Band
The seven easy-going songs of the Brian Kaplan Band’s debut EP/mini-album
flicker along at a relaxed North Country pace, the barren trees and
heavy-coated bandmembers on the back cover lending some authenticity to the
band’s radiator-warmed lethargy. There is nothing urgent about the band’s
songs, and they feel as if they poured forth from Kaplan and the band not
for lack of anything better to do, but because this is what they’re supposed
to do as 20somethings: be in a band and write these songs. There is care
invested in them – the middle section of "Where It Lifts You," before it
slips into jam mode, features a nice nylon-string guitar heavy composed
section – but the songs never grab out particularly. And there they are,
like the picture on the back: four guys, depicted in grey tones in an
unremarkable landscape. Oblique Strategies sez: "Are there sections?
Consider transitions." More

Peaks – Levitt8
On Peaks, Levitt8 turn out crazed horn-driven rock from the heady
snowdrifts of Minnesota. The music has its own bent to it, which is nice.
Lyrically, the band falls into the trap of peace-‘n’-love/spiritually
uplifting lyrics – which are perhaps, y’know, positive, but rarely
move from an artistic point of view – but it’s actually kinda endearing. The
band is just so, um, enthusiastic. The very first track, the
grammatically peculiar "3A.M.," eventually explodes into a twisted torrent
of Jason Marks’ trumpet and Josh Brinkman’s saxophone, as the two wind their
way tautly around each other. Elsewhere, the music bops along with a
funk-ska drive that is actually quite appealing, the band instinctually
syncopating in a way that the Trey Anastasio Band never could. Leader Matt
Levitt’s guitar tone is just right — just above the mellow neon of a Fender
Rhodes keyboard, just below the snarl of a Tube Screamer stomp box. The
music has a momentum and arc that is nicely satisfying. Oblique Strategies
sez: "The inconsistency principle." More

Bring Me My Monocle. I Want To Look Rich. – Lythic Blue
It wasn’t what I was expecting, or really hoping for, I guess. The cover of
Lythic Blue’s EP fantastically aged-looking portrait of a Gilded Age-looking
dude framed with a lovely dated geometric border (the kinda thing you’d see
on an old stock certificate), albeit with his head surreally sliced open
(ala one of Joseph Cornell’s collages). With that, and song titles like "The
Distance Between the Moon and a Star" and "Ocean Spirit" (not to mention the
disc’s hilarious title, which I didn’t notice ‘til later ‘cause it’s only on
the spine), I was expecting a psychedelic outfit with a deep sense of humor.
Instead, Lythic Blue is a metal outfit in all their thrashing glory,
which actually makes the whole presentation funnier and makes them seem all
the more creative. Because if they packaged their soul-bearing lyrics ("I
sit by the ocean and watch your spirit quiver") in homemade-looking
black-draped graphics, it wouldn’t be nearly as surprising. Likewise, it
drew focus to the weirder touches, such as the pick scrapes the accompany
"Harae-Do-No-Okami," the disc’s final track. The music combined with the
presentation at least sustained me through the duration of their six-song,
20 minute EP by keeping me good and puzzled about how the two were related.
I’m still not sure, but it was fun to think about. Oblique Strategies sez:
"What wouldn’t you do?" More

Forgiveness or Permission – Old Union
Old Union are Southern rock through and through, owing plenty to the likes
of the Allman Brothers Band and Widespread Panic, especially the latter.
Whoever it is that’s singing lead does so in an overly gruff, rumbling way,
sort of akin to the Warren Zevon, but more consciously affected. In places – just like with Widespread Panic’s John Bell – it sounds just a little too
phony. But the band is Heavy and cook pretty well behind, dropping into
stop-time unison passages that heighten the impact of the vocals. The gospel
vocals on "Brother John" are nice, but the distortion heavy sludge
arrangement makes it a little bit hard for the soaring lead guitar to lodge
itself free of the rhythm section. When it does, it creates a nice balance.
The lyrics are a little clichidden – "I been rollin’ on through the night
/ I been runnin’ from yesterday" – and sometimes seem a little more obsessed
with creating a down ‘n’ out vibe than actually creating any kind of
meaningful narrative out of the stock blues-rock images, but that’s okay,
too. Sometimes that’s all ya need. Oblique Strategies sez: "How would you
have done it?" More info…

self-titled – Revelation Theory
"Hawright!" I thought, as the first track of Revelation Theory’s self-titled
EP, a tune titled "Deep Six," fired up, "a band that still listens to Pearl
Jam!" After making it a few tunes in, I think Bon Jovi might be a little
more accurate. Revelation Theory offers a stunning replica of a late ’80s
arena act (or, in certain moments, one of the early ’90s acts that
supposedly replaced them, like Soundgarden, but actually just offered a
slightly more sensitive rendition of similar themes), replete with fist
pumping choruses and lighter-waving finales. Most of the trickery isn’t in
the songwriting, oddly enough, but in the production, which Revelation
Theory master in vivid detail — the crisp metallic punchiness of the bass,
the reverb on the drums, and the like. A nice l’il time capsule, even if the
singer doesn’t quite hit the Vedder mark when he tries. Oblique Strategies
sez: "Don’t be afraid of things because they’re easy to do." More info…

self-titled – Shark Hat
The second disc this month to depict a cloud-strewn though otherwise
unremarkable horizon on its cover, Shark Hat’s self-titled debut contains 11
low-key classic-rock influenced tunes. The music is nice, even charming in
places, but rarely pushes on the boundaries of what the five bandmembers
might be capable of musicians, content to stay within the established
parameters of rock and roll. Four of the five musicians contribute original
songs to the effort, and it’s partially to their credit that it’s hard to
differentiate one songwriter from another, but it’s also partially to their
detriment. Shark Hat certainly seems to consist of a unified vision, but
that vision rarely varies from what many have seen before them. Oblique
Strategies sez: "Disconnect from desire." More info…

self-titled – Sunfire Pleasure
The best moments of Sunfire Pleasure’s full-length debut come at the
beginning and of each track, when ambient effects and soundscapes are used
as transitions in and out of the music. For those brief moments, and they
are quite effective, the music suddenly seems limitless, as if it could sail
off in any direction. It is constantly a bit of a bummer, then, that the
direction the band chooses to sail towards is a mundane variety of
fusion-pop. It’s probably a safe bet to say that the band didn’t put as much
care into the segues as the rest of the material – or at least as much
planning – but they’re really quite enticing. The song themselves are
serviceably spacey work-outs, certainly fine launchpads for jazzy excursions
with guests like Garaj Mahal’s Eric Levy, who guests on a pair of tracks.
The band grooves along, well, pleasurably, but doesn’t seem to give much
thought into their arrangements, figuring out ways to highlight melodies.
They’re certainly talented enough. Oblique Strategies sez: "Use an old
idea." More info…..

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