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Published: 2004/10/30
by Jesse Jarnow

Holding the Bag – Antler, The Buddhacrush, Dave Fitzhugh, The Jam Lab, The Johnsons Big Band, Keno, Many Axes, Plowing Paydirt, The Strange, Times4

Antler – Antler
Antler is alt.country the same way the a blues-rock band is, and they’re blues-rock in the same way that a an alt.country band is… which is to say, they’re kinda heavy, and their songs kinda hint at traditional forms and age-old lyrical images, but it’s really just generic rock and roll. There’s next to nothing on Antler’s self-titled debut that hasn’t been heard before, some place or another. Occasionally they throw some good ol’ poppy/Stones-like "ooh ooh"ing in ("Dead By Valentines") or some smart (er, "smart") layered vocals that remind one in a vague way of R.E.M. ("1975"), but it’s an uphill battle. I’m not quite sure what to make of it, though. The tropes and effects used on Antler (by Antler) (with a picture of antlers on the cover) is so emotionally drained of sounding fresh or interesting that it’s hard to lock into the root inspiration of their music. But, hey, if ya like alt.country and blues-rock, then – who knows – perhaps this is for you. Oblique Strategies sez: ‘Give the name away.’ More info…
Change Reaction – The Buddhacrush
I was just wondering why I couldn’t hear Joseph Jackson, Buddhacrush’s listed vibraphonist, on most of the tracks on Change Reaction, when I spotted the note near the bottom of the page, in small print. ‘Joseph Jackson died in our rehearsal hall,’ it begins. It talks about bandmember changes. ‘Our odyssey, insignificant to most, has changed us forever,’ they write. And, for better or for worse, that’s true. Change Reaction is surely a personal album and, in the light of the liner notes comments, it’s hard to say anything that bad about it, because it does seem an impressive feat of perseverance. Musically speaking, the Buddhacrush, is somewhere between the Black Crowes and the Dave Matthews Band (the true legacy of the jamband scene?) — a hyper-sensitive hybrid of blues growling, airy horns, and shy acoustic guitar. Tim McGlashen is a competent lyricist, and a bit overemotive in his delivery (which underscores some of the lyrics weaker points). If the Buddhacrush can make it through what they describe, though, they can make it through anything. Oblique Strategies sez: ‘What wouldn’t you do?’ More info…
Honkey Inferno – Dave Fitzhugh
I feel bad about this one sitting around the stacks for so long. Honkey Inferno is the solo debut of Dave Fitzhugh, a once/present/future member of old school moe. buddies and all ‘round Binghamton freakizoids, Yolk. Like that band, Fitzhugh’s disc – one of those wonderfully personal affairs where the marquee name plays nearly all the instruments – is an eclectic zag through musical approaches. ‘When The City Closes It Eyes’ veers from a ragtime ukulele strum with a vaguely Tom Waits-ish croon to a bridge of overdubbed horns to a big, weird chorus of distorto guitars and echo (and then an acoustic guitar interlude). Suffice it to say, one’s ear will not bore a bit when listening to Honkey Inferno. Like Yolk, Fitzhugh also has a bent for post-Rage Against the Machine/Sublime sensitive surf-punk ballads (‘Faded Into Clear,’ ‘Watch It Trip Away’), but does a lot better when he lets his occasionally sing-song melodies punctuate hugely imaginative arrangements (such as the steel guitar-laced ‘The Worst Velvet Pedal’). Homemade goodness from the North Country. Oblique Strategies sez: ‘Humanize something free of error.’ More info…

Compilation 8 – The Jam Lab
Taken as a package alone, there’s some nice allure to Compilation 8. For starters, I only assume that that’s the disc’s name. The art does little to differentiate who the band is, and what the title is. Likewise, there are the weird crypto-mythic Egyptian/hippie symbols on the homemade cover and crop circles on the back. And then there are the odd numbers affixed to the different track names. ‘The Watchers’ is P95, while the next track ‘Zoroaster,’ is P57. The content of the CD-R falls on the metal side o’ jam-rock. Peter Lauda’s screaming guitar makes pedal harmonies with itself, shredding and wanking and bobbing and weaving through Kurt Angel’s occasionally synthetic sounding drums. Without starting points, the tracks are all basically interchangeable, and all follows roughly the same dynamic. The notions of space are very much rooted in the guitar’s role elsewhere on the disc (ie. the same only sloooooower). As far as a document of a trio of musicians from Orlando, Florida, United States, recording in the second half 2002, Compilation 8 is wonderful. Oblique Strategies sez: ‘Balance the consistency principle with the inconsistency principle.’ More info…
(Love Taps &) Soft Punches – Johnsons Big Band
This is another one that’s inexplicably stuck around the review stack for way too long. Sorry! The JBB is a 10-piece, though (significantly) none get credit for specific instruments, nor songwriting tasks, on the cohesively eclectic (Love Taps &) Soft Punches, as convincing a debut as has been recorded in many moons. With a full complement of brass, not to mention an organ that genuinely sounds lifted from some obscuro Afro-beat record and dub predilections, the Johnsons’ sound is full, rich, and overwhelming without ever being too much. The melodies (often sung by multiple voices) are catchy (such as the garage rocky ‘Use A Phrase’), the horn arrangements are spirited (‘Natty Trap’), the vocal reverb is Lennon-like (‘So-Called Friends’), and the experiments boil over the sides of the album (the miniature orchestra gurgling ethereally on ‘Fountain Song’). The JBB apply music school chops to Beck’s anything goes sensibility. There’s humor here, of course (there’s hard not for there to be, these days), but it never gets in the way of compelling music. The JBB seem to be the real deal. Whether they can hold together a 10-person lineup is another question. Oblique Strategies sez: ‘Use ‘unqualified’ people.’ More info…

World War Peace – Keno
Y’know, at this point, I fully accept that we’re probably all Onion stories (‘Area Man Writes Self-Important Album Reviews For Jambands Website’), but Keno is almost really an Onion story. ‘Poetry Rock’ it says on the front cover, above a picture of, I guess, Keno, who sits with his button-down shirt open, looking sensitively off-camera while his curly black locks are swept mildly by the wind. Next to him, his name is written out, with a pink flower underneath it. ‘Area Man Vows To Stop War With Homemade Album.’ There’s nothing wrong with this approach, and I fully applaud anybody who stands up with his art/music/expression, but… shit. ‘Do you think we can, like, come together and spread some love, just to make it… a better world,’ Keno sing-speaks on ‘How Do You Teach Your Child About War?’ Possibly, Keno, but we live in turbulent times, which isn’t a reason not to, like, come together and spread some love, it’s just that if yer gonna speak up about a topic that is literally on the front page of every newspaper every day, yer gonna have to come up with a more original angle than that. And poetry rock ain’t gonna cut it. Oblique Strategies sez: ‘What are the sections of?’ More info…
2 Many Axes – Many Axes
Recording for the percussion-heavy pfMENTUM label outta California, Many Axes do well to add to that imprint’s sense of sound and color. Playing almost exclusively on homemade instruments, the Many Axes trio carves out just under an hour of weirdly structured improvisations that are perfectly suited for deep listening. The three musicians always hang out in the realm between the ethereal and the New Age, and – thankfully – fall more often with the former than the latter. The minute-and-a-half "Pillbug’s Nightmare" is a tone poem for ocarina and slit drums. Most songs effectively make use of melodic percussion while retaining a rich ambient vibe. 2 Many Axes is far from easy listening, though also a relaxing, rejuvenating experience. It is Zen, and it is weather, and it is water falling between strangely carved rocks. Oblique Strategies sez: ‘Abandon normal instruments.’ (Ha! – ed.) More info…
Daring or Ado? – Plowing Paydirt
Oklahoma’s Plowing Paydirt pose themselves a strange musical challenge on Daring or Ado?, attempting to write and record an all-original album within the span of two days in the studio. It’s an interesting conceit, but the Paydirts don’t quite succeed. To be sure, there are some wonderful moments of spontaneity — ‘Moonbeam/Junebeam,’ a guitar/marimba duet captured for posterity and whittled down to a brief sliver of beauty, and ‘Opal Eyes,’ a seemingly improvised folk/blues by singer Roger Witherdang in which he spins a surprisingly tender and surreal narrative of ‘life forgotten by computer chips / remembered in the desert / beneath Elm Street.’ Unfortunately, most of the album doesn’t quite hit this level of inspiration, and basically just sounds like a band setting up shop in a real studio for two days at the hand of a friend of theirs engineering the album for his senior project. Oblique Strategies sez: ‘A line has two sides.’ More info…
Is Anything Alright – The Strange
Despite liner notes that are frustratingly hard to decipher, and a website that’s hard to find information on, The Strange’s second (?) album, Is Anything Alright is quite normal. With a coterie of sensitive midtempo not-really-ballads/not-really-rockers (‘New Sun’), Is Anything Alright slips by like a half-dream. The production is textured, with acoustic guitars and percussion and delay pedals and whatnot, but the band’s dynamics hardly keep the ear refreshed enough to notice most of the time. After a promising, vaguely psychedelic, introduction, ‘...in the realm of jellyfish and time’ slips back into the band’s usual grooves, tempting the listener with some off-kilter between verse weirdness that turns out to be like a riff than anything that resembles movement. Midway through the tune, which begins the album’s second side, Is Anything Alright crashed my iTunes. Repeatedly. So goes The Strange. (I guess that’s outta the ordinary.) Sorry, dudes. Oblique Strategies sez: ‘Destroy – nothing – the most important thing.’ More info…
Seductivity – Times4
Times4 breaks no new ground with their lite soul-jazz debut, Seductivity, which is surely the disc you want flowin’ in your bachelor chamber the next time you invite a special ladyfriend over to listen to lite soul-jazz. If you actually wanna get laid, though, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it. The discs 10 tracks are groovin’ enough, and there’s nothing inherently offensive about the music. The band swings well enough, but there’s nothing that particularly stands out. Lincoln Adler’s tenor saxophone dances politely and responsively with Greg Sankovich’s swampy organ throughout. Besides the live cut, ‘Down Low,’ one can basically drop the virtual iTunes needle anywhere in the disc’s 64 minutes and hear the same thing: pleasant music — which perhaps is a lack of nuance on my part. But perhaps not. Don’t forget to close the sidehatch on yer way out. Oblique Strategies sez: ‘Question the heroic approach.’ More info…

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