Summer fun ready with Seapods and Swell
Of the numerous semi-regular music compilations on the market, Volume is probably the most interesting and unique. Each "issue" features a double CD full of new and rare tracks by both established artists and lesser known acts. As if that weren't enough, each release is also shipped with a CD-sized 192-page booklet which includes articles, reviews and interviews with every featured band.
This installment, Volume 17, is the latest of the bunch, and like its predecessors, features a healthy dose of relatively unknown bands. Because of this, a number of the songs here aren't terribly memorable. Bands like Alabama 3, Little Axe and Fringe all weigh in with mediocre offerings. Amidst some of the weaker tracks, however, are some real gems. Geneva, Drugstore and Catatonia submit songs that are good enough to warrant further investigation. And that is really where Volume's strength lies; it serves as a means of introducing the curious music listener to a wide variety of new artists.
Not that Volume is strictly a new music showcase. Rounding out the collection are new and remixed tracks by such heavyweights as Bjork, Elvis Costello and Elastica. The mix of familiar and unfamiliar bands makes for an engrossing listen there's just as much of a chance of hearing a rare song by an established act as there is discovering a new band. Even if every song isn't fantastic, Volume 17 comes highly recommended to those looking to expand their musical horizons.
SwellToo Many Days Without Thinking
If this album is the product of not thinking, it would benefit the world if more artists decided not to apply their brain matter to forming pop music. Perhaps the nod for grey-matter flexibility should go to the independent label, Beggars Banquet, for releasing an album full of intricately composed, ear-pleasing music. More appropriately, the nods should be directed at the three-person combination known as Swell.
"Throw the Wine," excites the cockles of any radio-sick cynic's heart, by skimming the edges of normality while arriving in that rare area between standard pop music and music innovation. Swell uses common instruments to produce almost common sounds, but there is something that is hard to pin down, that separates this music from the regular schlock that invades so many parts of this common world.
The uncommon interplay between the instruments continues on the second track, "What I Always Wanted." The song moves from a joyous drum pattern to a steady pop chorus, all the while repeating the lines, "I am failing to come down."
Swell refuses to stoop down to a level of mediocrity, with the song "Fuck Even Flow," which barely hangs onto its own bass drum backbeat. "(I Know) The Trip," is a close contender with "Throw the Wine" for the highlight of the disc. Both compositions plead the listener to participate in one or all of the following activities: singing with either the repetitive back up vocals, or take on the arduous task of learning the lyrics; humming either tune during an early morning shower; and/or accompanying the band with 'air' drumming.
It is unnecessary to blow air into this album. Reviews such as this one simply vituperate music that should really be left alone to speak for itself.
Jet Smooth Ride
Ripe and Ready
Agents of Good Roots
It was raining in the early evening of an early spring Sunday night. My usual CD player fare for such an occasion was Grateful Dead, circa 1977.
But in the spirit of the upcoming concert season, I gave the floor to two of the East Coast's young upstarts the New York area's Ominous Seapods and Charlottesville, Virginia's Agents of Good Roots. Two stellar, hard-working bands which see a future of endless gigging and good times.
The Seapods' effort sees the band expand from its danky club vibe to an intricate, glossy album approach. When I first saw the 'Pods at Wetlands Preserve in NYC in October, 1996, they seemed a second rate underground jam band. But their improvement has come in leaps and bounds. Jet Smooth Ride is innocuously important it proves once and for all that there is a wealth of musicianship on the right hand side of the map.
Their songs hint at the rootsy classic rock of the '70s but indulge in the effects and psychedelia of the genre's '90s impulses. "Branch's House" blends acoustics nicely and introduces a third lead voice to the group. "Counting Time"'s country twang and mumbled lyrics resemble vintage Rolling Stones material far better than anything Mick and Keef have done since 1979. The tune's endless chorus is contagious. "Mill Worker's Lament" reveals a subtle middle class theme it makes you want to gently stroke your lover's cheek.
AGR's release was actually recorded live but its tight dynamism sounds like a studio recording. More experienced but not as imponderable as the Seapods, AGR's buoyant songs betray the blues tradition by shifting between bluesy and uplifting. A cocky saxophone and swaggering vocals can do that. Whoever's singing, it sounds like he always gets his fill.
The first half of Straightaround outduels its second side, only because of more quirky tempo and slick bass notes. Songs six through nine lose some of the evilness before gaining it back with a jam in "Step to the Street." The lyrics of "Miss America" and "I'm in Love" are thought-provoking. The overall texture of the disc is pure rock 'n' roll with modal experiments in the tradition of John Coltrane. It looks like another winner out of C-ville.
It also looks like a great summer.
Sparkler is a three-piece indie rock outfit based in LA and with its major label debut, Wicker Park, the band proves to be just another entry into the category of Boring Rock Albums.
Not that rock is boring. Quite the opposite, obviously. It's just that Sparkler's sound is so clichéd that it's hard to take them seriously. Many people say that the mark of a truly great song is when it gives you the feeling that you've somehow heard it before. Ironically, this is exactly how Wicker Park sounds unfortunately, where Sparkler is concerned, this is not a good thing.
Imagine a glammed-up cross between Spacehog and the Smashing Pumpkins, and you've got Sparkler. Most of the tracks here are typical and formulaic and the album's poor production does little to breathe any life into them. Lyrically, Sparkler comes off as contrived and unoriginal. "I'll Keep You Warm" sees lead singer Rick Parker hit a lyrical low: "Jaded Cinderella, don't you want to play with me?"
As bad as it is, there are a few redeeming moments. The aforementioned "I'll Keep You Warm," for all its miserable lyrics, is easily the album's most memorable and melodic song. The hidden track, presumably titled "Wicker Park," begins with a discordant trip-hop beat that is far and away the most adventurous thing on the album.
Sparkler won't compel anyone to make a mad dash across the room to turn the stereo off they're too polite for that. At the same time, they're not even remotely interesting enough to inspire repeated listens. Unfortunately, Wicker Park is an album that has been done before, and done much better.