LP Review: False Cathedrals by Elliott

Elliott
False Cathedrals
Revelation; 2000

My Rating: B (73/100)

Best Tracks: "Calm Americans", "Blessed By Your Own Ghost", "Drive On To Me", "Shallow Like Your Breath", "Superstitions In Travel", "Speed of Film"

In transit-ion.

TRACK NOTES

"Voices"/"Calm Americans" (5/5)

  • Spectacular.
  • Coldplay-ish piano line, but I think they beat Chris Martin and his merry band of hobbits to the punch.
  • Hyper-emo, but in a good way.
  • A technical note: these tracks should be sequenced into 1. It sounds really awkward when you stream it.
  • Lastly: I’m actually not that crazy about this track, a little too melancholy for me, but it’s pretty great in all reality.

"Blessed By Your Own Ghost" (5/5)

  • Pretty.
  • Sorta dreamy.
  • Kinda sounds like "Silent Lucidity", right!?!? "We’ll protect you in the night…"

"Drive On To Me" (4.5/5)

  • Poppy.
  • Is it just me, or does Higdon’s second vocal track sound like Sheryl Crow?
  • Nice tune. Just not sure what "drive on to me" means.

"Calvary Song" (4/5)

  • Here’s one where it would have been good to actually understand Higdon’s vocals.
  • Man, that bass is just right up there in your face.
  • There’s something unique about this cut, but it’s not quite there, you know?

"Lipstick Stigmata" (4/5)

  • I’m not crazy about the recording here, but I’ll bet this one is pretty powerful live.
  • The end of this one almost sounds like late period Endpoint.
  • Not as melancholy as some of the earlier cuts, a bit more like their US Songs tracks.

"Dying Midwestern" (4/5)

  • Nice use of dissonance.
  • There’s those synth effects again.
  • Good grief, just wanna understand the lyrics!!!

"Shallow Like Your Breath" (4.5/5)

  • This one is gorgeous.
  • Nice build to nothing in the middle.
  • Reminds me a bit of "Second Story Skyscraper" in terms of the dramatic arc.

"Superstitions in Travel" (4/5)

  • This is a track that probably could have been a radio hit with production that let it breathe a little more.
  • Dig the use of the acoustic guitar at the beginning, along with the naked drums.
  • Vocals…intelligible…blah blah blah…

"Carving Oswego" (4/5)

  • This one has kind of an 80’s sound. Almost like Heart.
  • I would have loved to get an updated cut of this on Photorecording.

"Lie Close" (3.5/5)

  • This reminds me of early Boy Sets Fire.
  • Yeesh – not too crazy about this one.
  • That last part – "you and I were meant for each other" – that’s kind of cheezy.

"Speed of Film" (4.5/5)

  • This one settles into a nice groove.
  • Also a track that, with a little more time and attention, might have made a bit more of an impact.
  • This one has a very nice melody.

ALBUM NOTES

  • Here’s the deal – some people swear by this album, but for me the production sucks the life out of it. Thankfully, they captured their sound better on Song In The Air and even got superior versions of some of these songs on Photorecording.
  • As problematic as the production is, I have to say that at least these songs can’t really be pigeon-holed into the late-90’s/early-2000’s emo scene. There’s something of the Chicago sound in these tunes, a little bit of Slint-itude if you will.
  • I can remember when this came out, Buddyhead posted perhaps the most hilarious short review of an album in the age of the internet: "This sounds like Bryan Adams." On that note, I bet Elliott would have done a killer cover of "Everything I Do" (which will eternally be a great song due to its cinematic affiliations in the same way as Peter Cetera’s "The Glory of Love"). But I digress…
  • I wonder if this is the first album review that has ever mentioned Slint, Sheryl Crow, and Peter Cetera in reference to the same album?

ATTRIBUTES
Cohesion (5/5)
Concept (4/5)
Consequence (4/5)
Consistency (4/5)
Songs (4.3/5)

Quick Review (LP): We Have The Fact And We’re Voting Yes by Death Cab For Cutie

Death Cab For Cutie
We Have The Facts And We’re Voting Yes
Barsuk; 2000

My Rating: A- (81/100)

Best Tracks: "Title Track", "Employment Pages", "405", "Company Calls", "Scientist Studies"

Dreamy.

TRACK NOTES

  • "Title Track" pretty much declares "We are here, and we intend to mope-rock this mother…"
  • The atmosphere on "Employment Pages" blows me away every time. It sort of reminds me of some of The Coctails work on their self-titled album (obscure reference alert!!!).
  • "Employment Pages" barely has a pulse. I love how open-ended it is.
  • "We spread out/And occupied the cracks in the urban street…" Brilliant.
  • "For What Reason" and "Lowell, MA" both rescue the album from bummersville. Cool indie-ish tunes, nice intricate guitar work.
  • "405" is so wonderful.
  • I saw these guys play Key Arena in Seattle back in 2006. It was kind of like their "local boys done good" moment. They opened with a rocked-out version of "405", which was awesome and threw the crowd into a frenzy.
  • So was the spelling of "Fury" on the sixth track intentional? Are the bugs angry because they are little? Is that what he’s trying to say?
  • "Company Calls" is a perfect example of what makes this band great. Pummeling and delicate at the same time. How do they do that? It’s like easy listening metal , dense and airy at the same time.
  • FWIW, "Company Calls Epilogue" sounds like an angelic Roy Orbison singing for Modest Mouse.
  • "No Joy In Mudville" is a bit sub-standard. Just doesn’t really go anywhere, but maybe that’s the point.
  • "Scientist Studies" is a track that I’d liken to "emo-Slint." Has Gibbard ever spoken on the influence of Slint in his songwriting, especially the early stuff?

ALBUM NOTES

  • There’s this incredible rainy haze that hangs over the record. It just so happens that it completely reflects the climate in Western Washington.
  • I don’t believe I’m saying anything revolutionary here, but this was the record that distinguished Death Cab from all the other emo acts of late 90’s/early 00’s era. Between this and Transatlanticism, Gibbard & Walla associates essentially set themselves apart from any pretenders here, and while WHTFAWVY isn’t perfect, I’d be hard pressed not to call it a classic.
  • Headphones make this one shine.
  • The cover of this record is perhaps the most indie/emo thing I’ve ever seen.

ATTRIBUTES
Cohesion (4.5/5)
Concept (4.5/5)
Consistency (4/5)
Consequence (5/5)
Songs (4.5/5)

Quick Review (LP): The Earth Is Not A Cold Dead Place by Explosions In The Sky

Explosions in the Sky
The Earth Is Not a Cold, Dead Place
Temporary Residence; 2003

My Rating: A- (83/100)

Best Tracks: "First Breath After Coma", "Six Days At The Bottom of the Ocean", "Your Hand In Mine"

You just can’t go wrong with post-rock + disasters at sea.

NOTES

  • "First Breath After Coma" is a serious "WOW" moment. One of the best tracks of the last decade.
  • I recall reading that this is a concept album based on the Kursk submarine disaster. Tragic and brilliant.
  • Sounds like active sonar, guitars pinging all over the place. Active sonar sounds a little more spooky in real life though.
  • Great moment: the meter change in the middle of "Six Days…" So mournful.
  • Come to think of it, track 3 is a brilliant little narrative. Love the way it dies out in the middle, and then picks up with a waltz.
  • On the subject of the Kursk disaster, there’s a very moving film on Netflix by National Geographic about submarine disasters. Part of the story follows a young Russian couple that was very much in love when the husband died in the tragedy. "Your Hand In Mine" reminds me of their story.
  • I can’t call all the songs perfect, but they are so considered and well constructed that bonus points are due.
  • This record is like one seamless and epic song. I love the fact that there are five parts, sort of like the five acts of a great story. One of these days, someone needs to make an otherwise silent, accompanying short film for this album.

ATTRIBUTES
Cohesion (5/5)
Concept (5/5)
Consequence (4.5/5)
Consistency (4/5)
Songs (4.5/5)

Quick Review (EP): Glenn by Slint

slint glenn rhoda 10" Slint
Glenn EP
Touch & Go; 1994

My Rating: A+

Best Tracks: both tracks

Spiderland gets all the recognition, but when it comes down to it, this is the record that truly DOCUMENTS the reality of this band of bands. First of all, the recording is amazing, the sound of Albini completely redeeming himself after sabotaging Tweez. Second, the band never sounded better, more Slint-ish, than this. “Glenn” is perhaps the essential Slint track, immediate and mysterious, sprawling and meticulous, an epic crafted to precision that proceeds to blow your mind. “Rhoda” refurbishes the poorest track on Tweez, thrusting it forward as perhaps the best. When Walford crashes in near the end of the track (“One two three four!!!!!”) and the band goes insane, you get a sense of what this band was capable of live. Doubters, beware. This EP just might convert you.

AMG review
Wikipedia article
Hardcore For Nerds review

Book Review: Spiderland (33 1/3 series) by Scott Tennent

Spiderland (33 1/3 series)
by Scott Tennent
Continuum; 2010

My Rating: A

I can remember it like it was yesterday. The year was 1994, and I was a freshman in high school, examining a double-sided, photo-copied Slamdek Records catalog. My eyes fell upon a blurb about a band named Slint, and I fixated on a quote that went like this: “Even Stone Temple Pilots rip off big ideas from these guys.” Not that I was an STP fan, but it didn’t take me long to realize that these Slint guys were a big deal. A few days later, I boogied on up to Mike Bucayu‘s Blue Moon Records in Holiday Manor and bought myself a cassette copy of Tweez. So, when I popped that sucker into my bookshelf setup, and the first discordant notes of “Ron” came blaring through my speakers, I was a little taken aback. Was this really the pride of Louisville?

Suffice to say, eventually I got it, and that’s why I’m pleased to say that Scott Tennent has finally written THE BOOK on Slint, a band that was heretofore the subject of so much conjecture, hearsay, and legend that it was often hard to distinguish fact from fiction. Starting in 1982 with Brian McMahan‘s first band, Languid and Flaccid, the book not only serves as the definitive story on Slint, but it also covers just about everything you’d want to know about seminal Louisville acts like Squirrel Bait, Maurice, and Solution Unknown. Tangentially, it even goes quite a ways toward revealing some of Will Oldham‘s artistic roots as well.  Through in-depth research and first-hand accounts from Dave Pajo, Todd Brashear, Ethan Buckler, and the imminently quotable Sean “Rat” Garrison, Tennant takes the band from cradle to grave, telling the story of the band’s origins as a Pajo/Britt Walford side project, Steve Albini‘s early embrace of the band, the controversial Tweez sessions and departure of Buckler, the second Albini session that produced the Glenn/Rhoda 10″, their efforts to establish themselves as a live act in 1989 and 1990,  the Spiderland sessions, and the band’s subsequent demise in late 1990.

Along the way, Tennent’s account is revelatory, capturing the artistic dynamics that went into composing and making Spiderland, and demonstrates that Slint were truly aiming for something new and unique. They were a band driven towards the sort of precision and craftsmanship that is often dismissed by rock musicians, and one gets the sense from reading Spiderland that one of the reasons the record is so special is that those guys cared about the placement and performance of every single note. Tennent’s analysis of Spiderland‘s tracks is quite insightful as well, and even for those, like myself, who have listened to the record dozens of times, it refreshes the record and illuminates just what it is that makes it such an uncanny experience. Let me just put it this way: having just finished Tennent’s Spiderland, “Good Morning, Captain” sounds even greater.

It’s about time someone got around to writing this book. Tennent’s Spiderland is HIGHLY recommended for any Slint fan, Slint-curious music fan, Slint-skeptic, or fan of interesting music in general.

Scott Tennent’s blog, Pretty Goes with Pretty
Wikipedia article on Spiderland

Quick Review (LP): Tweez by Slint

Slint
Tweez
Jennifer Hartman; 1989

My Rating: A-

Best Tracks: “Charlotte”, “Ron”, “Carol”, “Darlene”

They probably didn’t realize it at the time, but what the guys in Slint did with Tweez was deconstruct hair metal and hardcore. The guitars, drums, and vocals explode convention (at least the conventions punk kids were used to) and bleed into jazzy noodling and (classical?) dissonance. Most of the lyrics are fractured, dangling, and impressionistic loose ends that yield for the record a remarkably wide open sense of narrative. Albini‘s production is controversial and intentionally ugly, but to be honest, I can’t imagine the record any differently. All that random noise and nonsense just sounds right here, making this the Slint record with a sense of humor. Tweez is a strange and fascinating piece of work, a record with an inexhaustible sense of mystery, and one of the most consistently original rock albums you’ll ever hear. Seventeen years on, I’m still trying to figure out what there is “past where they paint the houses…” Sure, it pales in comparison to Spiderland, but what doesn’t?

AMG review (not entirely accurate)
Wikipedia article
DK Presents review
Pre-Slint article from the guy who wrote the book on Slint

Placeholder: Rodan live video

Going on vacation, back to posting on 9/27. For now, enjoy this video of Rodan playing “The Everyday World of Bodies” from 1994. Glorious.

Peel-ology: Rodan’s 1994 BBC Session

Peel-ology is where I write about some or another Peel session. The Peel session has special importance for me because of the “mystique” that surrounds it. Oftentimes, bands come to the Peel session with a small set of songs that have never seen official release. For fans of arcane indie rock, that’s like the Holy Grail…

rodan (e wolf) Rodan’s 1994 Peel session holds a special place in my heart. On one hand, it was my introduction to the work of John Peel, the first time I had ever heard of a “Peel” session at all. On the other hand, it is the only hint of what one of my all-time favorite bands might have sounded like on their second LP. While all of Rodan’s members went on to have prolific careers in other musical ventures (including the Mueller/Noble vehicle Shipping News), there was a definite magic realized by Jason Noble, Jeff Mueller, Tara Jane O’Neill, and Kevin Coultas on their Bob Weston produced debut Rusty.

  • “Sangre” leads things off. It’s a slow, brooding, almost meditative track, featuring O’Neill’s distinctively moaning vocals and some excellent high-fret guitar work from Jason Noble. I swear, when this song kicks in, I see thunder. That’s the only way I know how to put it.
  • “Big Things, Little Things” might be the closest Rodan ever came to “poppy”, figuring brightly between the other two tracks here. I love the bass work here. In my book, TJ is one of the best indie bassists of all time.
  • For all the greatness of the other tracks, “Before the Train” most successfully captures what made this band great. A 10-minute-plus instrumental (with the exception of the spoken “I’ve seen things you wouldn’t believe”), the song evolves from elastic, visceral post-punk into quiet, spectral neo-classicism, only to re-emerge in a furious explosion of noisy, angular fury. This track contains, in a nutshell, everything that made Rodan special.
  • Kevin Coultas’ drumming totally blows me away. Rodan went through 3 drummers in their existence, but it was Coultas’ imperfect-in-all-the-right-ways work that transformed the band from mere post-rock into epic chamber-punk. His drumming helped the band achieve the monstrosity of sound that their name implies.
  • It’s John Peel who, between tracks, mentions that the band will be returning to the US in just a few weeks in order to complete their follow-up LP. I guess a lot can happen in 2+ months.

So there you have it. In September of 1994, the band played its last show and fractured into several different bands, including June of 44, Rachel’s, Sonora Pine, and Retsin (Shipping News & Tara Jane O’Neil’s solo work would come later). There are a few low-quality bootlegs floating around that feature other, untitled tracks, some of which made it onto the debut records of the above-mentioned bands. But this stunning Peel session is the only studio indication of what might have been.

you can download the whole Peel session from this site

Career In Brief: June of 44

I came to June of 44 via Rodan. I became a huge fan of Jeff Mueller’s first band after hearing their album Rusty in early 1995, only to learn that they had broken up shortly after its release. Fortunately, the creative forces behind that musical beast were only getting started, and just a few months later June of 44’s Engine Takes to the Water hit the streets. Mueller joined forces with members of Codeine, Lungfish, and Hoover, and the band was termed an indie rock “supergroup” at the time. Mueller could sort of be seen as continuing to carry the mantle of Rodan’s angular, slightly cerebral post-rock with June of 44, but it also gradually became clear that he was looking to move beyond it. The band continued releasing records at a pretty frequent rate, and they started exploring unorthodox instrumentation and incorporating the musical influence of jazz fusion outfits like late-era Miles Davis. The band quietly called it quits in 2000. They have often been cheekily termed “boat rock” for incorporating manifold nautical themes into their music, but for me and other fans, their “hipster prog” was one of the most appealing things about the band. Four Great Points is their masterpiece, but I think Engine Takes to the Water remains the best introduction to the band, so start there.

MAJOR/NOTABLE RELEASES:

Engine Takes to the Water [1995] (B+): Recorded right on the heels of Mueller’s stint in Rodan, this is the band at its most Slint-inspired, and I think some of these tracks may even be the result of leftover sketches from Rodan’s final days. That being said, Engine Takes to the Water is no mere Mueller vehicle. The creative influences of all the members are highly evident, from the trumpet work of Fred Erskine to Doug Scharin’s thunderous and precise drumming. For all of the dynamic wonder of “Have a Safe Trip, Dear”, the best tracks are the most subdued. “I Get My Kicks for You” and “Sink Is Busted” really shine in retrospect. R: “I Get My Kicks for You”, “Have a Safe Trip, Dear”, “Sink Is Busted”. (buy from Amazon)

Tropics & Meridians [1996] (B): It didn’t take long for June of 44 to establish themselves as indie rocks heroes, and Tropics & Meridians opens with what was probably their grandest musical statement, the lumbering, tension-driven, cybernetic post-rock of “Anisette.” “Lusitania” considers things maritime and tragic in a vein quite similar to the band’s first record, but it is “Lawn Bowler”, a rustic, rickety, shadow-laced instrumental that shows the band striving for something different. “June Leaf” is good but typical, and “Arms Over Arteries” recalls the finer, quieter moments of Engine Takes to the Water. The final track, “Sanctioned in a Birdcage”, is a curious affair, the band’s first approach to the noise-jam approach they would take on later releases. R: “Anisette”, “Arms Over Arteries”. (buy from Amazon)

The Anatomy of Sharks EP [1997] (A-): The Anatomy of Sharks marks a creative turning point for June of 44. While the highlight of this 3-song extended player is most definitely the uncharted nautical epic “Sharks & Sailors”, the record’s second track, “Boom”, is a harbinger of things to come. Essentially the band’s first foray into jazz fusion, it features an exotic trumpet passage belted above repetitive drum rhythm. Final track “Seemingly Endless Steamer” should not be missed. R: “Sharks & Sailors”. (buy from Amazon)

The Four Great Points [1998] (A): 4GP is the record where June of 44 achieved a winning synthesis of their angular post-rock and their fusion-inspired jazzier imaginings. Album opener “Information & Belief” delivers like a prettier “Anisette”, while “Cut Your Face” blazes ahead at a faster pace than we’re used to, but it’s first-listen head-scratchers like “Lifted Bells”, “Shadow Pugilist”, and “Air #17” that keep you coming back for more. This is a great record, equal-parts post-Slint hard rock and post-Tortoise sonic landscaping. Highly recommended. R: “Information & Belief”, “Lifted Bells”, “Air #17”. (buy from Amazon)

Anahata [1999] (C): Suffering from a sub-standard recording and a hap-hazard approach to song-writing, Anahata comes off as the band’s attempt to take the trance-inducing experimentalism of the last few recordings to the next level. Opening with an apparent re-write of The Anatomy of Sharks’ “Boom”, “Wear Two Eyes (Boom)” jumps right into things but fails to live up to the opening track standards that, by now, June of 44’s fans have come to expect from them. While the rest of the record has its moments, with “Escape of the Levitational Trapeze Artist” and “Equators to Bi-Polar” both achieving success in the band’s new style, attempts to write more traditional songs, like “Cardiac Atlas” and “Southeast of Boston”, come off with little impact. R: “Escape of the Levitational Trapeze Artist”, “Equators to Bi-Polar.” (buy from Amazon)

In the Fishtank EP [1999] (B): Thankfully, after the disappointing Anahata, the band closes its career on a high-note with the spontaneously-conceived In the Fishtank EP. Given 2 days to record, this is where the band captured more perfectly the sort of open-ended, live feel that they attempted on Anahata. The results range from meditative and sublime (“Henry’s Revenge”) to energetic and propulsive (“Modern Hereditary Dance Steps”) to languid and funky (“Every Free Day a Good Day”). The rest of the EP consists of a cycle of tracks (“Pregenerate”-“Generate”-“Degenerate”) that succeeds in lending the record a necessary overall unity. R: “Henry’s Revenge”, “Modern Hereditary Dance Steps”. (buy from Amazon)

other/rarities: The band released most of their recorded output on their major releases, with one notable exception: the magnificent Rivers & Plains”, released in 1995 on the Lounge Ax Defense & Relocation Compilation CD. This track is well worth seeking out (sample it below), and is perhaps the best single recording June of 44 achieved. There are live recordings of album tracks to be found in different places, and there was also an extremely rare “Magic Eye” single recording of a song titled “1000 Paper Cranes” credited to June of 44, although it sounds like it was probably only Jeff Mueller on an answering machine.

Tracknotes: “Horses” by Palace

horsesBefore he was Bonnie “Prince” Billy, he was Will Oldham, and before that he was Palace Music, and before that he was Palace Brothers, and before that he was Palace, and before that he was Palace Songs, and really, all of the Palace monikers got shuffled about without making any apparent sense.  Originally released in 1994 as a 7″ single on Drag City.

[Turns out “Horses” was written by Sally Timms & Jon Langford of The Mekons, first released on Sally’s LP Somebody’s Rockin My Dreamboat in 1988. Thanks to reader Tom H. for pointing this out. Mea culpa.]

Old (classic) version:

  • “I’d be riding horses if they let me…”, “Everybody needs an angel/But here’s that devil by my side…” Fantastic lyrics here. It’s a pretty simple little strummer, but the lo-fi recording makes all the difference.
  • This is basically Will Oldham + Slint. The four Spiderland players form his backing band here, and that’s David Pajo shredding the frets late in the song. Interestingly, it appears that this track pre-dates most of the other Palace material, and even Spiderland. The A-side label for the 7” single lists a 1988 copyright for Low Noise Music. Anyone know anything about the producer, Steve Good?
  • Not too sure how I feel about the updated “Nashville session” recording. The original is such a classic, was it really necessary? I’m a sucker for the mandolin and all, but some things should just be left alone.
  • Probably one of the all time great tracks in at least 2 genres: indie & alt-country. I have to say I’m surprised this one doesn’t see more covers.

New (decent) version: