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diskant rewind: Asking For Trouble #4

Posted: March 31st, 2009, by Marceline Smith

(Originally posted April 2002)

Asking For Trouble by Marceline Smith

Well, it wouldn’t be a column by me if it didn’t begin with some over-enthusiasms about …And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead so it’s lucky for me that there’s a copy of the new album Source Tags & Codes welded to my cd player. First album for Interscope and the major label thing seems to be working well for them, giving them some much-needed cash to make the album they’ve always intended to make. The very first song knocks your socks off, It Was There That I Saw You storming in all guns blazing only to slow into the most beautiful reflective interlude with softly thumping drums and strings and then building back up. And it’s only just starting things off. There’s almost too many good songs on here and every song stands up on its own as a highlight of the album. That’s pretty surprising for a band that has three singers and songwriters, each with their own style. Also makes it very difficult to review this album as I feel unable to leave any songs out here but I must or you’ll all die of boredom and I’ll miss the deadline. Trail of Dead have such a way with a melody and a lovelorn vocal; Another Morning Stoner aches with infectious minor key melodies, catching you up in a sun-warmed dream and the closing title track has a soaring simplicity that clears your head and sets you back on your feet. Days Of Being Wild is passion stripped bare, Jason tearing his heart open while the music booms and swirls around him. And Interscope will be very happy with Relative Ways and Baudelaire which showcase TOD’s abilities with the storming pop rock hit. For me, it all comes together perfectly on How Near, How Far. The gleeful vocals and the intricacy and inventiveness of the drumming would normally be plenty enough but it also has the most beautiful layering. When it all drops out in the middle you can just hear the delicate echoes of strings complementing the guitars perfectly and it would make me cry if I was an even bigger wuss than I am. I told you they’d be the biggest band in the world one day. Now do you believe me?

As well as Trail of Dead, crazy garage punk Olympia band The Mukilteo Fairies managed to spawn a number of excellent new bands from its members including Rebecca Basye’s new band The Emerald Down who have an album out on PopSound called Scream The Sound. I’m not ashamed to admit that I was a huge shoegazing fan in the early nineties and this album makes me feel more than a little nostalgic for my teenage years. There’s something about the chiming swirling guitars, lost in layers of effects that’s ever so comforting. The band they remind me of most is Slowdive, especially the echoing male/female vocals on Recondite Astral Traveller. Red Shift is pure dreampop but there’s also a darkness and a sadness through the songs that stops the album being just pretty-pretty. The vocals on Heavier Then Ether, Lighter Than Air are almost chilling in their understated power.

Mukilteo Fairies singer Joshua Plague went on to form the excellently-named Behead The Prophet No Lord Shall Live and now fronts The Lords of Lightspeed who have a single released by the lovely people at Slide The Needle. It’s on the flimsiest clear vinyl ever which seems almost incapable of holding the might of the music making it sound way too quiet and a little tinny. But, crank up your volume and and it’s grimly maniacal vocals and fucked-up speed metal riffing all the way. I don’t have the dodgy metal background to make sensible comparisons here but it’s got that same AC/DC thing going on that the Fucking Champs do so well. Four short songs that would do good to soundtrack their latest homemade gore fest movie. Because I’m sure that’s what they do in their spare time. Or maybe they just pull the legs off spiders while howling at the moon. Whatever, either’s good.

Carrying on the tenuous link, we have the Rock*A*Teens who recorded this 7″ for Olympia’s Kill Rock Stars label singles club. The main track Could’ve Just Died is a drowsy stumble of a song, like trying to holler at someone in next door’s garden through the fuzz of a hangover while the sun’s in your eyes. Ether Sunday sounds like some crazy american punk rock kids unearthed some early Creation releases by, oh, The Weather Prophets or The Bodines and tried to recreate them in a garage in the wrong part of town. It’s all completely bewildering, catchy as hell and just ace ace ace. I’ve ordered one of their many albums on Merge and I hope it rocks even half as much as this. And Ether Sunday is my song of the year, already.

Back in Texas the Has Anyone Ever Told You? label seem to be up to something cool. Dallas band The Deathray Davies are a bit odd. Without A Trace is straight up pure sixties guitar pop but with this slightly sinister Unwound style rock element hiding underneath that stops it being too sugary sweet. The other song, They Stuck Me in a Box in the Ground pt. 3 keeps the sixties tinge but with more of a languid feel – there’s some organ and understated guitars and it all strolls along sounding just a little bit confused about what’s going on. Or maybe that’s me.

I’ve also been hooked on The Road To Nowhere Maps EP by labelmates Dewey Defeats Truman. This is not the coolest record in the world, in fact it’s emo! Run for the hills etc. But its also shamelessly catchy and bouncy american indie rock and makes you want to open the window and let the summer breeze ruffle your hair. Except it’s snowing outside. I can’t pick a favourite here – it’s all delicate guitar picking, harmonies and swooping melodies. When it’s good it sounds like Invent The Fortune era Eska [particularly the closing track Die Remora], when it’s not so good it’s The Promise Ring. Which might not be bad at all in your book, in which case buy this now.

Speaking of Eska (come on, keep up) they’ve got a new EP out called The Case Wrapped Up on D+C which must be their first new recording in about three years. If you haven’t been lucky enough to catch the Eska live experience lately then you’re in for a treat. The tunes are still there if you listen for them but there’s much more of a ROCK thing going on with some super heavy riffs alongside the quirky melodies and inventive timings. Chris Mack’s characteristic vocals give the title track a thoughtful feel despite the slightly menacing guitars and fantastic marching band drumming while Flag Etiquette has some excellent squealy metal guitars and a frantic pace that sees no oddness in turning on its head to a slow pounding before rushing off and falling apart into a wall. The other two songs are also instrumental and just as great, managing to cram in more ideas than your average double album. If you don’t like Eska then you are a fool. So I don’t want you reading my column.

Let’s all give Gringo Records a big cheer for coming through where others fall and releasing near-mythical albums like the afore-mentioned Eska debut and this, Forward!, the I Am Spartacus album. A loose collective involving members of Bob Tilton, this is one for rainy Sunday afternoons. A Dream Awoke Me opens the album with echoing piano and the most beautiful brooding cello and sets the scene for what’s to come. That being lots of heart-stopping melodies, gentle guitar and much emotive mood-building. There’s a comradeship with the lovelier bits of A Silver Mt Zion and has me slowing my steps and dragging my heels, not wanting to break the spell by returning home. It’s music made by people who read too many books and see wonder in everything. Sigh.

I wasn’t going to review the new Hirameka Hi-Fi album this month but I can’t stop listening to the thing so I don’t really have a choice. It’s out on Gringo at the end of April and it’s called Sprezzatura which, according to my extensive three second research on the internet, has “a meaning which is difficult to determine. Paradoxical in nature, with positive and negative connotations”. You could probably use that to describe Hirameka themselves who always seem rather full of contradictory elements, like opposite polarities. Anyway, enough pontificating. For the most part, this results in some unbelievably catchy pop tunes. Skewed, awkward pop tunes admittedly but they sure get stuck in my head. In Our Time is easily the catchiest with the metallic guitar lines tripping up on themselves and melodically off-key vocals. I’m also enjoying All A-Tremble immensely, partly because I’m finding it harder to convince myself that Tom isn’t screaming ‘”All I really wanted was..a trampoline”. I’m going to be disappointed if I ever see a lyric sheet I know. This is not a happy album though. Tracks like Redemption Kicker and The Sum are defiant and bitter with the three piece Hirameka managing to sound both complicated and simple, brittle guitar bouncing off the flowing bass. Hirameka Hi-Fi have never been easy to make sense of but that’s to their credit and certainly keeps things interesting.

Okay, I’ve run out of tenuous links now. Damn.

Every day I ask myself why Econoline aren’t the biggest alternative rock band in the UK. They’ve got tunes to die for, damn loud guitars and of course The World’s Mightiest Man as their singer. I’m Plagued on Seriously Groovy has all these things in sackloads, shovelfuls and other stupid things of volume. Guitar riffs constructed of the finest sharpened steel, the power and speed of an out of control runaway truck and the sort of drummming that makes you want to punch the air. And, hell, go for it. Too Much Sleep has Too Much Jangly Guitars but coupled with some distinctly post-rockish meanderings it makes me smile quite fondly. Enough of these EPs though Econoline, ALBUM!

Last time I saw Dr Alan Bearos he gave me literally every record released on his label which was a huge kindness. If I review one a column then I’ll be reviewing the last ones from my plasticated apartment bubble in outer space. Cool. But anyway, putting that aside, I’m just picking on The Starries this column since they came and played the diskant 020202 extravaganza [er, gig]. They sound like the sort of band that would drink too much cider and be sick in your living room. Believe me, I know…

My greatest thrill this month comes in the form of the two track Cat On Form demo, Cat On Form being Stevipus’ new band. If you thought The Oedipus had a frantic pace then try and keep up with this! Oh No! Telephone Rings is full of odd giddy rhythms and fractured melodies and is both exhausting and exhilerating. The equivalent of having a bucket of freezing cold water thrown over you and then being electrocuted. Back Off Man, I’m A Scientist is slightly less frenetic but just as crazily fantastic, all shouting and jerky timing. Go see em live and then taunt me with tales of just how great they are. I’m already jealous.

Some music from my maternal country now with Zoppo on Amsterdam’s Transformed Dreams label. With Les Aumonts they’ve managed to cover a lot of ground. The title track has a good grasp of dreamy landcape building with a hint of menace and picks out all the best bits of Hood and Reynolds and melds them into something very pretty indeed. Zoppo Is Finished has the same mournful minor key melodies that make Suckle so depressingly great and Starlight Starbright has a joyful jangly feel with all the corners rubbed smooth. Chick With The Leak and Flashlight have distorted vocals set against inventive rock guitar and by now I’m getting very impressed. Effective tuneful rock that I can imagine would be a good travelling companion. Go find.

Hold that mood for Mrs Pilgrimm who makes startlingly beautiful music. Just cello and vocals for the main part but the cello’s warm groans, scrapings and pickings coupled with her joyously strong vocals make this a delight. There’s similarities to be drawn here with PJ Harvey; the bluesy vocals and sassy rhythms in particular and I hear she’s amazing live which I can well imagine. I think what I have here is a sampler but there’s a proper album out on Hinterhoff.

Awkward Silence have another split single out, this time leading off with Papa M and a piano led cover of a Dylan song, Mama You Been On My Mind. It says ‘recorded at 5am’ here and it certainly sounds like it; you can almost hear the darkness lifting and the ‘it’s been a long night’ tinge to Pajo’s vocals. It’s just lovely, that’s really all you need to know. I need to find copies to give to my best friends. Unhome are on the other side and do an Aerial M soundalike song called Pine Tree but with some vocals and clangings to try and make it less obvious. But, hey, Aerial M soundalike is fine by me. One thing I must say is that this release has the worst packaging I’ve ever seen in my entire life: a badly photocopied piece of white paper inside a horrid flimsy polybag. I’d have willingly paid another quid or two to have it in the brown paper and screenprinted ink it’s crying out for.

I had other stuff to review but I’m too tired. Next time…

Further information
…And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead
The Emerald Down
The Lords of Lightspeed
The Deathray Davies
Dewey Defeats Truman
I Am Spartacus
Gringo Records
Cat On Form
Transformed Dreams
Mrs Pilgrimm
Awkward Silence Recordings

Marceline Smith

Marceline is the fierce, terrifying force behind diskant.net, laughing with disdain as she fires sharpened blades of sarcasm in all directions. Based in Scotland, her lexicon consists of words such as 'jings', 'aboot' and 'aye': our trained voice analysts are yet to decipher some of the relentless stream of genius uttered on a twenty-four hour basis. Marceline's hobbies include working too much and going out in bad weather.


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