Scraping The Barrel 001
elcome to the first installation of Scraping The Barrel. The principle is a simple one—the press/promo release barrel at any particular point is scraped by the Stylus bods for stuff they have otherwise ignored and sent to a victim for treatment. In my case I am a willing victim, since I sort of came up with the idea. I come in with no preconceptions per se, in fact I’m always up for finding a diamond in the rough. But if something deserves my contempt, it will get it. I am not here to be anyone’s friend.
At one point I owned a Turin Brakes single and I’m not entirely sure why. Something to do with love, I think (of another person, not of the Turin Brakes, who I trust exist happily without my love). They have a new album, which slightly surprises me by being around in the first place. My reaction upon seeing it was, “Oh, them. Yup.” So I started playing it, it being called JackInABox. I grew hungry for a burger almost immediately, as it was approaching lunch, and as a song I thought was called “Thinkin’ About the Sunshine” played I was thinking more about burgers. Turns out the song was called “They Can’t Buy The Sunshine” and I sought for something to correct the singer’s diction, while also thinking that was a really stupid title, but I was too tired and hungry to truly be angry right then. The singer has this high quavery voice that sounds slightly strangled and twee and fey and all that, but the music has this groove that attempts to be, I dunno, Steely Dan if they were not all that. Like it was polite and aiming at nothing more. But the singer is more like the guy from Subcircus, another band nobody remembers I’m willing to bet. (I do, but I suffer from curses like this.)
Anyway, JackInABox continued from there and their next song attempted to rock at some point, by turning the drums up. I was filled with love, for a burger. I had bought a sandwich for lunch from the great folks at Lee’s, though, so I had that and an apple, and pretended to be healthy. The singer continued about roads he had known, presumably not biblically. It was rock, I suppose. But not much. The album had songs with time changes, soft wailing and apparently was sensitive. That was nice. I had seen Meat Beat Manifesto the night before and the beats rocked my ass off. The Turin Brakes beats did not. It would be wrong to call them beats as such. They were sounds. I was distressed. The album continued to play and the song titles like “Road to Nowhere” and “Last Clown” and “Over and Over” seemed telling.
Later I listened to Athlete’s Tourist. Like Turin Brakes, they are on Astralwerks, from the UK and I had stuff of theirs once, picked up on a whim. I had vaguely liked it, but earlier this year realized, “Hm, I never was tempted to listen to it again,” and sold it. Now, a new album, and so I played it. Piano started and I thought, “Ah, the Chris Martin disease returns. Where’s my gun?” This was intensified by the fragile, tremulous vocals, when before I had heard them as some sort of post-Beck easy good times outfit, if without the Scientology. What had changed, I wondered, beyond the pressure to sell something somewhere or else be canned on their asses? And then there were strings and a slow steady pace and I thought, “What hath late Verve wrought? And I frickin’ liked Urban Hymns even!” I was calm, though, in that I had returned from lunch at least and wasn’t immediately tempted to dream of burgers, though I was tempted to dream of a better listening experience.
It was all very sweeping and very dramatic (well, they were trying, not necessarily succeeding) and very “Oh god, maybe THIS will help us crack America!” No wonder I’m no longer an automatic Anglophile when it comes to rock and roll. Ten years ago Disco Inferno had just finished releasing a string of jaw droppingly brilliant singles and a defining album, now I get a band like this with a bunch of folderol about posters of Berlin on the wall and a vague sense of emotional sorrow as epochal majesty, except colored in with broken crayons in paint-by-numbers structures. Hey, hey! Buddy, you, Athlete singer dude (there’s no name listed in the credits I can tell so I’m going to call him “Fred Smith,” that works)! You aren’t Ian McCulloch on Heaven Up Here turning complaints about beer prices into busting down barriers in your head while Will Sergeant kicks everyone’s ass eight ways to Sunday or pre-idiot brigade Simple Minds agog at the idea of motion, the future and a live wire pulsing forever, you’re soundtracking something starring Ashton Kutcher and Katie Beckinsdale for the big slow dance reconciliation scene at the end. And then you keep repeating it for the whole album! (Oh, I’m wrong, sometimes the strings aren’t immediately apparent.) Thanks a lot ya doofs. Nice broken bicycle structure on the front too, you are OH SO ARTY. At least Vaughn Oliver would have soaked it in mud or something.
Suitably distressed, I turned closer to home. Well, up the coast to Seattle. The Sick Bees, whoever they might be, had apparently recorded my kind of album (titled The Marina Album)—short. I mean, I love plenty of long albums too, but I appreciate gumption in terms of economy, I don’t love early Wire for nothing, and 13 songs in 16 minutes = roxor. Then again, I saw the lineup—a guitarist/singer and a drummer—and thought, “Oh dear, please do not be either the White Stripes or the Fiery Furnaces.” More can be done with the basic approach, after all—hear Duotron sometime, your mind will melt. The end result skewed more latter than former, at least—the drums just aren’t as immediately there as Meg White’s ‘I make you dance whether you like it or not’ pounding, more a buried clatter, and there were found sound snippets and odd song structures and odd growls and things and jauntyness and sorta funky salsa beats (wait, where did those come from?) and snarling from Starla the guitarist/singer (who knew that Smashing Pumpkins rarities could come to life?) along with the sweetness and it was all very indie—right down to the Mary Poppins references on “Rat Traps.” Indie. Hm. These folks are on Myspace aren’t they? *checks* Actually no, at least not as a band. I’ll give them that. I suppose I liked the toy piano bit, or maybe it was a toy xylophone. After a bit the album ended.
So then to another Seattle band, the Catch, which had a little more promise perhaps. All female quartet, but they thank Death Cub for Cutie, which gives me hives. Still, it was a long thank you list, so anything could happen. Guitar noise, hiccupy singing, swinging drums and a bit of Farfisa organ, basically if this was the new Kaiser Chiefs in just the music I might not be too surprised, and then I might not know what to think any more than that. Much of Get Cool follows in that vein, to its credit—seems to work very nicely for a summer album, at least early summer around here. It’s cheery and a bit snotty in that Anglo-American continuum of snarl and strut, like what the Strokes half-succeeded with on “Last Nite,” and Carly Jean Nicklaus, the lead singer, is far more interesting to listen to than that dork Casablancas so bring it on. Love the riffs on “True Romance,” that’s a winner and the breakdown actually registers and means something instead of just being a ‘turn down the guitars’ moment. Then there’s the bright handclapper “Between Friends” and the keyboard led sweetness with a spike of “Old New Song” and yeah, this is the first vaguely of worth album I’ve heard in this batch, I don’t know if it’s a total keeper, but at least it’s a merriment. I liked it as I heard it but whether I would pull it out again for a listen, not sure yet, but better than than immediately destroying the CD, boarding a flight to their home locale and readying the zombie army to devour their skulls. I save that for the Killers.
Now something by someone called the Oranges Band, about whom Craig Finn is fond, having written the PR piece that came with it. Unusual feller, Finn, in that I swear I’ve heard eight million things about this guy now but I honestly don’t think I’ve heard anything *by* him, neither LifterPuller, who apparently became college radio gods when I wasn’t looking (and I was still DJing on college radio even), nor the Hold Steady. I was going to see the latter band when they played LA with U.S.E. the other day, cause I love U.S.E. and friends who like both bands said it was a perfect matchup, so I was excited. Might as well take the plunge, y’know? Plenty of bands have perfectly sold me live in the past without me having heard a note beforehand. Alas, that was the same night as the godlike Meat Beat Manifesto show mentioned earlier, and as I’ve been a fan of theirs for a decade and a half and had yet to see MBM, it was no contest, off to Jack Dangers and crew’s show I went. Great time with a bunch of friends, fantastic show, sucktastic opening act, though, some bunch of idiots called Dub Trio who thought that the way to spike up their okay enough King Tubbyisms was to do lots of time-changing metal riffs as well. Except in the style of Helmet 1993, minus “Unsung”’s vague catchiness. Idiots. But MBM, as mentioned, did the business.
As I reflected on all this, I noted that the Oranges Band appeared to consist of vague classic rock riffs meets vague Replacements-style something (or maybe REM, one song sounds a bit like “We Walk” from Murmur) or other meets kinda Beach Boys surf bits meets vague Ian Masters of Pale Saints style lost choirboy singing, of which I approve, but with more interesting music than this, and the singing here is more this kinda flat gushy “Eeoh oh oh eeoh oh oh eye eye yeye eye” at many points. The whole thing was a bit like shoegaze bar band but not really. Perhaps I should pay more attention to the lyrics or something, maybe it’s about sleazeball killers with Hello Kitty underwear. I hear that’s how Finn is supposed to make perfect sense. I sipped my tea and thought about other things.
Next was Hal, a UK trio on Rough Trade America. Again? Didn’t Rough Trade America once go bankrupt? I picked up a lot of things cheap when that happened, including Opal’s Early Recordings, of which I am greatly fond. Based on this, the label will soon go bankrupt again and there might be nothing I want this time. The band looked like Badfinger—look, *I* have long hair, but it’s 2005, not some mealy-mouthed non-glam 1973, so stop looking the part—and the lead sensitive dork had a “I Heart Blue Velvet” button on his corduroy jacket. Emo. So, I played the CD and it was *another high pitched singer of sensitive songs*—wow! Backed up by lazy music! THIS WAS SO AMAZINGLY ORIGINAL AND COMPELLING I COULD ALMOST HAVE DIED OF HEART FAILURE FROM THE EXCITEMENT. At least these dudes weren’t also trying to be Coldpla…(this indicated when I realized I was then hearing piano). Never mind. Well, Hal were still not entirely trying to be them but they’re not trying to be anything else, just playing dullard rock songs with occasional peppy moments that aren’t all that. There were a lot of other musicians on this album, I note, on brass and percussion and pedal steel guitar and mandolin and cello and double bass and…well, you get the idea. Wonder how they were approached to do this when there was obviously nothing there. “Heya, um, so we have this nothing band with nothing songs, want in?” “Pay us way above scale.”
Let’s see, this guy sang at one point (on a song produced by Edwyn Collins! Edwyn, these bastards have no sense of disco or groove in their soul at all, why are you even slightly bothering!) about ‘the pretty young girls who shake their hips on the television shows’ after talking about dudes playing their hit songs on the radio or something. Dare to dream. Just don’t share it with me. I slightly figured it out, though, these guys would love to be the Boo Radleys, you know, steeped in classic rock, high voiced singer, melodic reflections on melancholy, additional players as needed. Except they lacked the references to the modern day and other music that showed the Boos kept their ears open. And they lacked the gift for being able to do huge amounts of noise and perfect restrained delicacy. And they lacked talent and memorability. In fact, they lacked everything ever that the Boos ever had, I shouldn’t be sullying their beautiful name here. Who the fuck are these doofs in Hal? “La la something something you are beautiful WAAAAAA Bee Gees harmonies” twinkle twinkle sensitive acoustic guitar not fit for Travis (I hate Travis). My god, for once I missed Supergrass. For once I missed Gay Dad. (Well, hold on, I shouldn’t get crazy here.) They would love to be on the soundtrack to a Wes Anderson film. I hope they rot. Ladies and gentlemen, Hal.
Finally, Cobra Verde doing a covers album, Copycat Killers. There’s a big ol’ essay on their website as to why they did this and I’m fine with that, it’s actually coherent, which compared to many a musician is not something you normally get in their missives. (It is still flawed at points, mind you, but more on that later.) There wasn’t much immediate joy to the proceedings at the start—Seattle’s Squirrels, for instance, also do a cover of “Get This Party Started” by Pink, as one of their own eight million demented remakes and live mashups, and they do it as full on party music. Cobra Verde did it as something slow and slinky and all but it doesn’t quite work, it’s more like, “Ah, right.” The band Fuck, in contrast, did a totally stripped down and melancholy rip on “Oops! I Did It Again” and it was a treat, where this was just…well, a Vegas lounge band on downers I guess. Sure, the dude in the essay says Pink is much more interesting than emo, a statement I could generally agree with, but then why make her sound as DULL as emo?
With that setting the tone the rest was something along the same lines, nice conceptually but not always working in practice, various moments aside. Not entirely a snooze, but I thought things like “They take New Order’s “Temptation” and make it a kinda quiet Velvet Underground rumble except maybe at the end” and “They cover “I Feel Love” in an echoey-vocal fashion and all but don’t do it as well as the Poster Children or Curve.” Doing the Troggs’ “I Want You” is a hell of a lot more interesting than doing Elvis Costello’s, though, so I was definitely in their corner on that one. More than once I suspect they’re having a joke without recognizing it themselves. Consider what they say here in that essay: “"The Dice Man" was originally recorded by the Fall, a post-punk band known for NOT having rhythm.” I don’t know where to begin with that one! I guess a similar claim is saying that ELP were known for not having soloing. Still, the album raised a smile and didn’t make me hate them too much, but how could I hate a band that pissed off Robert Pollard?
By: Ned Raggett
Published on: 2005-07-28