Scraping the Barrel 006
elcome to another edition (and another author) of Scraping the Barrel. When you start getting promos in the mail (or in my case, when you get to university and the student newspaper starts letting you fish promos out of the CD drawer) the sheer novelty of it all is almost as good as the fact that you're getting music for free. After a while the novelty wears off, but I'm not going to lie: It still makes me feel like I'm getting away with something when I get a package in the mail with an album or two. It's awesome, and it should never stop being so.
But that aside, you will almost invariably fall behind. And when you do, you may wind up late at night, staring at a pile of records about which, good or bad, you cannot muster five hundred words or more no matter how hard you try. You always feel bad about/for those records; sure, some are so undistinguished you don't want to listen to/think about them for long enough to form thoughts, but mostly these are just albums that don't spark anything for you, writing wise.
Even when they're deliberately provocative enough that you'd think you could muster some response; Country Teasers' Live Album covers five years of shows by Ben Wallers' Edinburgh-based, more juvenile version of the Fall, and anyone who veers from stopping “Boycott The Studio” because he accidentally said “fuck” to a song like “Women And Children First” (...“then the faggots and the niggers / Line them up against the wall / Pull your fucking triggers”) are clearly trying to goad you into either defense or outrage. Unfortunately the music isn't good enough (and by good I mean shambolic, chaotic, loud) to make me care. Listening to the full sprawl of Live Album can be bracing in terms of the sheer spill of all this mess, but unless you get a kick out of Wallers spilling satirical hate, you might as well just pick up Totale's Turns or something similar instead. Which is a bit of a shame, as I think I might prefer Wallers' voice to Mark E. Smith's, and their covers of “Short People” and “Blue Monday” are a hoot.
It's a bit odd to first hear a band via a live album, but I'm betting that's the best way to hear the Country Teasers; I'm not so sure about Bobby Conn & The Glass Gypsies. Their Live Classics Vol. 1 isn't, sort of, as it was recorded “before a live studio audience,” but it still sounds like a concert album, albeit with higher sound quality than most. They draw songs from all four of their albums but naturally they all wind up sounding a bit the same, and while some of the refrains get stuck in your head (particularly “You're never gonna get ahead, givin' head to the man” from the closing “Never Get Ahead”), they tend to be surrounded by enough roughage (or fluff, depending how charitable you're feeling) that it's a slight disappointment to listen to the record again. So many good bits, but it takes so long to get to them! Anyone with a taste for Conn's rich glammy rock stew will probably find this a good accompaniment to his other albums, but I wish he'd made it poppier.
The Static Age could also stand to be more pop, but their lack is a lot more severe. I'm frustrated by the Bobby Conn album because the good parts are so good and so relatively hard to get at. Neon Nights Electric Lives doesn't seem to have any good parts. They're the kind of dull rock band that just sort of exists, and eventually you figure they mostly stick to one-word song titles because they lack the imagination to go any further. I've listened to the album all the way through four times now, and nothing has stuck. It's kind of cliché to say something like “I'll never get that time back”, but on my deathbed I imagine I'll resent the time I could have saved. The other dud of the bunch for me is, sadly, the new album by The Remote Viewer. I hadn't heard anything by them before except for a record done under the name the Boats and, well, I didn't really like that one either. But I was hoping that this would sound a little closer to the glory that is Hood's Outside Closer (since Hood is where the Remote Viewer springs from), and maybe that desire has negatively affected my reception of Let Your Heart Draw A Line, but I don't think I would have gotten much out of it in any case.
Don't get me wrong, it's a much better record than Neon Nights Electric Lives, and has both a pleasant sound and much better song titles (especially if the idea of calling these delicate little traceries things like “To Completion,” “The Fucking Bleeding Hearts Brigade,” and “It's So Funny How We Don't Talk Anymore” makes you giggle). If you're really into this sort of gently clicking and pulsing ambient music you'll find the Remote Viewer make fine examples of it, especially when joined by Nicola Hodgkinson (also ex-Hood). But they're not exactly the best of their genre, and most of us will find our patience running out halfway into this one.
It's telling that after the Remote Viewer something like Solarists' debut The Channel's Twilight seems energetic by comparison. That's not to mock the efforts of Vancouver's Cameron McLellan, who spends most of his musical time playing bass in local new-wave-of-shoegaze band Hinterland (who I also once got a promo from, only to discover it was a 2003 album in mid 2004, at which point there wasn't much I could do). Solarists is his outlet for acoustic singer-songwritery kind of stuff, and he prefers to go it alone (the liners boast “all sounds C.M. McLellan”). It's a good choice; from opening highlight “Fourth Of July” (not a Galaxie 500 cover sadly, but still fine) he does his one man band thing without kicking up too much dust. The most overtly exciting thing about the whole record is the way he dourly drawls “Starfucker / It's crude but it's true” on the song of the same name. He's got an interestingly creaky voice—which sounds a bit like a non-threatening Jim Putnam of the Radar Brothers, whose band isn’t a horrible referant for The Channel's Twilight if they went unplugged and non-baroque. The result is the sort of album you throw on the stereo when you're spending Sunday morning not going to church. It's the kind of music that manages to turn “slight” into a compliment.
Similarly slight albeit not as impressive is Bochum Welt's Elan, although I'm not sure if this nine-track, twenty-eight-minute-minute wonder is supposed to be a full album or not. Either way there's not much there; the three parts of “Blue” scattered throughout make a halfhearted stab at blissful melody and get halfway there, and the other six songs never really take off. Gianluigi Di Costanzo has been doing his “atmospheric electro” thing for quite a while now but if this is all he's got to show for it he might as well go back to the pristine ambience of his Martians And Spaceships days (in fact, I devoutly hope he does; “Star Cluster” and “Blue Atmosphere” still sound great).
I understand that Michigan's Auburn Lull are pals with semi-legendary duo Windy & Carl, and you can definitely feel some sonic kinship, although the band Regions Less Parallel: Early Works & Rarities most calls to mind is definitely Slowdive. If Neil Halstead, Rachel Goswell, and pals had made a record between Souvlaki and Pygmalion, experimenting with the pace and focus of the latter but using more of the tools of the former (only smoother), you'd get something in the same backyard as Auburn Lull. They have a band name that is perfectly descriptive of their sound as well; if they were painters they'd be minimalists, wrenching a surprisingly vibrant field of effects from an incredibly restricted set of colours. And Regions Less Parallel is nothing but lull for forty-six minutes; I can't remember any of the song names or any breaks between them, but that didn't mean I wasn't enjoying myself.
And now we get to the last promo from today's pile, the one I came closest to reviewing more fully before several futile attempts confirmed I just don't have that much to say about it. It was actually Todd Burns playing “Tired And Beholden” by Paul Duncan that finally confirmed that as much as I like that song and three or four others on Be Careful What You Call Home, there isn't much to say beyond that. Duncan has an exceedingly gentle voice, used to best effect on the despairing “Oil In The Fields” (“And yes I have been drinking”) and the oddly menacing “You Look Like An Animal” (“I'll show you what the workplace taught me”). Much of this could fit in with the more conventional end of the recent wave of... uh... are we calling it post-folk now? In any case, his main problem is that after the sublime few songs he's crafted that are near perfect, the rest of the album has more lackluster efforts and most fatally, instrumentals. Including three clustered in the middle, between the two best tracks. That's one heck of momentum killer. If Duncan can improve his album building skills he'll be one to watch, but for now he's just another one for the discard pile.
By: Ian Mathers
Published on: 2006-01-09