Scraping the Barrel
Scraping The Barrel 002

welcome to another edition of Scraping the Barrel, wherein you, the reader, get to consider the reactions of me, the reviewer, as a variety of things are sent my way for abuse. It is possible as always that something really good and interesting might be found amidst the steaming offal directed to me by the Stylus bods, but I will reserve judgment on that, because nine times of ten it won’t be true.

Still, Luigi Archetti and Bo Wiget’s collaboration Low Tide Digitalis II might actually be worth it, but this is based on a cursory review of the cover, which has a lot of pretty lines on it. The title implies this is a sequel, but possibly it stands on its own, much like the peerless Leonard Part 6. The instruments played are guitar, cello and electronics, and all the song titles are named “Stück,” thus “Stück 12,” “Stück 13,” etc. I do appreciate this, I do. It is the kind of ‘we are art’ self-consciousness which made me happy when I first got into the Cocteau Twins and I couldn’t figure out what the deal was with the cover art and the song titles there.

As I relaxed on a Sunday morning, munching a bagel, drinking some juice and listening to the gentle burblings and drones floating out of my speakers, I thought about how ten years ago I would have considered this a new and unique experience, something to keep and treasure like my Lull and Main CDs. Now, it’s almost rote, something that is to be expected rather than to go “Hey! The boundaries of music are being trashed!” at. It filled up time and my speaker stacks and occasionally made bleepy sounds, and that was pleasant. Yes, pleasant. As time went on I started writing e-mails.

Duplex, a Canadian eight-piece, was next. Ah, Canadian collectives. (dreams again of the time that Godspeed! You Boring Fuckers sent me to sleep at a live show—when I was standing up, six feet from the stage) These people are not Montreal post-rock, though, and neither are they the Arcade Fire, thank god. They are however not an improvement on either—in fact, they are substantially worse. When I saw this was on Mint Records I got horrid visions of the likes of Cub in my brain—then I started listening to the album and it got worse. OH SO CUTE YOU TWEE BASTARDS ARE. This might in fact be the reason why it’s called Ablum! Not Album. Do you see? How clever they are? WELL DO YOU?

At least one band member is, in fact, a young kid. Fine enough, it’s a Smoosh world and all. A couple of others look like young teens, whatever. I don’t hold that against them. I don’t hold the cover of the Schoolhouse Rock song “Figure 8” against them either (De La Soul sampled “3 is the Magic Number” on their first album = to heck with you if you don’t think Schoolhouse Rock rules). But I do hold the cloying wimp/dink/pop sing-along ‘ha ha ha yay!’ approach of the whole album against them, leaving me seeking for bats and sticks for pummeling purposes. It’s all very winsome and after-school special—there’s a song about how you should eat your salad that actually has an early eighties funk groove to it, but my god should all the singers and lyricists be shouted at for their follies. Other song titles—“Lament of the House Rabbit” and “Heatin’ Up the Milk.” Hearing some dude sing “You’re the best little boy in the world!” followed by someone semi-whining “I’m not” frankly sounds like child molester material. Somewhere in there is an appreciation of various styles and sonics and the like but it all ends up sounding like a less accomplished Wiggles. Thank you but no. In fact never darken my doorway again.

Wide Right’s Sleeping on the Couch was next and my mood was immediately improved in that lead person Leah Archibald’s got a fun, sassy-but-cool sting to her voice—I’ve actually been wondering how long it would take for Ann Wilson’s seventies vocal style to get a revival, actually—the band’s music is conventional enough three-piece rock that has a rough edge to it here and there (a bit early nineties, just) and there’s a cover of Loretta Lynn’s badass “The Pill” on it. And there’s not much more I will say about this album, because it’s one of those ones that you either like or hate or enjoy or ignore, but as I see it, Archibald peels off some fun solos and while she’s got an eye for good working stiff laments (“Laws of Gravity,” “Taking the Fifth”), the lyrics for “Junior High School Dream” absolutely goddamn rule in particular. Not to mention that “Blue Skies Ahead” might just be the first first-person female-sung hand-clap-laden rock song about a struggling actor doing gay porn assuring his mom on the phone that things are going to get better. Adult rock, all in all, without being, y’know, ‘adult rock.’ (And the older I get, the more important this distinction becomes.)

Next, Goldrush’s Ozona. I’m sorry, I just fell asleep. But I suppose I should give a bit of context—I first heard of these characters about three years back or so, maybe more, through a friend who rather liked them. So I got a copy of the single and it was this weird attempt to do country-fried beer rock with all these monster drums that were an oblique way around mid-nineties Flaming Lips, perhaps. And maybe some drifty prog anthems as well. I furrowed my brow and sold the single on. So much to my surprise, they seem to have continued to the point where they get to live up to their Flaming Lips fantasies by getting Dave Fridmann to produce a couple of songs on the album, which I suppose is okay enough. At least it doesn’t sound like the Delgados.

But it doesn’t sound like much else. Well, perhaps I lie. It sounds like a sleepy-voiced guy singing roughly over loud guitar music and sounds and things that’s supposed to be kinda epic at points and maybe vaguely inspirational. At other points it’s more chipper and sweet and something. It’s all very…it’s not very much of anything. Moments aside (the ending of “Counting Song” actually hits the heights they try for elsewhere), it’s there. It’s like a beanbag. If I picked up this album and threw it against the wall in an attempt to get it to take on a new shape, it would take that shape, but would essentially be the same thing still. It’s polite. It’s ‘good playing’ which translated means it offers nothing but the obvious and is dull. Maybe someone likes this stuff a lot. I don’t. I just grew irritated by it (I think the flange on the vocals followed by backwards guitar at one point was what turned dull irritation to active dislike, because it was so tiresomely obvious). There’s nothing to this band. They have many members, it seems. They are all overpaid. I should have their money. At one point the lead guy sings, “We don’t learn from our mistakes,” and it is clearly the most true thing he has ever spoken or sung.

I ponder Cursive’s rarities collection before I listen to it. I ponder the fact that such a phrase as ‘a Cursive rarities collection’ can actually exist. Saddle Creek are half okay (I love the Faint and I don’t care who knows it) and half not (C***r O****t is not my friend), so I wonder what I will think after I hear this, which apparently covers mostly their ‘nobody’s listening but our friends and other people in the Midwest’ years. Now credit to them and any band in that situation, well away from Instant Media Coverage, that says ‘fuck all y’all’ and makes their own destiny by sticking through it over time—thirty years back the equivalent would have been someone like Cheap Trick in terms of approach. Musically, though, there are differences.

I started playing the album and almost ignored it. Now, allowing for the fact that this is meant to be ‘the early years’ and we’re all derivative then and we only become rich and famous when we’re all fifty except then young punks end up getting rich and famous off the work we did, the problem is I swear this is all something I’ve now completely disconnected from. Invoke the dread word ‘emo’ and all that, but I went through this phase or something close to it when I was seeing Fugazi and Drive Like Jehu and the like back in 1993 and 1994. It’s comforting in the same way that seeing a ragged blanket in the corner is comforting, one that makes you think “Oh yeah, I remember that” and then makes you wonder if Goodwill will take it from you. There’s drama, there’s theatricality, there’s even some okay arrangements here and there, but there’s no ROMANCE in this music, no drive to the beyond (Drive Like Jehu were all about that, brilliantly so). The aspirational tinge of songs like “Sucker & Dry” is something, I guess, and at some point they almost try and be the Cure. I went back to my e-mail.

The opening lines to the Tah-DahsLe Fun are “If you were a Cherokee I might have reservations.” I want to kill these people. No, seriously. You must die. If that is your opening statement to the world, your attempt at wit, you have no function and, seeing as you are from Dallas, this means you are currently taking up space that folks from New Orleans could use right now, so it is clear that you should surrender that space to them, as well as surrendering your lives. Then the world could continue in better shape than before.

The promo sticker on the cover of Le Fun claims that ‘on their debut, tongues in cheeks, they buoyantly frolic through songs about everything from alcoholism to scenester bands.’ This is true, that is the subject matter of the songs, they are presumably trying to be humorous, and they sound like they are attempting to have fun, perhaps even frolic. But these are not positives in their hands. They are negatives. They make early Barenaked Ladies seem like Sparks. They create the type of college rock music that’s vaguely poppy and dorky and which I thought disappeared from the CMJ-surveyed airwaves in around 1989 when people started muttering the phrases “Sub Pop” and “Creation imports” a bit more. The lead guy’s voice is kinda whiny and kinda friendly, the musicians play, I grew bored with the experience. They have a song called “New York” that mocks the self-importance of the place, which I’m fine with, but has the line “Eggers might invite me to a kegger,” which I am not fine with. They have a song called “John and Yoko and Ted and Alice,” another called “The Cute Band,” another called “The Clap” which is about nostalgia-mongering instead of VD. I look forward to not talking about this band again.

Tomas Bodin apparently is a modern prog-rock superstar in some circles. I admit I find the concept strange too. Now, mind you, after thinking most of the prog stuff I encountered in my classic rock phase was completely goddamn ridiculous—Rick Wakeman did more harm than he’ll ever know—over time I’ve grown more tolerant of those impulses in general, partially because of a couple of good bands that play around in the field well, most notably for me Porcupine Tree. But then there are idiots like Dream Theater, and the list goes on from there. Bodin, it seems, came to fame as part of some Swedish neo-prog bunch called the Flower Kings, who in turn are friends with Spock’s Beard, who I’ve always wanted to punch because of their name. Anyway, I Am is Bodin’s latest solo effort, a chunk of the Flower Kings dudes appear on it contributing all too familiar high velocity riffing which is just a little too unironically 1978 for my blood (the type of thing that Daft Punk would sample/rework circa Discovery except then they would actually make it brilliant), but I’m willing to give anything a whirl once.

Oh dear, there’s the keyboard soloing.

And there’s some more.

Ah, and piano soloing now, which at least is a bit restrained.

Some wannabe Jon Anderson is singing something, and I want to smack him with a wet fish. Oh, I take it back, now he sounds like some kinda ‘deep meaningful’ equivalent to Leif Garrett and Brad Delp combined.

This all then generally repeats itself, with different solos. I so don’t care, even when the tremulously voice female singer comes in, because even though she’s marginally better than Mr. Macho Wimp, it ain’t by much. You should hear the restrained ballad of mental love they sing softly in an effort to show tenderness, but you might die of boredom.

Jesus fuck. A week ago I was seeing Circle use THEIR prog influences to create an amazing show, with prominent keyboards, that was pure universe-exploding cosmic doom celebration. This is not, this just makes me think of Chris deBurgh’s Christmas song about spacemen but stretched out to twenty minutes per ‘movement.’ One part of the first movement is called “They’ll Fight for Me!” Well, I am not one of they. Begone.

The Nein are not from Germany as best as I can tell, but there’s a dark, glowering bent to their music that sounds like the quartet wants to command you out of your seats and all that. Which is nice if you’re in for that, but then they can switch over to gentler bits that make a result that sounds like the Black Heart Procession trying to do power pop, and I’m not sure about that. Regardless, Wrath of Circuits is only the second album I’ve heard in this batch that I’d want to hear again, even if only casually. There’s hints of that there postpunk revival throughout (sample song title—“Courtesy Bows to New Wave”) and maybe that’s the real source of the music in the end, but I want to give them a touch more credit—the drums pummel, the guitars sound appropriately edgy and strangled, tapes are sometimes muddily cut up and reversed, and they don’t sound like the Killers. Always a plus. By the time the album gets to “The Vibe,” I’m convinced they’ve got the sonic violence mix down just enough to warrant more listening, even if they’d work better with more overt dance beats. Still, I’m not sure about anyone anywhere calling a song “Foreign Friendster.”

Earl Pickens has a CD called Country Music Jukebox, which is neither genero-top 40 country nor whispering and crackling alt-country that stopped back in 1950 or so. If anything it’s more post-Dan Fogelberg sensitivity, maybe this is what Chris Carrabba is going to end up doing in the future, but with bits of Band-style piano and soothing backing vocal croon over the acoustic guitar and slightly cracking vocals with high lonesome twang and all that. In fact it turns out pretty much every song is acoustic guitar and slightly cracking vocals but with extra bits here and there, like the pedal steel that turns up to make a listener think, “Ah! Country!” Theoretically I should care about this more one way or another due to my dad being a country fan and therefore having heard enough people over the moons that he likes. Theory does not always equal practice.

Good? Well, it’s there. Bad? As I said, it’s there. A lost classic for future generations to discover? Er, maybe. Am I caring? No, I am all out of caring at this point. I hate the universe, so I am cruel. Basically, I’d say just listen to Dale Watson instead, that man can kick your ass from here to kingdom come and his album dedicated to his lover, who cruelly perished in a car accident, is heartache beyond description. In contrast, despite the great bit in “I’m Not Tired (I’m So Tired)” about the singer loved by gay fans even when the women in the audience thought he was singing to them, this is just…there. The end.

Well, almost—there’s one thing left, an EP from a bunch of Norwegian morons called the Nude Pube Banglers called Sexual Famine. The liner notes allege that they were the recuperation of the spirit of rock and roll from post-grunge in late nineties Oslo. I say I’ve heard this all before and that while they might try that the Hellacopters shit on their head. And with that I am done.

By: Ned Raggett
Published on: 2005-09-13
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