The Rubber Room
February, Volume Four

The Rubber Room column is a weekly look at recent and notable releases that don’t fall into the rubric of traditional reviewed material—namely 7”’s, 12”’s, 3” CDs, EPs, cassette-only, DVDs and MP3-only releases.

Iron & Wine
Woman King EP
[Sub Pop, 2005]

Sam Beam’s lush six-song collection is a clear indication that history will eventually have to figure out not simply if Beam should be placed in the American pantheon of singer/songwriters, but how high up. Filled with the kind of personal imagery that made both The Creek Drank The Cradle and Our Endless Numbered Days such deeply resonant records, Woman King fills out the brittle sound of those two records with touches of organ, piano and a wall of rattling percussion. Woman King is a celebration of all that is female; it is filled with praise, hope, confusion and even a little damnation. While some of the melodies on Woman King are barely disguised variations from Our Endless Numbered Days that’s a very small complaint to level at such a uniformly enjoyable EP.
[Peter Funk]

Cat Power
Speaking for Trees
Dir: Mark Borthwick
[Matador, 2004]

Yeah Yeah Yeahs
Tell Me What Rockers to Swallow
Dir: Lance Bangs
[Interscope, 2004]

I love Chan Marshall. I think she’s one of the most consistently compelling artists making music today. You Are Free was my favorite album of 2003. My experience of Cat Power’s notorious live show, however, is limited to a few Quicktime downloads and her hypnotic rendition of the You Are Free track “Maybe Not” on Letterman (albeit with Paul Shaffer guest-hosting), easily the most arresting musical performance I’ve ever seen on a television show. Though I have not yet attended a Cat Power concert, I’ve heard all the stories, from Marshall stopping mid-song to bum cigarettes off of audience members and then smoking off to the side of the stage until she regains her composure to performing with Carl Theodor Dreyer’s cathartic silent masterpiece The Passion of Joan of Arc projected onto her. Such stories certainly piqued my interest, and when I heard that a Cat Power live DVD had been released, I figured it was the next-best thing to seeing one of her shows in person.

Mark Borthwick’s Speaking for Trees is almost certainly unlike any concert film you’ve ever seen before. This is not praise, mind you. The only thing remotely interesting about the film is how it does actually manage to complement Marshall’s spare, ethereal aesthetic. Which is to say, in theory, the idea of filming (from a considerable, progressively maddening distance) Marshall playing her guitar and singing her songs, sans any audience, out in the middle of nature may sound like a rather clever concept. In execution, however, what we’re left with is a nearly unwatchable, sub-Warholian exercise in brain-numbing boredom.

I now have no doubt in my mind that the stories I’ve heard regarding Marshall’s shaky stage presence have not been exaggerated in the least because here, even without an audience to freak her out, she can barely make it through a single song without apparently losing her train of thought. Some songs she plays parts of multiple times as if in some sort of a trance. Well, at least I think she does; at times, the music is barely audible over the bugs and the wind. Other times, Marshall simply wanders out of the frame. Really, the kindest thing I can find to say about Speaking for Trees is that, on fast-forward, it may make for a nice example of time-lapse photography.

For their live DVD, Tell Me What Rockers to Swallow, Lance Bangs, director of the Pavement documentary, Slow Century, and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs stick to the conventions of the form—and it pays off. From start to finish, their performance at San Francisco’s Fillmore is nothing short of amazing; it not only justifies the group’s stellar live reputation, but confirms my suspicion that they’re one of the few truly great rock bands making music right now. The band floors on favorites like “Art Star,” “Our Time,” and “Y Control,” but the real treat here is the new YYYs songs (which will presumably be appearing on their upcoming sophomore LP).

Though all five of the new tracks they perform are pretty fantastic, the two standouts are the furious “Rockers to Swallow” (from which the DVD takes its name) and “Down Boy.” The latter’s title may seem a bit ironic; coming from the second incarnation of Polly Jean Harvey, the woman who first caught our attention taunting “as a fuck, son, you sucked,” it’s reasonable to assume we’re in for a prurient lesson in the neglected art of cunnilingus. Instead, Karen reverses such expectations, submissively moaning “down—take me down” over the sexiest riff concocted to date by guitarist Nick Zinner.

Tell Me What Rockers to Swallow is also loaded with nifty extras, including bonus live tracks, all of the band’s music videos, a behind-the-scenes look at their tour of Japan, and a very funny Spike Jonze-co-directed featurette made up of interviews with fans attending the Fillmore show. (One guy claims, following the concert, that the show inspired “seven to thirteen new dance steps” and after demonstrating one of them, says that he can’t quite decide whether the band’s music sounds like “angels or dragons.”) This is quite simply as good as music DVDs get—and, sadly, it cost me less than half of what I shelled out for the damn Cat Power DVD! Oh well. There’s always eBay, right?
[Josh Timmermann]

Silizium EP
[Shitkatapult, 2005]

A re-recording of Apparat’s Peel Session of May 2004, Silizium sees Sascha Ring presenting the leaps made from the melodic IDM of last years’ Shapemodes EP. Which means: live instruments and voices. “Komponent” is the keeper, sounding like a more vital version of the good track that fools you into buying the new Morr Music release each time out. “Not A Good Place” is moody down-tempo that doesn’t quite connect as well, while both “Silizium” and “It’s Gonna Be A Long Walk” walk a more abstract bent, the latter being the slightly less glitched out and more approachable of the two. Bus (good), Rechzentrum (better), Telefon Tel Aviv (best), and Apparat himself close it out with remixes.
[Todd Burns]

Polmo Polpo
Kiss Me Again and Again
[Intr-Version, 2005]

Polmo Polpo returns with this one-track EP showcasing a bit more bounce than previous ambient releases Alien8 and Constellation labels. That’s because he’s taking on Dinosaur L’s “Kiss Me Again and Again.” Each element that made the original a stone-cold classic is here in some way, but there’s something about the extended format and remixed elements that make this thing even stronger the second time around. For woozy dance parties and hipsters over that whole Arthur Russell thing, this one’s a must-have.
[Todd Burns]

By: Stylus Staff

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