Sing-sing, Feels Like Summer Ep (Bella Union)

Sing-sing - Feels Like Summer Ep Sing-sing
Feels Like Summer Ep
Bella Union
By: Eric G.

Sing-Sing is a duo featuring ex-Lush guitarist Emma Anderson and singer Lisa O’Neill, who has lent her voice to tracks by Locust and The Mad Professor. This EP features just three blithe tracks that mix sixties soul with light electronics. The focus is on O’Neill’s girlish but sultry voice, which harmonizes well with Anderson’s spry soprano. Sing-Sing is fairly minimal compared to the like-minded Cinnamon, but both bands have a distinctly retro feel.

The title track has an inherently maudlin tone despite the breezy guitars and irresistibly catchy hooks. O’Neill sounds resigned but her voice is subtle and seductive. Her inflections remind me of Bjork’s child-like exasperations only more reserved. She is British after all. “Hit And Run” is even more oblique, playing up O’Neill’s role of the sexy chanteuse; she hits certain notes that’ll just make you melt. Sing-Sing peppers the latter two tracks with more electronics, steering away from the Motown soul sound of the single.

“Command” is the sleeper of the EP, though. It takes a few listens but eventually stands out as the best track with its snaky bass line, deluxe synthetics, and, of course, entreating vocals. Anderson’s guitar is awash in reverb but practically sounds clean compared to all the effects she drenched her guitar work in while in Lush. Sing-Sing plays the type of music that Pizzicato 5 would have a field-day sampling. I can’t wait for this band to put out a full-length. I could listen to Lisa O’Neill sing all day.

Men’s Recovery Project, Bolides Over Basra (Load)

Men's Recovery Project - Bolides Over Basra Men's Recovery Project
Bolides Over Basra
By: Eric G.

Men’s Recovery Project is the warped brainchild of ex-Born Against members, Sam McPheeters and Neil Burke. The band has released eleven records on seven different labels since the demise of Born Against in the early nineties but has never released a proper full-length until now. McPheeters and Burke hooked up with Six Finger Satellite’s J. Ryan and Rick Pelletier for Bolides Over Basra, a self-proclaimed collection of songs “of the middle east, touching on: water use negotiations, illegal detention, deception and loss, airport security, North African cuisine, missing merchandise, Persian nightlife, assassination ennui, secret monkey auctions, depression and denial, general wretchedness, shit and filth, public leprosy and advanced clap.” And they aren’t kidding.

Bolides Over Basra finds Men’s Recovery Project using the same formula of creepy melodies, half-shrieked/half spoken vocals, deliberately outdated synthetics, and general disdain for cohesive structure as on past releases- the difference, this time, being the “foreign” languages and seemingly thematic subject matter. Guitar lines are shrill and splayed against distorted electric rhythms. J. Ryan lends his own paranoid screech to several tracks. The music has a very claustrophobic effect; everything sounds microscopic but noisy all the same. Tracks like “In Khartoum” and “Boums To Zanzibar” very much resemble Six Finger Satellite’s Machine Cuisine EP with a demented, Devo-ish sound and spoken word horror to boot. On “The Olive Salesman”, Men’s Recovery Project makes the absurd sound frantic and desperate: “the olive salesman looks side to side/he definitely seems nervous/has he something to hide?” Random blips and beeps squeal in the background while the rhythm section pummels away at the same riff over and over. Unlike Ween, who fall all over themselves laughing, Men’s Recovery Project never even cracks a smile.

McPheeteers and Burke have much in common with Six Finger Satellite; Both bands explore mania through noise- Men’s Recovery Project through electronic noise and Six Finger Satellite through guitar noise. Bolides Over Basra is hard to imagine being the work of ex-members of Born Against- a band that had a crushing effect on the hardcore scene almost a decade ago, spawning countless bands in its wake (Young Pioneers, The Great Unraveling, Universal Order Of Armageddon, etc.). Men’s Recovery Project may not be hardcore or even evoke the same kind of loyalty that hardcore fans are known for, but the music is just as uncompromising. Plus, it sounds like Kraftwerk on crack.

Wolf Colonel, Vikings Of Mint (K)

Wolf Colonel - Vikings Of Mint Wolf Colonel
Vikings Of Mint
By: Eric G.

Wolf Colonel pumps out fifteen songs in less than thirty minutes with lo-fi, garage-punk bravado. Led by vocalist Jason Anderson, this four-piece is a power punk machine mixing the brevity and melody of early Guided By Voices (before the power ballads) with the assault and energy of the legendary Husker Du as well as the smarmy humor of Ween. Wolf Colonel started off, strangely enough, as a solo acoustic show for Anderson, inspired by the likes of Elliott Smith- even performing in dormitories to groups of friends. Anderson, however, quickly supplanted the singer-songwriter schtick with a fleshed-out rock band.

Anderson isn’t afraid of cheesy guitar solos or even of sounding like 38 Special or ZZ Top. His band rocks but incorporates harmonies and acoustic guitars into the mix, sounding most unlike typical cock rock bands of yore. Anderson’s voice resembles, at times, Aaron Stauffer’s from Gardener/Seaweed with its exaggerated inflections, but it also shares a similarity with Robert Pollard’s (without the fake British accent). His lyrics border on the absurd: “you smell like you’re small/I wanna stab you” (“The Indian Ocean”), which also could be attributed to the influence of Mr. Pollard. This band is something you’d want to see live; it’s rambunctious and raw.

Vikings Of Mint is Wolf Colonel’s debut full-length, but the band also has an eight-song self-titled seven-inch out on K. Anderson met Calvin Johnson at an Halo Benders show in Portland and tried to get signed by sending Johnson home-recorded cassettes. Johnson paid little attention until Anderson went electric and turned Wolf Colonel into the rocking powerhouse it is now. Vikings Of Mint is anthematic with hooks galore and enough lo-fi charm to keep it out of your mom’s record collection.

Pan American, 360 Business/360 Bypass (Kranky)

Pan American - 360 Business/360 Bypass Pan American
360 Business/360 Bypass
By: Eric G.

Pan American is the nom de plume for Mark Nelson, the guitarist and sometimes singer for the experimental post-rock outfit Labradford. With Pan American Nelson gets to explore the ambient side of his electronic pursuits, where Labradford rarely ventures. With only six songs comprising almost an hour of music, Nelson spreads things out, allowing songs to meander and flow. Each song is heavily saturated with rich textures and dubbed-out beats. Nelson occasionally sneaks some eerie whispered vocals into the mix (courtesy of Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker of Low), making the haunting soundscapes even more ominous.

Nelson’s digital rhythms vacillate underneath melodies that seem to hang in a sort of atmospheric limbo. He fuses elements of jazz, funk, and dub with subtlety and restraint. Horns barely penetrate the surface in “Double Rail”, but the impact is still compelling thanks to cornetist Rob Mazurek of the Chicago Underground Duo. Certain songs fade out so slowly that their presence is still felt even when they’re gone. Where Labradford trudges along at a snail’s pace, Pan American sputters and fizzes with nocturnal trip-hop rhythms that take a minimalist approach to the electro-dub sound.

360 Business/360 Bypass is an immediately entrancing listen. Nelson’s obsession with pulsing rhythms is a far cry from his other band’s glacial pace. The album’s dark textures float submissively while Nelson peppers his sound with hints of bossa nova and trance-like grooves. This is his second solo full length for Kranky, a label that was founded in order to fund an early Labradford release. Usually, words like ‘dub’, ‘bossa nova’, and ‘jazz-influenced’ are code for ‘avoid’ but not in the case with Pan American- this record gives an overcrowded strain of electronic music a good name.

Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci, Spanish Dance Troupe (Mantra/beggars Banquet)

Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci - Spanish Dance Troupe Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci
Spanish Dance Troupe
Mantra/beggars Banquet
By: Robert H.

Every once in a while I have the embarrassing experience of running upon a great new band that turns out to be a great old band that's been producing quality work for five years or more. Such is the case with Gorky's Zygotic Mynci. I first came upon them several months ago when they opened for Luna in Providence, and in my excitement at seeing Dean Wareham and the boys I dreaded listening to these upstarts with the ridiculous name. My concern only grew when they set their keyboards at center stage, to be played by a rail-thin version of Shaggy who looked like he had just hauled them from his mother's basement. Then they started playing and absolutely kicked my ass. The leader, Euros Childs, banged on the keyboards nearly shaking them off the stands and proved to have a whipping voice that was clued in to every cadence in the tunes. The rest of the band was cued by his energy and provided a cohesive but mercurial shock of sound to complement it. (Although the keyboards were center stage, they were not center sound.) I was sold.

Turns out Gorky's Zygotic Mynci has been producing albums for years and are an institution in the UK as enduring, if not as popular, as the Charlatans. In 1995 they topped the UK independent charts with Bwyd Time and followed it with their first US release in 1996, Introducing Gorky's Zygotic Mynci. Evidently starting as an attempt to mingle traditional Welsh stylings and language with more modern means, they have moved on and won themselves a sound entirely their own, as Spanish Dance Troupe will readily attest.

Spanish Dance Troupe is an incredibly diverse album. The first two songs set the tone: "Hallway" is a gorgeous opening ballad that's a little Beatles-tinged and evolves musically throughout, providing an easy but complex tapestry. It is shockingly followed by "Poodle Rockin'" which bounces quirkily in a style reminiscent of Pajamarama-era Roxy Music. After touching—no, stomping—both ends of their repertoire, they spend the next 13 tracks exploring the sound in between, staying a little closer to the low key "Hallway", but pouncing to the rocking end when needed. A few songs are unremarkable but pretty instrumentals, and one is a completely goofy throwaway that reminds you of the band's name (fortunately it lasts less than a minute) but in general GZM hits it on the mark every time. They have a sense of catch like their Welsh brethren Super Furry Animals, but rely on more traditional instrumentation (next to the keyboard is Euros' sister Megan on violin) and have a much wider conception of the pop song. This is a group of musicians that has obviously listened to a lot of music all of their lives and have completely internalized its lessons. (The influences seem more seventies-ish than anything; some listeners should be forewarned.) Instead of merely regurgitating it, however, they are led by their Welsh roots to an unusual synthesis that sounds familiar but is intriguing all the same.

The album includes standouts too numerous to mention, but "Spanish Dance Troupe", "Murder Ballad" and "Freckles" are must listens and will sell the album to anyone who still appreciates a well wrought ballad or pop song. All in all, Gorky's Zygotic Mynci has afforded me the best surprise of the year, and in my opinion they produced one of the best albums of 1999. Which leaves me the task of trying to find all their old stuff.

Huon, Songs For Lord Tortoise (Animal World)

Huon - Songs For Lord Tortoise Huon
Songs For Lord Tortoise
Animal World
By: Eric G.

If you say the title of this Huon record really fast it sounds like Songs The Lord Taught Us, which is a classic Cramps’ album from 1980, but while Huon may be Cramps fans there is hardly any trace of it in these loose, warbled pop songs. Huon features Dave Nichols, formerly of the Australian indiepop group the Cannanes. The name may be different but both bands share the same DIY aesthetic, which reveals itself in the artfully lo-fi production and amateurish musicianship. Nineteen songs is a lot to ask any listener, but Huon possesses a certain charm in its jangly pop formula. The vocals are heavy-lidded but sometimes hummable. The boy/girl trade-off works fairly well in this batch of post-Velvet Underground tunes.

Huon incorporates samples and tape loops in its indie rock mix. Keyboards surface every now and again, giving Huon a ghostly sixties garage sound. The guitars tend to linger, reverb-drenched, in the background while driving bass lines lead the songs to their subtle climaxes. You’d be hard-pressed to guess when this album was recorded- Huon sounds oblivious to the past decade of music, but that’s the bulk of its appeal. The band gets experimental, occasionally, as on “Crusty”, wherein an accordion sloppily trills in the background while a traditional Indian beat stubbornly plods away. The bulk of the album, however, revolves around simple songwriting and low-key vocals. Songs For Lord Tortoise is far from groundbreaking, but it pays humble homage to its many influences and offers an enjoyable listen in return.

Magnolia, Directed By Paul Thomas Anderson (New Line Cinema)

Magnolia - Directed By Paul Thomas Anderson Magnolia
Directed By Paul Thomas Anderson
New Line Cinema
By: Eric G.

Paul Thomas Anderson’s follow-up to Boogie Nights is an equally long but far more disturbing look at guilt, regret, embarrassment, and reconciliation. Anderson weaves together seemingly unrelated vignettes, but he manages cleverly to tie them all together. It feels like Robert Altman’s Short Cuts for the first half-hour or so (both films have a loser cop side story), but it digs much deeper and is far more experimental than Altman’s random collage of stories. Anderson’s script is so in your face it is almost grating in its bravura. The dialogue is often bracing and confrontational as we witness several characters’ most intimate thoughts and feelings. Several people left the theater after a particularly uncomfortable but hilarious scene where John C Reilly’s dufus cop checks on a domestic disturbance call at a black woman’s apartment. Her relentless string of profanity rivals any gangster film of the seventies, but none of it is gratuitous or showy. Anderson’s perspective is gritty and urban and real and he doesn’t hold back on any level.

Everything takes place in one day in the San Fernando Valley, and every character is struggling with some sort of guilt or frustration. William H. Macy plays Quiz Kid Donnie Smith, a former child star whose parents squandered his fortune from the gameshow What Kids Know. He turned out to be a completely dysfunctional man so confused and damaged that he can’t even hold down the most rudimentary job at an electronics warehouse. Macy plays his character with an hyper sense of desperation and despair. Tom Cruise makes the biggest splash in the film, though, as a self-help guru for men seeking dominance over women. His father (Jason Robards) left him to take care of his dying mother when he was only fourteen, and Cruise’s character has to decide whether or not he wants to see his ailing father now that the he, too, is on his deathbed, dying of cancer. Cruise’s performance is over the top and steals the show.

Anderson is trying to prove to us that none of these stories is random or arbitrary. We see the cause and effect cycle of several people’s lives and how damaged they truly become. Julianne Moore plays Jason Robards’ trophy wife, who wants to have her husband’s will changed because she feels guilty that she will soon inherit his fortune when he dies. Her guilt stems from the fact that she only married him for his money and, consequently, cheated on him countless times; however, while taking care of him in his last months, she has actually fallen in love with him. Her struggle with the guilt makes her so emotional and suicidal she can barely carry on a conversation, and her performance is unnerving. Anderson studies the limits of unconditional forgiveness and questions its merits over and over again.

Music plays a huge role in Magnolia. Anderson pulls Aimee Mann out of major label obscurity and puts her brittle, heavily acoustic music to work. Her songs saturate the film and even feel like a collective character, particularly in the montage sequence Anderson weaves together wherein the main characters mouth the words that seem specifically written for them. It’s eerie and effective. The technique is hackneyed and cliched in the music video world but it is a rarity in film, and Anderson pulls it off amazingly well. The characters briefly escape their respective realities even if it’s only for the brief length of the song itself. Mann’s version of Harry Nilsson’s “One” is haunting and climactic, suiting the mood of the film. Her voice is plaintive and glides within the somber spectrum of her ineffaceable melancholy.

Magnolia’s ending is unforgettable. Anderson incorporates a freakish act of nature unlike anything you’ve ever seen on film. In lieu of all the conflicts coming to their inevitable heads, everything goes limp and sort of floats in the wake of the bizarre circumstances. It snaps each character out the solipsistic worldview that manifests itself in individuals who suffer from depression. The similarity to Short Cuts again rears its ugly head as that film’s ending also used a natural disaster of sorts in its absurdly funny culmination, but Magnolia has more in common The Ice Storm, the way Rick Moody used that freakish storm to exacerbate everyone’s guilty conscience. Also like Moody, Anderson doesn’t try to tidy up the emotional mess, but he does, thankfully, open the door for a way out.