The Beatles are pop, The Who is rock, and The Kinks are somewhere in between. These BBC Sessions prove that The Who was rocking harder than anyone else in 1965. Just take the guitar solo from "Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere", where Pete Townshend makes an unholy racket an entire decade before the first seedlings of punk were even beginning to blossom. These early sessions show The Who in a transitional state, moving out of the lukewarm cover band mode and into Pete Townshend's bustling and sprightly originals.
The band recorded ten times for the BBC in five years, but, unfortunately, the band's first appearance, featuring "I Can't Explain", has been lost due to the BBC's shortsighted attitude toward archiving. The BBC did, however, capture and retain rollicking versions of "My Generation" and "Substitute." Sure, there are a few duds like the lifeless cover of the The Olympics' "Good Lovin'", which, incidentally, became a huge hit for The Young Rascals the following year. The band's rendition of Martha And The Vandellas' "Dancing In The Street" is worthwhile only for Keith Moon's uncompromisingly genius drumming.
These sessions are a brilliant display of Pete Townshend's evolving songcraft. From the infectious harmonies of "La La La Lies" to the dirty blues-rock of "Long Live Rock", Townshend's wellspring of timeless hooks and unforgettable choruses is seemingly boundless. He thrashes his fender again on an effervescent version of "Run Run Run." The bonus disc contains live versions of a few Tommy tracks ("Pinball Wizard", "See Me, Feel Me") and a glorious run through "Heaven And Hell" with Keith Moon thrashing his drum kit. Nobody played with as much energy and explosiveness as The Who. BBC Sessions were the perfect setting for the band to show off its live chops, and the band tore it up.
The four musicians that comprise The Letter E come from relatively similar musical backgrounds, hailing from such bands as Rex, June Of 44, Lungfish, and Sonora Pine among others. This EP was recorded just over two years ago in a building in Brooklyn, New York that has since burned down. These four instrumentals at first sound like a textbook case of post-Polvo math rock, but further listening reveals truly elegiac melodies and memorable riffs. As structured as instrumental post-rock can be, The Letter E veers down unexpected avenues that sound neither confusing nor deliberately showy, despite the complexity of some of the changes.
“On The Corner” is really the only track that imbues any sense of Polvo as it could have been an outtake from Exploded Drawing with its quirky stop/start foundational riff. The remaining three tracks call to mind the members’ other projects only peripherally. “Number 2” contains all the ingredients for a typical June of 44 song, but it’s more succinct and upbeat. “Goodbye” fully defines The Letter E’s sound, which is a busy mix of interweaving melodies, scaling riffs, and snaky bass lines. “Bess In Bejing” is the EP’s darkest track. The sound of waves crashing in the background isn’t as cheesy as it might seem. The dual guitar/bass interplay is mournful as it builds slowly into a cathartic crescendo and begins again.
The band is recording a full length with Shellac’s Bob Weston this spring for a fall release. That’s exciting news as this EP certainly indicates good things to come.
The Starlite Desperation plays stripped down, blood and guts rock music without any cheesy effects or pretense. The music shows its aggression through jagged riffs, wailing vocals, and thundering percussion. Clearly, The Cramps and The Stooges inspired this band to pick up its instruments, but elements of new wave and sixties garage punk also seep into the mix. This band is American to the bone. “The Gold Rush” has a country-tinged edge to its punkish swagger. The production is exceptionally clean- strange for a dirty rock and roll band, but that doesn’t take away from any of its bluster.
Bristling with charged up guitars, classic chord changes, and over the top vocals, “Notes From The Drag” encompasses everything this band is about. “Mona Lisa Snake” masks lyrical absurdity with stone-faced punk harangue. Dante Adrian’s reverb-drenched vocals attack each song with rowdiness and desperation, like a young Elvis keeping pace with the singer from Clawhammer. This band sounds like it would kill live, but the confines of the studio seem to hold the music back just a bit. Few bands play pure rock and roll these days; Royal Trux and The Make Up are The Starlite Desperation’s closest peers, but even they veer off into more experimental realms.
Go Kill Mice is solid from start to finish. Each song crunches its way into the next with primal energy and gritty execution, leading up to the full-throttled explosion of the title track (“and if I ever get out of jail/I will look for her so I can scratch her tail”). There’s an element of silliness throughout the record, but it’s all in the name of rock and roll. Any band with a drummer named Jef Lepard has to rock. Go Kill Mice is The Starlite Desperation’s second album, but the band has a slew of singles under its belt on GSL records. Rock and roll is supposed to sound dangerous and this band makes it sleazy again.
Gathering up all of your indie rock friends to play on your album isn’t really a new idea or even a very good one. U.N.K.L.E. and The Sixths have both done it to varying degrees of success, but Olympia, Washington’s Paul Schuster has taken this sly marketing ploy and made a record that, at the very least, runs against the grain. Sure, all of Paul’s friends are slightly more famous than he, raising obvious questions about his motives, but he did play keyboards in the latter day incarnation of Some Velvet Sidewalk and has produced an handful of records by the likes of Julie Ruin and The Spells.
Featuring… purports to be an experiment in electronic music. Schuster passed out just over a dozen tracks to various friends like Kathleen Hanna and Calvin Johnson with the idea that they would contribute whatever they felt the songs lacked. Most contributed vocals while a few played guitar, melodica or theramin. The result may be eclectic but not exactly a consistent effort, despite the presence of such underground luminaries as Carrie Brownstein of Sleater-Kinney and Justin Trosper of Unwound.
“Secret Adversary” is a misguided attempt at funk with fey vocals that sound like a bad B-52’s caricature with male and female spoken word interplay. Lois lends her timid and wavering voice to the techno soul ballad “Hope”, which works despite the strange marriage of Lois’ patently indie rock voice and the bubbling electronics. Schuster’s former bandmate Al Larsen does a good John S. Hall impersonation on “The Skin”, which features definitively dark guitar work from Carrie Brownstein.
“Stepping Up To The Mic” is by far the catchiest song on the record. Schuster lays down a big beat with a repetitive bass riff and jangly guitars while he mixes in shards of guitar noise. It sounds patched together like the old school remixes from the early eighties. Kathleen Hanna’s spoken word segment flows well until she breaks into her affected and nasal singing voice. “Talk Too Loud” is unlistenable because of Tae Won Yu’s (Kicking Giant)tuneless and tone deaf vocals.
It’s a shame that Schuster’s friends demand so much attention because his songs rarely benefit from the intrusion. Only “Quantize” and “I/E” sound improved upon by the outside talent. Justin Trosper’s dueling guitar bits turn “Quantize” into the aural assault it was meant to be, and Calvin Johnson’s melodica fits right in with Schuster’s bass heavy grooves in “I/E.” Featuring… sounds forced and awkward like a gawky teen in his first band trying to decide what musical direction to pursue.
Sunday's Best is a quartet from Los Angeles, playing a tight brand of power pop with one foot in punk and the other in a weird Built To Spill sort of melodic rock. The band flaunts its harmonies shamelessly over muted guitars and crisp percussion. The hooks are undeniable, but the recording sounds distant and thin. The title track has a mid-eighties jangly pop feel, but the chorus reveals a definitive octave power chord progression that clearly indicates a punk background. The band's name and the reference to God's grace saving the day suggest that this might be some sort of Christian pop punk, but it is done tastefully without any hint of preaching or moral deference.
"Winter-owned" contains yet another infectious chorus with slightly abrasive guitars. Another religious reference with the repetition of the lyric "angels in the snow" adds more fuel to the argument that Sunday's Best is at least fascinated with if not motivated by spiritual endeavors. "First Instinct Is To lie" is a solid instrumental with cloying guitars that race between muted bursts and languid breakdowns. Sunday's Best has a slight edge over the crowded power pop-punk genre with its penchant for memorable riffs and saccharine melodies.
Do Make Say Think explores the accidents of sound and the limits of formal composition for a ragged and raw display of rock that feels primal and pure even in the face of its veerings into jazz. The jazzy breakdowns are only so-called because of the trappings of skittering drumbeats- the playing is far from cliched. The band maintains the same level of tension whether in the midst of a cacophony of noise or stripped down to its skeletal frame of guitars. Do Make say Think recorded Goodbye Enemy Airship The Landlord Is Dead in an old barn up in Canada, and you can even hear the crickets chirping in the background. The tone is meditative with smooth, fretless bass lines and the occasional brush-stroked snare.
This is the band’s second full-length, and the sound is much more refined. It’s hard to keep music like this in check with dueling drummers and a batch of horns, but the band never loses sight of its minimalist nature. The guitar/bass interplay is slow and beguiling but sometimes runs through bursts of sprightly pop as in “Minmin.” Electronics are present but not overwhelming. The purity of a rock record is maintained despite the technology involved. Do Make Say Think makes wholly plaintive music but provides its own outlets by way of sudden breakdowns and interludes. The horns sound lo-fi enough to have been recorded thirty years ago. Soundtrack music seems like a derisive term, but this music could turn a mediocre film into a something vital and bracing.
“The Landlord Is Dead” builds slowly into a tense, paranoid frenzy of emotion slightly akin to Radiohead’s “Climbing Up The Walls” but without the vocals. This is another album full of only instrumentals, but it’s so engrossing you’ll barely even notice. The band experiments with sad, bluesy guitars so soaked in reverb that they sound wet. The ghostly keyboards are unobtrusive and tranquil. The songs deconstruct themselves as they progress and withdraw. Do Make Say Think imbues dynamism with repetition and splayed harmonics, but it’s all constantly evolving. This is an album that will surprise you every time you listen to it. Do seek it out.
The problem with The Beach is that it shouldn’t have been made into a movie at all. On paper it probably looked like a great idea: Leonardo DiCaprio frolicking on a tropical island with an hot young French girl, but Alex Garland’s fast-paced first novel gets too far into its main character’s head to lend itself well to interpretation on the big screen. There’s plenty of action in the book, sure, but that’s not the crux of the story. Garland builds tension through the demoralization of the island’s inhabitants, a group of burnout travelers in search of an Utopian paradise. Things go awry when the travelers can’t completely abandon the technological world of which they are products. The film version of The Beach fails because it tries to make those few climactic scenes from the book serve as the main plot, sacrificing almost all of Garland’s insight and taut narration.
To compensate for Garland’s first person narrative, director Danny Boyle relies heavily on voice-overs, which rarely translate well on screen and come across here as ineffective and flippant. We never connect with Richard the way we do in the book, but Leonardo DiCaprio does fine with what he’s given. A lot of people were nervous that DiCaprio’s presence would make the film cheesy when he’s the least of your worries; the script is the real criminal here. Screenwriter John Hodge, takes enormous liberties with Garland’s plot, making the film a distant cousin to the actual novel. He injects more action, sex, and backstabbing to commercialize the film’s appeal. Consequently, DiCaprio has a lively sex scene with French actress Virginie Ledoyen, which is only a latent dream of Richard’s in the book. Also, Hodge abandons key characters from the book, focusing mainly on Richard’s descent into an animalistic mental state.
Hodge and Boyle are two of the key players that made Shallow Grave and Trainspotting, so expectations were high for this film. Yes, I know they also made A Life Less Ordinary, but, apart from the questionable Oh, God You Devil homage, it wasn’t all that bad. Boyle’s kinetic direction integrates Richard’s video game obsession well with sharp cuts and a techno-based soundtrack, but, apart from shots of the beach itself, it all looks and feels like an extended episode of The Real World gone badly wrong, complete with campsite singalongs and Phish garb. The movie is too thin because it glosses over Garland’s tightly woven and carefully structured plot. There is negligible character development, so it’s hard to feel any empathy for the characters when the inevitable conflict arrives in “paradise.” The Beach tries hard to represent so-called Generation X’s disenchantment with the commercialized world, but it ends up just adding fuel to the fire.