The Ghost, This Is A Hospital (Some)

The Ghost - This Is A Hospital The Ghost
This Is A Hospital
By: Eric Greenwood

The Ghost fits snugly into that crowded den of bands emoting through frantic dynamics, half-sung/half-screamed vocals, intensely personal lyrics, and post-punk noise, but please don't make me say the word. We all know what I'm talking about, so let's just move on. Keeping The Ghost's head just barely visible above its peers' is an uninhibited passion for its craft. The formula is so familiar you can predict almost every change, but The Ghost never sounds like its just going through the motions, even when it makes your skin crawl with an embarrassing lyrical gaffe or an over-extended scream.

This style of music – that will not be named – is like the bastard stepchild no one want to take credit for. It's so much maligned because of the droves of bands that simply suck at it, which kind of ruins it for the bands that do it well. You're automatically lumped in with the no talent crybabies just for showing up with the same influences. It's a curse you have to be brave enough to bare, if you want to forge beyond the unfair pigeonholing and inescapable trappings of the hipster critical circles that make or break you as you try to get your name out.

The Ghost adds some colors to the limited palette that Jawbreaker mixed and set over a decade ago. I'm not a huge fan of Brian Moss' voice, but he's certainly convincing in his desperation and anger. His shriek is throaty and guttural; however, his singing voice is somewhat non-descript. I much prefer singers who build-up to a scream a la Kurt Cobain or Justin Trosper, as opposed to the way Moss just randomly shrieks within a phrase for emphasis. The lyrics are way too melodramatic for my taste, but again, Moss is so passionate in his delivery it's hard to begrudge him a few screwy lines here and there.

Steve Albini lords over the engineering and much of The Ghost's tautness is enhanced by the knob twiddling of the world's most lovable prick. The bass is dirty and booming like old Jesus Lizard records, and the guitars pierce your ears like the first notes of Surfer Rosa. The Ghost's compositional skills certainly reveal more maturity than many of its emo-licious brethren, particularly on "Death By The Bay" and the stunningly brutal yet melodic "On And On." So, if you can extend your poetic license to include lines like this: "I'm starting a commune/all my friends are coming with no RSVP/no wait, I'm moving to the country/oh my God just let me be", then sign right up for The Ghost's relentless emotional wreckage.

This Is A Hospital is far from groundbreaking. For those unfamiliar with this genre, I can't even begin to explain how many bands sound just exactly like this. But as I said before, what separates The Ghost from most of its peers is its conviction, even in the face of ridicule. That will only get you so far, though. Points aren't docked as severely on a debut, but the next record will be judged with a much more critical ear.

The Timeout Drawer, A Difficult Future (Some Odd Pilot)

The Timeout Drawer - A Difficult Future The Timeout Drawer
A Difficult Future
Some Odd Pilot
By: Eric Greenwood

It would be easy to dismiss The Timeout Drawer's laborious instrumentals as retro-prog-rock wankery, but the arrangements have such depth and the analogue sounds such warmth and texture that it would be awfully shortsighted to do so. Moving away from the echoing chambers of crystalline arpeggios, which marked its debut, The Timeout Drawer ventures deep into the world of the Moog on its second full-length. The sparse and distant voices, which lightly peppered its debut, are also gone, allowing the band to focus fully on its carefully woven, often hypnotic grooves.

With rare exception, each song plods along with the same mind numbing, mid-tempo gait, but it's a deliberate effect. You will either be lulled into the Gary-Numan-on-Quaaludes-time-warp or simply fall asleep. When the tempo does pick up, as on "Dusty Planes And Daydreams Of Adventure", the spell is broken to reveal the skeleton of yet another Chicago-style post-rock outfit. The heavy-handedness with which the band delivers its instrumental tales of woe borders on unbridled grandiosity, but such pretentiousness is practically required of premeditated mood music such as this.

The distant icy cool artwork on Record Of Small Histories hinted at the wintry elegance of the music contained therein, just as the sun-glinted fluorescent emptiness on the cover of this album tells of its warm and spacious tones. The twisting Moog on "300 Years: 100 Pages" finally takes a back seat to a wall of distorted guitars, which you'll welcome with open arms. The drums sputter beneath the dramatic clash of jagged guitar noise and serene keyboards. It's a rare sign of life amidst all the artificial tones and textures.

The cheese factor pegs the red line occasionally, too, as eerily familiar sound effects, which probably freaked people out in, say, 1976, sound somewhat comical as a dramatic method in 2002. Thankfully, these moments are few and far between. And what would Gary Numan have been without a little cheese? Certainly not the same androgynous futuristic warrior we all know and love. A Difficult Future sounds more like a tormented past in a forgotten sci-fi film, but one that should be trotted out every now and again just to hear what it was like.

Moving Units, S/T 12 Inch Ep (Three One G)

Moving Units - S/T 12 Inch Ep Moving Units
S/T 12 Inch Ep
Three One G
By: Eric Greenwood

So, yeah, Moving Units sounds an awful lot like The Rapture, but that doesn't change the fact that this Los Angeles trio still rocks. The onslaught of post-Gang Of Four bands is almost overwhelming lately. Who would have thought a bunch of art school communists from Leeds would be so influential two decades later? Moving Units funks up Gang Of Four's staccato guitar assault with wiry, melodic bass lines, angular guitar riffs, and semi-effeminate, almost gothic drama queen vocals. The bass leads every song in a disco blitz while the drumming frantically tries to stay ahead of the melody- a formula that will force you to dance, whether you like it or not.

There's a garage quality to the production akin to The Strokes and The Rapture, which seems to be the sound du jour, but derivations and influences hardly matter when the bass line is as catchy as the one in "Between Us And Them." The high-end bass hook is truly irresistible, making the guitar seem like little more than gratuitous filler, even though it's holding its own, working out its own repetitive, staccato rhythms. The vocals are delivered in a mannered vibrato, but they flow with the bass and drums perfectly. The bass in "I Am" recalls The Cure's "The Walk" a little too closely in the verse, but it's just so damn catchy you can't hold it against them. The sinewy guitar bits play off the disco funk bass, picking up tension and volume in the chorus to add to the controlled mania.

Moving Units is less frightening than The Rapture in its artsy, angular attack but perhaps, more sexually charged, as its allegiance is more to the funk than to the punk. The lyrics to "Melodrama" are frivolous and silly: "into the disco/is where you will soon go/will you for pleasure/give up your treasure." But they're sung with such panache and decadence that you cannot resist the temptation to sing along. The weird melodic guitar runs sound so minimal and sparse compared to the constant, herky-jerky motion of the rhythm section that the songs often bewilder as much as they entertain. By "X And Y" the formula is fully fleshed out and familiar, almost running the risk of sameness, but the hooks are so damn memorable, you're already starting it over.

Beck, Sea Change (DGC)

Beck - Sea Change Beck
Sea Change
By: Eric Greenwood

Is it a coincidence that Sea Change is Beck's most maudlin album to date and he's now a full-blown Scientologist? Doubtful. Paying big bucks to get that alien off your back to reach OT level 7 or whatever must be trying for a sensitive soul like Beck's. I'm actually kind of disturbed that he has publicly embraced Scientology. Who in his right mind would want to join a cult that has lured such dolts as John Travolta, Jenna Elfman, and Kirstie Alley into its grasp? A "religion" whose leader supposedly uttered this farcical and ironic quote: "If a man really wants to make a million dollars, the best way would be to start his own religion." Why, Beck, why?

Beck just always seemed above aligning himself with such a tacky faction of phonies. Money and fame must have twisted his perspective over time. But, I suppose, as long as he doesn't start singing about "Thetans" and starring in movies like Battlefield Earth, I can suspend my disbelief that he's not a completely hopeless freak. Sea Change actually makes my task easy, although, I've struggled with it for weeks. It's such a downer of an album that I couldn't latch onto anything at first. This is odd because usually the more depressing something is, the more I tend to like it. I think I was put off by the calculated drama of it all. Strings mixed with Nigel Godrich's lush production made it all seem a little too cookie-cutter.

I even forced myself to listen to it when I didn't want to. It stayed on my stereo for days straight because I was befuddled as to why nothing clicked. After such an effort without much reward, I set it aside. I picked up again today for the first time in weeks, and somehow every single song just made perfect sense to me. I don't know if it's some kind of Pavlovian response to my force-feeding of it in weeks previous, but I do know that I'm officially hooked. The dichotomy of Beck's bare bones strumming and Godrich's overblown histrionics actually makes quite a musical statement.

The real inspiration for Beck's album-length breakdown is clearly the old clichéd broken heart. But Beck communicates his sadness better than most through simple melodies and affecting lyrics. His deep voice resonates with gloom. There's not a hint of the soul-fried player from Midnite Vultures, nor the ramshackle beat-poet troubadour from Odelay. Not one cheery moment to be found. Every single song pushes further and further into Beck's despair. It's a resounding comedown for a musician whose lyrics typically read like a message scrawled on the back of a toilet paper roll you'd likely find discarded in a crack house in Detroit.

Beck sounds weary and worn out. Like he's been to hell and back. This is his Blood On The Tracks. While the first half of the record is certainly good, it's not until track seven ("It's All In Your Mind") that Sea Change elevates itself to a level where you just know it's going to go down as a classic. The downtrodden chord sequence is gorgeous as Beck's lovelorn voice genuinely aches as it intonates, "you're all scared stiff/a sick stolen gift." "Round The Bend" is even more devastating in its atmospheric, moody dejection. The strings swell behind Beck's subtle strumming and his voice floats beautifully over the soporific orchestration. Everything comes together flawlessly on the album's high point, "Already Dead." When Beck's voice hits the falsetto note at the end of the chorus, it just melts you to the core.

"Sunday Sun" lets a little light through in its semi-triumphant chorus but still maintains the bleak tone of the rest of the record. Beck's inward turn is not a new revelation. He's bared his skeletons before (One Foot In The Grave, Mutations) but never quite this honestly or sincerely. His songwriting chops are in peak form. Some of these choruses blow my mind how good they are and how naturally they flow. Beck should get dumped more often if will produce a goldmine like this. Sea Change is easily on par with the top records of the year. I just hope Beck doesn't get sucked too far into his new "religion" and turn into a bad punch line like John Travolta.

The Raveonettes, Whip It On (Crunchy Frog)

The Raveonettes - Whip It On The Raveonettes
Whip It On
Crunchy Frog
By: Eric Greenwood

Something dubious is afoot when clear out of the blue both Rolling Stone and MTV – your sources for the sounds of the underground, right? – are showering a previously unheard of band with unequivocal praise. Add to that the fact that the band's debut release – on the Danish label Crunchy Frog, of all things – is available at America's white trash factory, Wal-Mart. Huh? Either The Raveonettes have some hell of a public relations firm, or the band is just lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time. Hype is dangerous. It'll destroy you as fast as it will build you up.

Listening to The Raveonettes' dirty garage pop does little to clear up the mystery. Sure, it sounds like retro 60's pop hidden behind the exact same gauzy cloud of feedback and distortion that The Jesus & Mary Chain used to such glorious effect on its seminal debut, Psychocandy, but it's not exactly earth-shattering. Style definitely outweighs substance in the world of The Raveonettes. Its image is immaculate, and its artwork is perfectly kitsch. However, the music is merely…pretty good.

While it's a relief to hear feedback put to such good use again, the simple three-minute formula that The Raveonettes employs does little to further any musical movement I can think of. Bandleader Sune Rose Wagner clearly understands the ins and outs of the pop song, utilizing repetition and top notch hooks to keep your ears twitching, but after about three songs you've digested everything The Raveonettes has to offer. What I'm trying to say is that dynamism is not an integral part of The Raveonettes' sound.

The opening track, "Attack Of The Ghost Riders", is as good an example as any of the band's reverb-heavy, coolly detached, retro rock. "Do You Believe Her" has an infectious hook and a pulsating drive, but so do the next song and the song after that. The sameness is tiresome, even on a record that's only about twenty-five minutes long. All this talk of "the next Blondie" or "the most exciting duo since The White Stripes" is a bit too much to stomach.

I'd probably be a lot more excited about this band were it not for so many untrustworthy people telling me how excited I should be. That's the curse of using the wrong channels to spread your message. I'm more suspicious than I am intrigued. And when the music fails to live up to gross overstatements like "this band is gonna be huge" one can't help but be a tad disappointed. It's all a damn shame, too, because Whip It On proves The Raveonettes to have much potential. It's fun, head-bobbing music, delivered with just enough attitude and indifference to make all the black-clad hipsters swoon.

Little Joe Gould, Like The Exorcist, But More Breakdancing (Eyeball)

Little Joe Gould - Like The Exorcist, But More Breakdancing Little Joe Gould
Like The Exorcist, But More Breakdancing
By: Eric Greenwood

Ok, so it's impossible not to mention the obvious contrast between the silliness inherent to the band's name and its song titles to its darkly gorgeous and tense music. Little Joe Gould (taken from an e.e. cummings poem) is a quintet from Bloomington, Indiana whose music is so dark it can't help but laugh. That's the only explanation I can think of to justify its inane album title, song titles, etc. But once you reconcile the severe dichotomy between the music and the presentation, it's easy to get lost in the band's ambitiously orchestrated, genre-defying music.

Of course, you'd never expect a band with an album called Like The Exorcist, But More Breakdancing to sound anything even remotely like this. This isn't tongue in cheek irony like snooty experimentalists Don Caballero spewed out, condescendingly, though. Little Joe Gould is sincere, incorporating the sprawling textures of contemporaries like Godspeed You Black Emperor, the post-rock doom of Slint, the hopelessness of The Cure, and stellar musicianship to create one of the most original albums I've come across in ages. The presence of vocals keeps Little Joe Gould's message tangible, separating it from all the instrumental Constellation-type bands that exist on the fringe of utter pretentiousness.

Perhaps, Little Joe Gould's secret weapon is its outstanding production. Not that the production is particularly slick, but it is heavy and organic and alive. The opening instrumental, "Those Who Stayed", is a dour piece, showcasing the cello's interplay with clean, arpeggiated guitars and buxom drumming. It's a flowing, expansive work that culminates in a mind-blowing climax that prompts me to ask where has this band been all my life?

"I'm Afraid of Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolfe" utilizes distorted, programmed beats to rumble repetitively beneath the sweeping keyboards and tension-building strings. Adam Turla's vocals fit right in. He has a clean choirboy voice with only a hint of affectation, but his dramatic yet cerebral lyrics ratchet things up to the next level: "expand the image/up the insults/negativism through and through/all of this pretending makes you feel a bit confused/you've spent your life losing yourself/and now you're marked as used." Now that's how you phrase some lyrics, by damn. If I were a gatekeeper, and that guy needed to get through my gate, whipping out some lines like that would be a guaranteed pass.

"A Caucus Race" continues the upward trajectory. Turla lets loose vocally, amidst exquisite instrumentation and truly stupendous phrasing: "casino lights still flicker in your eyes/your teeth taste faintly of flesh and gold tonight/you've been waiting for a long time between the dancing and the refill line." It's moody and beautiful and overwrought, but there's not a dull moment. Little Joe Gould unleashes the blistering rock on "You Are The Last Dragon (You Possess The Power Of The Glow)." Compositionally, Little Joe Gould is far more experienced than its years would indicate (average age in the band is twenty). Distorted bass beats itself against propulsive drums but without warning the song veers into a crystalline tangent, led by the cello and an old Fender Rhodes keyboard sound. It's staggeringly good.

The slow, lumbering beauty of "Intergalactic Menopause" builds into a jubilant crescendo, as Turla intones resignedly, "I guess it's time for a change/I never wanted a change/I think it's time for a change." "Those Who Left", the companion piece to the opener, "Those Who Stayed", is another bombastic instrumental, but having proven its songwriting chops beyond a doubt, such borderline indulgences are easily forgiven, especially when they are this breathtaking.

Like The Exorcist, But More Breakdancing is an astonishing debut. It creeps into your head, nagging you subliminally to play it again and again. From seemingly out of nowhere, this band has usurped the rights to all the accolades heaped upon lesser bands of a so-called "experimental" nature. If you haven't heard of Little Joe Gould yet, don't worry- it's just a matter of time. But if you want to get a jump on things, find this album now. A friend recommended it to me, and I can't thank her enough.

Shiner, Lula Divinia (Desoto)

Shiner - Lula Divinia Shiner
Lula Divinia
By: Eric Greenwood

Man, just as I'm quickly becoming a borderline obsessive Shiner fan the band decides to call it quits. Isn't that always how it works out, though? Discovering The Egg this past summer was one of the most exciting musical obsessions I've had in years. Now, I'm slowly combing through the back catalogue to see how it all evolved, and DeSoto's re-release of 1997's out-of-print Lula Divinia couldn't be more perfectly timed for someone in my shoes.

Shiner's sound stems from the mid-1990's math rock explosion but with a much heavier backbone. I don't want to say "metal" because that automatically dictates that it be cheesy, which Shiner never is, but some of the riffs on Lula Divinia could be construed as "metal-tinged." Allen Epley's voice is also one that may polarize some, as his register is deep and raspy in addition to the fact that he actually knows how to sing – but in a style not too dissimilar from some of the more commercial alternative-type bands – but worlds upon worlds better.

So a casual listener might think Shiner somewhat commercial-sounding. Bands with thick as molasses production and such blatant musical wizardry usually end up on major labels, but Shiner is and has always been staunchly independent, if not, ironically, somewhat of an uderdog. To write off Shiner as “commercial-sounding” is a shallow assessment. Shiner's arrangements are far too complex for any kind of radio, other than college, despite Epley's uncanny knack for coming up with irresistibly hummable vocal melodies. And, my God, how his band rocks. Drummer Tim Dow is a lead-footed wonder, pummeling a mountainous cacophony behind Epley's and bassist Paul Malinowski's monstrous and dueling riffs.

Like similarly minded bands Hum, Clockhammer, or even Chavez, Shiner's bread and butter are its technical precision and jaw-dropping dynamics. The band's sound is huge. Even the quiet parts make your chest vibrate. The opener, "The Situationist", unfurls in a rolling, somber arpeggio, as Epley intones in his lowest cadence, and you can just feel the tension building around the corner, but you're so unprepared for the colossal nature of its true momentum when it actually hits that you stagger backward in disbelief. Epley jumps into a raspy strain for the chorus, which is a glorious thing to behold, but far too brief. The song takes a divergent turn for next several minutes avoiding the verse or the chorus, so that when the chorus finally hits again, it knocks you flat on your ass. What a way to open an album.

"Christ Size Shoes" is an immediate joy to the ears. Epley's choppy riff is aggressive and driving, and his vocals soar over the noise. The music turns inward for the chorus, allowing Epley to belt out his ambiguously poetic lyrics at full throttle: "and at the rate of my exchanges, I’ll never find the shoes to fit these feet/ so sing for us and drink for us/my size cannot be found/it’s somehow, always/just a half size shy." The rock just keeps flowing on "My Life As A Housewife." Shiner's greatest strength is its ability to keep its heavy, loaded riffs as interesting and catchy as its melodies, and this song is the best example of such an unlikely marriage.

The playfulness of "Third Gear Scratch" reveals Shiner to be a band that doesn't take itself too seriously, which is always invigorating. Even at its most jovial, though, Shiner still retains a sinister edge- the toughness of its mammoth rock always looming like a dark cloud. The tense post-hardcore flail of "Sideways" is the most obvious case in point. One thing I've come to realize is that bands like Shiner are what I like to call "dude rock." Even though I've never been to one, I'm almost positive a Shiner show would contain very few ladies in the audience since the fairer sex rarely indulges in such heady guitar games. There are exceptions, of course, but I've been to my share of shows to know that not too many ladies dig on geeky guitar rock.

The quick assault of "Shelflife" bruises and burns with caustic chord changes and Epley's angriest and most cathartic vocals on the album. The highlight of the record, though, is probably its final song, the vast and sprawling "Cake", wherein Epley really shines vocally and lyrically. His melodies are always tense and visceral, and when he yells, "that's the novelty of this debate," it sounds like an avalanche is coming down. The interplay between Epley's guitar lines and Malinowski's bass bits is astounding here, but hammering it all home is Tim Dow's acrobatic drumming.

Lula Divinia is as grossly an under appreciated album as Shiner is a grossly under appreciated band. And the recent announcement that Shiner is ending its ten-year career is as frustrating as it is sad. Shiner never reached its full potential commercially, but creatively it leaves a staggering legacy. Lula Divinia stands as a formative building block leading up to the genius of what will stand as its final masterwork, 2001's The Egg.