After running Sebadoh into the ground in the name of the almighty dollar, Lou Barlow has foundered away the last few years without a musical home. He's played Karaoke with his back catalogue on tour, and even reunited with former bandmate Jason Lowenstein for a brief tour down memory lane. It's ironic that one of the most prolific songwriters of the last decade should be so directionless and inconsistent. Going by his own name for a change, Barlow takes the piss out of a genre he pre-dates and helped invent with Emoh. It's typical fare for Barlow: acoustic, deadpan, embarrassingly sincere, and yet still nostalgically appealing. Nowhere near as affecting as even latter day Sebadoh records like Harmacy, Emoh shows Barlow in a typically maudlin frame of mind, but the starkness of his voice is smoothed over with pointless overdubs. Even the cover of Ratt's "Round and Round" sounds like overkill. Barlow's music works best when he has a tape deck and some sad songs. Forget this studio crap and just push record.
Even in its heyday, The Wedding Present played the role of perennial underdog, hopping from label to label and barely scratching even the most outer rims of accepted circles in the United States, where it has languished in relative obscurity since its inception in the
mid-1980’s. In its homeland across the pond, however, The Wedding Present rode an impressive post-Smiths wave of single sales and courted a devoted audience thanks to David Gedge’s oddly eccentric vocal style, lightning fast rhythm guitars, and the undying support of Radio 1 DJ, John Peel.
To make matters worse for itself in America, the band took an eight-year hiatus, where Gedge dropped The Wedding Present moniker to form a duo with his then-girlfriend, Sally Murrell, called Cinerama. The latter band’s retro-leaning, Bacharach-inspired indie pop traded The Wedding Present’s legendarily quick guitar strumming and raucous
dynamics for orchestral arrangements and whispered harmonies. The result left most Wedding Present fans yearning for Gedge’s edge and growling yelp to return, but his charmingly conversational wordplay kept naysayers at bay, especially as Cinerema slowly turned up the guitars on each album, peaking in 2002 for the Steve Albini-produced Torino.
With Gedge’s 14-year relationship with Murrell in tatters, he decided to resurrect The Wedding Present brand name for its first album since 1996’s Saturnalia. Take Fountain was produced by the 1990’s go-to noise engineer Steve Fisk (Unwound), who first worked with the band on The Wedding Present’s 1994 classic, Watusi. Take Fountain doesn’t sound like The Wedding Present so much as a slightly harder-edged Cinerama, but Gedge’s lovelorn wordplay is in top form, as he recounts his painful break-up, play by play. The lead single, “Interstate 5”, is hypnotic, careening with chiming guitars that morph into weird soundtrack motifs in the dénouement.
Gedge's girl trouble has always been his pivotal muse. He relates the details with less ambiguity and less force than in The Wedding Present's prime ("Mars Sparkles Down One Me"), but the agony in his voice is unmistakable, even without crashing guitars hammering the point home. On Take Fountain Gedge uses his sharpened songwriting chops to present his case and again proves himself a master of the pop song. It's just that sometimes it feels like routine. The better he gets at songwriting, the less quirky the songs are, and it's the eccentricity that is missed because that's where the personality is.
Joy Zipper's blissed-out melodies are so lackadaisical and summery that it's hard to imagine real life partner's Vinny Carfiso and Tabitha Tindale ever uttering a cross word to one another. Obviously, hours of Beach Boys records, perhaps, some Jesus and Mary Chain, but mainly loads of drugs went into the making of American Whip, the duo's sophomore record. Kevin Shields even helped out with production, and you know that guy doesn't forget to get high. You can't blame puppy love for this, either, although, it definitely fuels Carfiso's ability to launch "I love you more than a thousand Christmases" out of his emasculated mouth. But don't be fooled by the lazy atmosphere and sometimes-drippy phrasings; Joy Zipper's lyrics are mostly dark and strange, despite the shimmering, upbeat harmonies. Evidence: "going away for a while/pulled back my skin and found a mannequin/if I am straight like a line then I'm dying/climbed up the same tree/my tongue's on the floor/on the cement." File under: wtf.