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New Music

Indy Music ~ New & Improved

CD reviews by Kent Manthie

Love is All
Two Thousand and Ten Injuries
Polyvinyl Records, 2010
www.polyvinylrecords.com

Here is another fantastic release from one of the best indie labels in the country: Polyvinyl Records. You may not be all that familiar with them if you live on the West Coast and/or listen to a lot of commercial radio. But I know there are those pockets of intelligentsia, swinging music lovers who are cult-followers of all things indie, eclectic and talented.
This album of which I speak is by a band who call themselves Love is All and their latest CD, Two Thousand & Ten Injuries s led by a teensy-voiced faery of a woman who sings with lovely abandon and in the background, the music has a more edginess to it – not one filled with “angst” or pretend nihilism, but with a genuine style and sound that doesn’t come off as reductive or derivative. It has an up-tempo feel, guitars rocking out, a big blast of beats to keep it all in line and it just coheres very well with her meandering, beautiful “little girl” sound that isn’t immature or all that “innocent” but has just the right complement to the music.
The “little-girl” singing melds just right with the sparse, at times, melodies and that voice is just so damn cute that you don‘t realize, at first, that a lot of the lyrics can be dark and depressing or expressive of an unhappy person, politically. This is all perfectly exhibited on “Early Warnings” and the title track. The closing track on Love is All is “The Birds Were Singing With All Their Might”, a sweet yet mystifying touch of love for their cult-following and, hopefully, the new ones they pick up along the way through college radio, word-of-mouth, lots of touring – playing small-to-medium sized venues and maybe opening for some god-awful pop band who is probably not half as good as Love Is All.
After listening to this EP (it’s a bummer, I know, but the whole CD clocks in at only 19 minutes) you come away feeling like you know these guys, as if you’d just invited them into your pad and had a cocktail or two and got to know their deepest secrets and their yearnings and burnings for their future and what they want to do with their music in the future, where are they headed, et cetera, maybe get in some other discussions as well if their g-damned publicist isn’t around.
So that’s what this EP does – it lays out the foundation for their sound-path, they experiment a little bit, by now having “found themselves” and the niche they’re cornering and with enough self-confidence, went and recorded this thriller of an EP – a demo to the world, you might say.
Next time around, though, I expect a full-length CD armed with pop pleasantries and plaintive wailing from the cutest voice I’ve heard in a while.

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Japandroids
Post-Nothing
Polyvinyl Records, 2009
www.japandroids.com

“A brutal force of joyous abandon.” (-NME #39). That really sums up the debut from the beautiful music of Japandroids, Post Nothing. To show how popular they are getting (and this is in no part due to any radio hype or any hype of any kind except word-of-mouth) try checking it out (or even finding it) at your local library. At my local branch it was on hold for 8 different people. I put myself on the list because I knew I’d want this CD just because they are on Polyvinyl Records and being very hip to PVR, meaning everything I’ve gotten from them has been a good CD; paradigm-shifting at their best, repetition at its worst. You can’t say that about a lot of labels (especially the major labels).
Anyway, just so you don’t expect some pots and pans and white noise that Japanese-art bands (think: the Boredoms) are known for, just know that Japandroids are not from Japan – they are two white boys from somewhere in the US, probably the Midwest.
A couple songs worth mentioning here would be “I Quit Girls” – written probably due to a promising relationship that didn’t gel, following in a pattern of similar happenings, not in a way that pines for one’s own homosexuality to become manifest (consciously or unconsciously). Another one worth mentioning is: “Rockers East Vancouver”, a jam-packed, beat-heavy mood swinger wherein the guys turn things way up and just let the music do the talking (well, the lyrics too…) with the really cool drumming and the anthemic guitar manipulation. Also, “Wet Hair” has a sexy mix to it along with an A for effort in their winning streak of slick, rocking tunes.
In all, the mood of the music is upbeat, no faux angst here and no blood-curdling “Emo” either. The only label you can really pin on these guys is just plain ol’ “rock ‘n’ roll” – as they’re not punk, hip-hop, experimental or pop and they certainly aren’t drone or ambient.
Next time they come to your town, make sure you get in the door to see them play. I’m pretty sure these guys would put on a energizing show and really entertain; no they don’t have a big, expensive stage show, a la Marilyn Manson or U2, but they let the music do the talking for them and that’s all they need for a backdrop.
I can hear how the studio, for Japandroids, is limiting and by getting on stage they’d throttle it to the max. I think it’s the combination of the bombastic drums and the screaming guitars working together yet apart, that makes Japandroids who they are and is the best way to start out describing them.

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Sarah June
In Black RobesSilber Media, 2009
www.silbermedia.com

In 2008 Sarah June recorded a CD for Timothy Renner’s Hand Eye record label. Soon, all kinds of labels were being thrown at her: “Goth Folk” “Wyrd” Folk and “Attic Core”. To me, though, it sounds a lot like Neil Young circa early-mid 1970s, when he did a lot of acoustic sets onstage (and later years too, but those were the best) with just an acoustic guitar, a harmonica and an upright piano that he’d occasionally play. That is what In Black Robes is all about: Just Sarah June and a guitar, the two of them being plenty to work with. Sarah’s got this high-pitched, childlike voice, that sounds like a little girl’s but make no mistake, Sarah’s all woman. And don’t let that childish singing fool you either: Sarah June has a sometimes vicious pen and uses it to creatively cut down idols that need chopping off, or sometimes she’ll stick a little political message or social critique, woven into those oh-so-sweet lyrics. Sarah is a good songwriter and would’ve been more of a sensation in those dark years (except for King Crimson and Bowie) of the 1970s, but with all the subgenres that abound today it’s no wonder that the “singer-songwriter” is making a comeback – after all, it’s just good songwriting, there’s no secret formula for that, just an innate knack for slick, catchy melodies.
As a child, Sarah took piano lessons and that helped her build the musical knowledge that she would need to pick up the guitar shortly thereafter. As a young teen, she began to write her own music, eventually dropping out of school, Sarah began pursuing music as her eventual calling in life and was adamant about fulfilling her dream. Hell, she already had a roster of original tunes and all that was needed was the space to play in and mates to play with and hopefully some studio time would come her way as indie folks heard more and more of her.
After recording her first CD, This is My Letter to the World, recorded for Renner’s Hand Eye label in 2008, which was received quite well itself, Renner eventually split to
focus on Stone Breath, another project with which he was involved at the time. So Polyvinyl was more than happy to pick her up and sign her, the result, so far, of that marriage being In Black Robes. PVR is the perfect home for Sarah June. There, they give her the space she needs as well as the time and freedom to create what she creates, then records it and sells it just like that (with a little help from a producer now and then).

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Carta
An Index of Birds
Silber Media, 2010
www.silbermedia.com

Another CD from Silber Media that shows off their “softer side” – meaning that An Index of Birds, the new CD from Carta isn’t a “Nu Metal” (or old metal for that matter), since Silber Media has been known to have some crazy, dark, black, nihilistic metal on their roster – sometimes experimentally so, which always makes it even more fun: like Philip Glass working with Slayer on some project or other.
Songs that stick in one’s mind after the CD is over include “Hourglass”, “The Likeness is Almost Undeniable”, “Santander” and the 11+minute “Descension”. While there isn’t too much diversity among the music, well, at least it stays consistent and doesn’t leave you wondering where they’re coming from. They have a little bit of Mazzy Star in them as well as the late, great Kirsty MacColl. The music is great, a bit atmospheric and hazy at times, but musically, the lush and bittersweet lyrics override a melancholy yet studied and perfected craftwork.
I see a big, bright future ahead for Carta as long as they stick to the indie avenue and put on great, unforgettable shows, which will then spread their name by word-of mouth and next thing you know, you’re the darlings of the critics and the hipsters that know what’s cool before everyone else.

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The Lost Patrol
Dark Matter
Self-Released, 2010

On the follow up to their debut CD from last year, The Lost Patrol come at us with this bliss-out of a CD, Dark Matter, an agreeable CD to say the least, no sophomore slump here – it looks like they probably played some shows around and then got back to work as soon as they could in order to keep the continuity going. Some bands, who I won’t mention here, have released phenomenal debuts and then rested on their laurels but by the time their follow-up finally came out it was like – who? – in this biz you have to be as relevant as possible because all sorts of soundz are going to come out of the woodwork during that time you’re not being creative.
On this slick, candle-lit dinner of a CD, The Lost Patrol, fronted by a singer with a very potent set of lungs: Mollie Israel who is part of a trio that also includes Stephen Masucci on the guitar, bass, the Omnichord and “programming” and rounding them out is Michael Williams, who adds his touch with the 12-string guitar.
The CD has an array of sweetness and light, but backed with a pronounced bass presence and a good drummer. The tight beats keep the music from turning into a mass of ether and floating away.
Songs like “Lay In Wait” and “In Your Blood” show off their “pop” side while others like “Justine”, “Calling Your Own Name” and “These Days” delve into the more moody aspect of them, the latter three are more slowed-down, atmospheric and melancholy. The songs are all credited to “The Lost Patrol” not to any one band member, which shows that it is a real collaborative effort.
Maybe it’s the way the CD’s been self-produced & released that gives the disc that certain “edge” that is just this side of raw, but polished up as best they can. For doing it their way on their own, Dark Matter has turned out to be a success. It’s got a diverse bunch of smooth tunes. Some chill-out, quasi-ballad-esque songs, melancholy laments, plus more upbeat, almost pop stuff that shines at its best, like “Calling Your Own Name” or “Play Me For a Fool”.
It’s hard to pin The Lost Patrol down because they’re all over the place. Of course, it’s always under “Rock” at stores or online shopping, but as for subgenre, you can’t say they’re “post-this” or “neo-that” and I don’t really know anyone I could compare them to except for maybe the Cowboy Junkies but at a faster pace and with more laissez-faire as well, musically, that is. It’s really just a good indie rock CD that isn’t too long and has originality as well as spirit in its eleven tracks. Let’s just hope that they keep on releasing CD after CD of this unique spirit of music.

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Casio Kids
Topp Stemning pa Lokal Bar
Polyvinyl Records, 2010

When first you hear just the name of the band (Casio Kids in this case) you can a lot of times catch a little vibe about what they’re about – take Cannibal Corpse or Deicide – just hearing those band names, if you had never heard of them before you’d still most likely be predisposed to assume them to be speed-metal or at least dark metal of some kind.
Well, it’s sort of the same with European pop bands – some of them have the cutest names, especially the Scandinavian ones; they pick band names that are warm and fuzzy and have a kind of pleasantness about them, either in the way the name sounds or whatever it evokes by its name. Casio Kids would seem like they’d probably be a cheesy, retro-pop band with no sense of irony; but in this case they’d be wrong because that’s not how the Casio Kids come across at all. They are inventive, creative and sure, they use a lot of synthesizers and drum machines and whatnot, but it’s done so artfully and the sound is beautiful that comes from them. It’s not what is playing the music, it is how well it sounds, how pleasing it is to the senses, not just the ears but the whole body all at once. If a song has certain hooks or bridges or catchy riffs that is all the better and there is plenty of that with Casio Kids. The only thing is that they don’t speak any English – or at least not very much – all the songs (not to mention the title) are in what looks like Danish or possibly Icelandic, but not Norwegian or Swedish. I can’t make out what the entire title of the CD is trying to say but it has something to do with the “local bar” – it almost sounds like they could be saying “quit stopping at the local bar” or something to that effect.
The electronic music that envelops the disc, behind a bemused, shy, kind of quiet female who sings in a wanton way, not quite grounded maybe, but who definitely knows more than she’s letting on. But the music itself, even though it may be electronic, has a real hypnotic aura to it and some of it is just repetitive and trippy enough to hold one in its sway, most of the songs are in the longish area – from 5 – 10 minutes or more in some cases. This gives the listener time to get lost in the music and come out on the other side, feeling like they were floating.
It’s hard to pick a favorite song or three, but just to whet your appetite, I’d say that “Gront lys I Alle Ledd” is a great one, a record definer, since it is the opening cut, it has to set the tone and it does that well. Two others that stood out to me include: “Verdens Storste Land” as well as “Finn Bikkjen!”, both have a blissed-out sense of wonder and the awe of someone in a trance or a child.
Listening to this CD it never really actually mattered that I couldn’t understand what they were saying, it was just their inimitable style and that almost universal sense of pop and rock as well as the more mystical elements it can bring with the electronics that make up the “band”, except for some stray percussion instruments and the occasional acoustic or electric guitar in the background. It is truly something that crossed the language and (somewhat) cultural barriers to some extent, by bringing this to a US audience. They may have to have a bit of patience – Americans are so “right now, right now” that they’re going to have to be those more intelligent ones that can slowly absorb and appreciate the complexities of something like this. Enjoy!

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– KM

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