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   Friday, February 21, 2003  
So farewell then Merv Schrock, though we hardly knew you at all. Yes, the Nadine revolving door spins apace, drummer Schrock departing after just a few months in the seat. "The band is currently rehearsing candidates for a new drummer, and a permanent replacement will be announced shortly," they state confidently but "due to this little delay, we've had to push back our extensive touring plans until April." First up, however, is the band's SXSW showcase where sticks duty will be handled by Will Johnson who's already got two bands of his own, the mighty Centro-matic and it's drowsier off-shoot South San Gabriel. This Nadine/Centro-matic connection is getting pretty incestuous; CM's Matt Pence produces the long-promised Strange seasons album, a sample track from which has been available for a while. A cherry-ripe slice of Mayflies-Eagles rootsy jangle, Different kind of heartache contains the line 'The boombox plays a South San Gabriel tune...'

...which may or may not be a tune from the brand new South San Gabriel album, Welcome, convalescence which just happens to be imminent (March 11, to be precise). Listening to Smelling medicinal the dotted lines to the likes of Nadine don't take that much joining...

Also coming soon is the second album from Caitlin Cary via Yeproc Records. I'm staying out is slated for April 22: "“We made what I believe is a big, colorful record," she says. "There’s a purple song and for sure a red song, and yellow, and several shades of green." So now you know...

Cutting easily through reallyrather's flu-infected senses, Denison Witmer turned in a fine UK debut set at the 12 Bar. Tho' he'd apparently picked up a bit of a throat himself there was nothing sub-par about the quality of this solo acoustic show which laid bare his debt to the classic '70s singer-songwriter generation. He doesn't seek to hide this; in amongst perfectly-weighted gems of his own - Steven, Leaving Philadelphia, Closer to the sun, etc - Witmer dropped Jackson Browne's These days, the join being barely visible. (This song is one of a whole album of covers he's releasing soon via Fugitive Records of Seattle.) Though essentially voice and guitar, many of the finest moments on Witmer's albums come with the sparingly-but-tellingly applied blushes of bass, keys, percussion, and reallyrather anticipated having to do those bits in my head. But slightly suprisingly Witmer left aside numbers like Miles and Over my head and took on some of his 'full band' tracks like 24 turns 25 and Chestnut Hill, realising a satisfyingly full sound with some dextrous chording of his Guild guitar.
In promoting this show, Rare Pleasures (three cheers!) were the latest to pin Dension with the 'new Elliott Smith' tag. This blog has no idea whether Witmer is pumped/amused/bothered in the slightest by this (not very accurate) comparison but one thing's for sure, it ain't gonna go away so long as he continues to dodge a date with the barber! [DW | ES]

That was last week's highlight, what's up next? Praise be!, it's The Be Good Tanyas. All over the place over the next couple of weeks (despite Frazey's six-month pregnancy), the Ts have already been busy scattering their fabulously husky flutterings across the BBC airwaves. If you're not going to a show (shame!) check their great session for Andy Kershaw; Bob Harris follows suit on Feb 27...

..and for anyone curious about founder-Tanya gone solo Jolie Holland (who wrote The littlest birds), there's a big feature on her in this week's SFWeekly...

"We didn't want to tour for three weeks with a Math Rock band. Because there's a weird legion of people who feel like they can't enjoy anything, and they would be at those shows." Scott from Wheat explains why they're going out on the road with Toad the Wet Sprocket...
   posted by SMc at 10:50 AM |

   Wednesday, February 05, 2003  
"It's all been done! It's all been done!" says man of the moment Phil Spector of today's music in an interview in the Daily Telegraph mag last weekend. If this blog had the time, inclination and believed for a moment that it was an original thought, it would attempt to advance the argument that few pop moments have hit the spot as perfectly as The Chords' Sh-boom (Life could be a dream) from '54, the record which traditionally vies with Rocket 88as the first 'pop' record. After the addition of Elvis' sexual charge and the personalized politics of Bob Dylan it's all just been rearranging the furniture.
And we love it! Of course, some rearrangements are more distinctive than others. What if you end up sounding just like someone else? Being labelled as impressive revivalists or bandwagon-jumping copyists would seem to be determined largely by distance. Teenage Fanclub are revered for their Byrds/Big Star-isms; Cotton Mather and Beachwood Sparks each have a tidy stash of kudos (if not dollars) for their startling Beatles and Burritos, er, homages. Pity then Slow Reader whose eponymous debut is marked down for 'doing almost the exact same thing as the first generation of indie singer/ 11-song album with splendid songs so akin to Elliott Smith and Ben Folds it's almost uncanny' [Allmusic] and 'whose timing to venture into this sort of music is terrible, if not ridiculous' [Aversion]. Timing, y'see. If Gabe Hascall & Rory Phillips (for it is they) had kept this in the vaults for a decade or so they could've anticipated bathing in 'sly retro-hipness' or some such. But they've let us have it now and, on behalf of all those less rigorously pure in their judgements, reallyrather says, 'Hurrah!'.
Slow Reader exists in the blurry territory where indie-rock, power-pop and the 'acoustic emo' of current darlings Dashboard Confessional collide. 'These guys play the kind of music that Dashboard Confessional strives to, yet falls short of,' said Ink19 while another reviewer 'occasionally had to check the CD thinking I'd slipped in Grandaddy's 'the Sophtware was impossible to tell the difference. Except Slow Reader is better'. Surely you can't need any more comparisons to help you? Oh, alright then. A song called Anaesthetic for the amputee is Fountains of Wayne unplugged (and unhinged); album closer So this is it has pure Oranger fizz. The last-named is actually the only track fleshed out in full rock band fig, the rest being more sparingly and quirkly arranged.
The hallmark sound is acoustic guitar and/or piano, simple big-beat drumming (actual or looped) with Rory's harmonies artfully enhancing the light but shadowy(?!) lead vocal of Gabe. It's all tune-tastic sluggish-to-mid-tempo stuff with only the more studiedly ambitious piano number Cold cold death interrupting (and attracting the attention of the 'Skip' button). Rather brilliantly, the spacious, springy acoustic guitar of opener Politics music & drugs is supported by beefy drums'n'handclaps a la Queen's 'We will rock you'. For this listener the 'Just stop what you're doing and get into this' moments come back-to-back with the pristine pop of Every part of nothing and the simple folky groove of Fallen on the world. Busy rippling piano and a fat backbeat support the gorgeous vocal melody of On that day while Sweetest suffering goes out on what's almost a gentle waltz.
But this isn't completely easy listening. Audio fetishists will be 'challenged' by some of the production decisions (Aging in rhythm, for instance, sounds like it was recorded in a bathroom with the mic left the other side of the door) and lyrically it's the polar opposite of the hopeless romanticism which typifies the cheesier end of the power-pop spectrum. Gloomy, wearied fatalism abounds - all the more curious when reallyrather reflects that of late, when in search of a guaranteed good time, it has turned, as often as not, to this record. Who cares who Slow Reader sound like - the alt-pop revival starts here (about eight years early...)

Some new sounds:
San Francisco's Ral Partha Vogelbacher put out their 2nd release anytime now [interview]. It's called Kite v. Obelisk and if Red hot Tugboat is any guide, meet Bright Eyes' mellow, older'n'wiser brother...[mp3]
Which fits right nicely with this track from the upcoming new album by The Trouble With Sweeney, I know you destroy!...
And this is Flat black by Wheat. The three-and-a-half year wait will just about have been worth it if the new album's as good as this...
   posted by SMc at 4:52 AM |