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   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 |