My Music Reviews: Headlights, The Hotel Alexis, Dead Heart Bloom,
- and Woven. The local record shops and record labels have been kind
to me recently and I have lots of new music to talk about. Here are
four reviews I've recently written up. If you've heard any of these
bands, give a shout here and let us know what you think of their
Enemies ep / Headlights
This band is being touted as the 'next best thing' in the music
press and they have a full-length out titled Kill Them With Kindness
which I haven't heard yet. I have now wrapped my ears around their
previous effort, the Enemies ep, and the band does hold promise,
which I hope is realized on their new album. The Enemies ep runs
four songs long, the last one being the best of the bunch. What
makes these songs interesting, for the most part, is that they
aren't constrained by the traditional verse, chorus, verse format,
but mix it up a little in the song-structure pattern so that most
parts of the songs are delightfully unexpected.
The opener Tokyo has a laconic, alt-country vibe with the Tristan
singing the main verses in a laid-back, slightly hoarse and soft,
California-vibe way, and Erin harmonizing on 'n' off in the verses.
The main event here is the chorus bits with the bright, full
guitars, strings, shimmering cymbals, and the harmonizing male and
Centuries is the 'rock song' - under three minutes, with fast-struck
drums, watery guitar lines that turn a little rough on the choruses,
and a bright, more upbeat, expansive sound that contrasts with the
bleak lyrics "We all die someday.". Tristan and Erin harmonize
nicely and Erin sings sweetly 'doo doo doo doo' in the middle of the
song (yes, it sounds much better than it looks! LOL).
Everybody Needs A Fence To Lean On starts out with just Erin's voice
on the verse, very light and breathy, kind of like Rachel Goswell on
her solo album, but not as rich or mysterious as Rachel's work with
Slowdive. Tristan comes in singing, and I suddenly realize what's
been bugging me since the first song - he sounds like the dude in
Len who had that one-hit-wonder Steal My Sunshine. This bums me
out, but the guitar tones and Erin's singing kinda compensate.
There are bell-like notes, and the guitars on the chorus have a
fuzzed-up rock edge. Eventually the song settles into a mid-tempo
pace with tambourine, a slight bit of orchestral strings, and ends
with only Erin's vocals.
It Isn't Easy To Live That Well is the keeper track. Erin sounds a
little like Bjork in her inflection as she sings against liquidy-
picked guitars that cantor at a U2-like pace. The guitar sounds
flow into thicker guitar textures and get into 'shoegazer' territory
(in the Catherine Wheel rock sense) for a brief moment.
Headlights are hotly tipped because they combine indie-pop
sensibilites (low-key, sweet, kinda twee male and female vocals, lo-
fi, catchy songs) and, supposedly, 'shoegazer' grandeur (I only see
this on that fourth song, and only for a little bit). Hopefully
this ep is an appetizer for the full sonic entree.
Goliath, I'm On Your Side / The Hotel Alexis
If you like to sit on the back porch and stare out at the whispering
pine trees on a chilled fall night, stirring your tea with a twig,
chair creaking on wood floorboards, then you'll probably enjoy this
up-coming release from The Hotel Alexis. Singer/ song-writer
Sidney Alexis Lindner has the low-key, down-beat alt-country vibe
cornered, with solid, melancholy, kinda folky, somber musical and
emotional wanderings (that is full of varied instruments including
vibraphone, pedal steel guitar, mellotrone, and various noises), his
vocals close to Mark Kozelek's, but not as distinctive, fluidly
emotive, or pained as Mark's. If you're into bands/singers like Sun
Kil Moon, Sparklehorse, Wilco, or Neil Young, you'll probably take a
shine to The Hotel Alexis.
Dead Heart Bloom / Dead Heart Bloom
Don't you just love it when a band self-titles their debut album so
that you can't get even one clue as to how it may sound? Don't you
just love it when the band actually consists of one 'I'm-at-the-
controls' person, in this case Boris Skalsky, former vocalist,
songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist of Washington, D.C. space-gaze
outfit Phaser? Boris is at the helm of this concept album,
navigating the ship around the tricky shoals of life, dying, death,
and possible rebirth, embodied by a character named Henry who is
killed by a mob ("the marchers") and is elevated to sainthood
Boris works in many different musical and lyrical reference points
during the journey of Dead Heart Bloom, with the groove and vocal
intonations of Beck on Sodom, the early-Cranes-like (strangely
enough) atmospheric, mournful cello cries on I Hope I Stop Fading,
the Queen-type lyrics (circa Bohemian Rhapsody) of The Marchers Are
Coming, the channeling of Space Oddity-era David Bowie on Letter To
The World, and even the dark tones of The Man in Black's Folsom
Prison Blues. The album, in its intent and lyrics, is all about the
cycle of life and death, so the cover of Johnny Cash's classic song
is not out of place, except that it doesn't quite fit in with the
story that is being told about Henry and his travails.
The instrumentation varies from track to track, with an alt-country
vibe on the opener Listen, a 60s-tinged psychedelic organ and
marching drums on The Marchers Are Coming, a lush, romantic tone on
Letter To The World, and a 70s country-blues feel on New Messiah.
As the song cycle concludes, the songs become more dreamy in tone,
incorporating strummed guitars on Goodbye Farewell and There Will
Come Soft Rains (the rain signifying a washing away and renewal?).
Boris's vocals are straight-forward and plain, with lyrics that
specifically, and in general, reflect the themes of life and death.
There are a couple of throw-away instrumentals - well, maybe not in
theory, since the song titles Transfiguration and Transmigration are
transition states that are significant to the 'circle' of Henry's
life and death - but they just don't sound that compelling aurally
8 Bit Monk / Woven
That's Woven, not Wovenhand who are getting all the acclaim now.
This album is from 2002 and on its sleeve the PR print references
Massive Attack, Squarepusher, and Kid A-era Radiohead, if they wrote
pop songs - and how I wish that were true, but the link to those
bands is tenuous at best.
While I enjoy the moody, shifting melding of staticky trip-hop
beats, laid-back electronica, and harder, rock-guitar riffs (and
sometimes strummed guitar), there is an overabundance of sounds
thrown in the mix and on occasion the song structures are awkwardly
put together (as in, the choruses don't flow smoothly from the
verses). Most songs have a full sonic background, but lack punch
or propulsion over the long haul.
Songs are hit 'n' miss (sometimes within an individual song) and a
mood that is carefully created in the 'verse' section can crumble
under the strain of an unwieldy chorus (and the other way 'round).
I actually find this acceptable, as there are many songs out there
that aren't complete packages, yet are still worthwhile to listen to.
The mood-killer for me, however, is the lead singer's voice -
nothing against him (I think his name is Johnny?), but on average
his vocals are too light, plain, and not gothic or convincing enough
for the material.
The album starts off on an atmospheric tip (Pillage uses sinuous
Middle Eastern strings) and My Conditioning is mysterious, with
moody beats and picked Western guitar. By the fourth song there is
a change in sound, with the rock-guitar element coming to the
forefront, giving I Want You Yesterday and Astral Low a harder,
industrial edge reminiscent of Nine Inch Nails with processed
vocals, driving guitars and drums (oh, how I wish it was Toni
Halliday of Curve singing on I Want You Yesterday!), and low-end,
gritty synth notes (and incongruous 'bloopy' computer blips that
negate the darker tone of the songs), with the lead singer
exclaiming Trent-like, but coming off Trent-lite.
The middle of the album serves up another shift in sound with Soul
Fossa being a dreamier number with echoed and elongated vocals and a
The Cure-like glistening-water-drop guitar line in the background
that eventually builds up to a screaming guitar solo.
The songs that follow are in a more low-key, trip-hop vein with
eerie synth notes, clacks, bleeps, and assorted noises on Bubble
Wrap, and minor key synth notes and sinuous guitar lines on Sync Or
Swim. The beginning of Sync Or Swim features the vocalist at his
best - he sings in a lower, sadder register and is more effective.
Trepanation continues the softer sound trend with distant vocals and
strummed guitar, until the verse breaks out into a loud chorus
garnished with an intermittent, sped-up electronica beat. Rooftops
ends the disc with a languid guitar pace, the vocalist going up into
a higher register (sounding a lil bit like Thom Yorke), and sighing,
angelic background vocals.