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Silver Scooter

Silver Scooter

The Blue Law

Peek-A-Boo

Hailing from the music mecca of Austin, Texas, Silver Scooter has more up their sleeve than their tweed-out name would imply. The Blue Law, their fourth album on Peek-A-Boo Records, finds them writing sophisticated post-Pavement melodies and lyrics, all covered with a patina of mid-America ennui. This is beautiful sorrow (don’t worry, nothing self-indulgent or refried-gothic about it). References to the steadily dismal Midwest should ring true with all those who’ve lived in places that could be anywhere west of the Mississippi. For this reviewer, such is the imagery evoked on the second track, “Blue Law”: “Living in a house near Indianapolis/Turquoise planks and beer’s not sold on Sundays.” The style, both lyrically and as far as instrumentation goes, is reminiscent of Luna on Penthouse, but maybe even sadder and more dejected and melancholic. Silver Scooter also seem to have an affinity for R.E.M., Pavement, New Order, and possibly, Vic Chesnutt. They’re very capable of channeling their influences into a distinct sound. It’s not the sort of music you’ve never heard before or the kind of sound that makes your brow crinkle with puzzlement. But Silver Scooter’s humility, or possibly disinterest, regarding the whole originality vs. secondary source quandary, is refreshing. “I know I’m not original, or even typical,” sings Scott Garred on the opener, “Goodbye.” That’s quite all right. Songs as superb and timeless as Silver Scooter’s need not reinvent the wheel.

Peek-A-Boo Records, PO Box 49542, Austin, TX 78765; http://www.peekaboorecords.com

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The Pernice Brothers

The Pernice Brothers

The World Won’t End

Ashmont

Much like their 1998 debut, Overcome By Happiness, The Pernice Brothers’ new effort is a study in intelligent, resplendent pop. Joe Pernice is a wizard of melody and solid tunes. He weaves songs from thin air. It’s the stuff that should be coming from a think tank of songsmiths. Releasing The World Won’t End on his newly created Ashmont Records, Pernice has once again thrown down the gauntlet (it’s doubtful that anyone will be able to pick it up). In addition to The Pernice Brothers, Joe has exercised his musical chops previously in The Scud Mountain Boys, Chappaquiddick Skyline, and as a solo artist. These other ventures don’t seem to reach the same level of pop proficiency as do the Brothers Pernice. Call this new record a beacon of pop genius or a lighthouse among flashlights, The World Won’t End is a bright spot in relatively dim year for indie. Continuing in the same vein as Overcome By Happiness (which had incredible hits like “Crestfallen,” “Overcome By Happiness,” and “Monkey Suit”), the new LP is packed with should-be radio classics (that is, if the radio didn’t operate on a fourth grade listening level). Leading off with the catchy “Working Girls” and “7:30,” the CD plays on with ne’er a weak number. Saying it’s a strong CD is gross understatement. Orch-pop never sounded so good as it does on “She Heightened Everything,” perhaps the best track on the disc. For fans of classic sounding pop (be it ELO, selected Guided By Voices, George Harrison, Badfinger, Elliott Smith•), this CD is essential.

http://www.pernicebrothers.com

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Music Reviews

National Skyline

National Skyline

Exit Now

File 13

Sometimes people just have a change of heart. Take, for instance, Jeff Garber and Jeff Dimpsey, legends of guitar-driven-rock outfits Hum and Castor. They’ve since decided to move into the scary, dark-pop realms of ’80s and early ’90s electronic rock. A good move, considering what a sinking ship certain brands of testosterone-fueled math rock has become. Now, as National Skyline, Garber and Dimpsey have found an eerie little niche next to groups like Manic Street Preachers, Suede, Radiohead (circa O.K. Computer and Kid A), Pink Floyd (Atom Heart Mother, Animals, Dark Side of the Moon, and Meddle) and U2 (The Unforgettable Fire and Zooropa). However, it’s safe to say that National Skyline is truly in the shadows of these formidable gloom-troopers. In fact, the only number really worth writing home about on Exit Now is “October.” On it, a running bongo beat plays behind a lilting guitar and Garber’s strained vocals. In some ways, this track sounds like The Beta Band at their most accessible, which is a great thing.

The other songs, though slightly catchy, aren’t as fetching as this first one, and can’t carry the record all that well. There are some interesting moments, nonetheless. The morbidly serious “Identity Crisis” has a decent Beck groove to it, and “Karolina II” is such an emotive song that it would make the Bono of Red Rocks blush. As “Karolina” builds in an ’80s-inspired, whirlwind crescendo, the bass starts a New Order run that’s pretty infectious. Without a doubt, there is no lack of sincerity on Exit Now. As an added plus, this record contains, in its brevity, some of the best music to listen to while you do chores (Ã la, all things Thrill Jockey). Yet it’s hard to take the sophomoric spooky lyrics very seriously: “I love you in the shape of swirling gas…” But maybe they’re meant to be a little tongue and cheeky? In sum, Exit Now showcases a few bright moments, offering a glimpse of what National Skyline might accomplish in the future. Here’s to hoping the reign in some of the mediocrity.

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Music Reviews

The Helio Sequence

The Helio Sequence

Com Plex

Cavity Search

I’m confused. Is my CD skipping, or is this the way that track one on Helio Sequence’s Com Plex is supposed to sound? Oh, things seem to straighten out at the two-minute mark, so I guess it was intentional, after all. Helio Sequence bring to mind Stereolab, Tahiti 80, and The Aluminum Group at various points. But international jet-setters or Francophones, Helio Sequence are not. Considering that its two members hail from Beaverton, a suburb of Portland, Oregon, the amount of innovation coming from this MBV influenced bedroom recording duo is pretty astounding. Still, the record just has a kind of abstruse feel to it. Maybe this is what Stereolab would sound like if they wanted to whittle down their fan base by subjecting them to a few more abstractions then were necessary.

That’s just one side, albeit the worst one, of Helio Sequence. At their best, as on the potent “Just Mary Jane (Calypso),” they wield a distinct electronic power pop. Wish as one might that they would run with this and leave the filler to other knob twiddlers, they just can’t stay the straight and narrow. So Com Plex has more than its share of gratuitous, meandering synth swells and random off-putting beats and electronic chirps. However, it’s worthwhile when The Helio Sequence change directions mid song. They do this enough to salvage the CD. For instance, just when it seems that “Transistor Radio” is going to ambient its way into a cul-de-sac of boredom, the song breaks out in a catchy tune that’s well worth the wait. This juxtaposing of soundscapes and more directional pop adds a kind of drama to Com Plex that is truly unique• but sometimes it might be better to just get to the point. Call it attention deficit disorder or impatience, but some people, this reviewer included, have trouble paying attention to noise for noise’s sake. That may be a matter of opinion, and as such might be neither here nor there. Yet, one thing that shines through on this record is a band brimming with potential and creative promise.

Cavity Search Records, PO Box 42246, Portland, OR 97242; http://www.cavitysearchrecords.com

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Music Reviews

Lenola

Lenola

Treat Me to Some Life

File 13

There are always those bands you describe to people as “something good to listen to while you study or clean the house.” The pantheon of Chicago/Louisville-sound groups and a whole host of boring post-rock logicians fit into this category. It was all meant to be so abstract (post-college white guy jazz), but it required no concentration to listen to it. Maybe that was the problem for all of its detractors• too much concentration on their part. Here is another oversimplification, but who cares: there are bands under the college rock rubric that have short catchy pop songs that are a joy to listen to, and then there are all those other groups that are fun to talk about, but a drag to listen to. Well, Lenola, somewhat like Japancakes, is trying to bridge the gap.

On Treat Me to Some Life, there are actually melodies that are recognizable as pop. No doubt, some of the numbers try your patience. (One song, “Derelict Organ,” goes on for about 2:15 before it actually changes. Thanks, but if I don•t want hooks, I•ll listen to reggae.) However, for the most part, Lenola’s experiment is a success. Genre-wise, they’re all over the map, yet manage to get all their horses going in one direction. It never comes off as if they don’t know what they want to sound like (as The Beta Band sometimes does). Real stand-outs on the disc include the revved up “Cast Your Lines,” “First Floor Killer,” and the Salako-esque “Lazy Eye.” Lenola’s sound is at once buzzing/droning and staccato pop. To mix a metaphor• something you can consciously sink your ears into. It’s as if you’re listening to Jim O’Rourke producing a very accessible, and much less Oriental, Macha. In part, it’s because of bands like Lenola that File 13 is shaping up to be such an excellent label. Here’s a label that knows all too well that a spoonful of sugar (pop) makes the non-directional music go down.

File 13 Records, PO Box 2302 Philadelphia, PA 19103, http://www.file-13.com

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Music Reviews

The No-No’s

The No-No’s

Tinnitus

Animal World Recordings

Portland scenesters the No-No’s have been at the indie-pop-punk wheel since the mid-’90s. Tinnitus is their second album and their first full length on Animal World Recordings. The No- No’s experience and proficiency is ever-present and their cast of characters is impressive. The band contains members from Built To Spill, the Feelings, the Halo Benders, and Tiger Trap. And they’re definitely up to the challenge of their pedigree. On Tinnitus, they deliver a raucous blend of belted lyrics and tight instrumentation. Stylistically, The No-No’s harken back and forth to the Fastbacks, Cat Power, and oddly enough, the Go-Go’s (could the name “the No-No’s” have anything to do with that last connection? Doubtful.) The Go-Go’s comparison is most apparent in Robin Bowser’s vocal delivery. She renders and punctuates her lyrics with compelling force, much like Belinda Carlisle did nearly 20 years ago. The No-No’s winning formula has something to do with their fusing older and newer forms: one part riot grrrl (a la Sleater-Kinney), and one part late ’70s angular art rock (with a wink at Television). Tinnitus is a solid record (and the interactive portion adds a nice touch to the CD). Moreover, because the No-No’s are much more musically astute than your average punk outfit, and because they’re edgier than almost any indie-pop band around, they have a unique and refreshing quality about them. It’s not often that someone comes along and bridges discreet genres so effectively, but this is exactly what the No-No’s have done on Tinnitus.

Animal World Recordings, 2205 Tanglewood Terrace, Tallahassee, FL 32303; http://www.animalworldrecordings.com

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Music Reviews

The Lilys

The Lilys

Selected

File 13

Enfant terrible Kurt Heasley has gone through a number of musical incarnations since the early ’90s. His group, the Lilys, has been a sort of barometer of what is hip in indie. Nearly ten years ago, he was a disciple of all things shoegazer. The Lilys debut, In the Presence of Nothing, bore a distinct My Bloody Valentine bent. By the mid ’90s, Heasley had turned to the Kinks, the Monkees, and the Zombies (much like his pals in the Apples in Stereo had done). Consequently, in 1996, Better Can’t Make Your Life Better, was a Davies brothers tour de force, including mod riffs and resplendent hooks. Now, the Selected EP is a stylistic mix of the best of the ’90s. Some tracks on the disc were staples of early Lilys sets, but never made it onto record. Here, they appear in full glory. At times it’s as if you’re listening to a confused super group, featuring members from Ride, the Kinks, XTC, the Byrds, MBV, the Apples in Stereo, and the Stone Roses. Unusual, but very appealing. The drone is here alongside tweaked little guitar licks. High points on Selected include the Andy Partridge-style “Touch the Water” (complete with faux-British accent), the Velvet Underground tinged “Won’t Make You (Sleepy),” and the raunchy intro “Any Several Sundays.” For being such a short EP, this is a real incredible disc. Looking back was never so delightful.

File 13, P.O. Box 2302, Philadelphia, PA 19103; http://www.file-13.com

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Oranger (Stephens)

Oranger

The Quietvibrationland

Amazing Grease

Why a band like San Francisco-based Oranger is not on spinART is beyond me. They’ve got all the key elements to do that label proud. There’s the compulsory nod to late ’60s and early ’70s pop legends as well as a clean and well-executed style. Quietvibrationland comes on the heels of Orangers’ first LP, Doorway To Norway, which won the hearts of a handful of critics and indie obscurantists. Their brainy reference points and turns of phrase were a plus for music fans of the classic pop stripe. They couldn’t lose with titles like “Mike Love Not War,” a twist that continues to have new meaning for those who keep up with Beach Boys infighting. Luckily, Quietvibrationland finds Oranger in much the same fruitful mode.

There are elements on this LP that bring to mind various ’70s bands playing Beatlesque music (e.g., Electric Light Orchestra, Badfinger, and to a lesser extent, Cheap Trick and Big Star). The ghost of Pete Ham comes a-haunting on the sullen “Sorry Paul,” “Lay Down Your Head Child,” “Falling Star,” and “Collapsed in the Superdome.” On “A View of the City from an Airplane,” Oranger sticks a little more directly to the ’60s psychedelic charts (like the Lilys or REM doing the Byrds). Without a doubt, they swing classic very well. It’s definitely never slavish. For instance, on the hooky “Stoney Curtis in Reverse,” they resurrect rock n’ roll greatness with a heavy dose of indie, similar to what Guided By Voices did on Bee Thousand and Alien Lanes. There’s so much to like on this masterful CD that it’s incredible that Oranger hasn’t already received much attention. More proof that the world is not fair to pop greatness.

Amazing Grease Records, 1501 Plymouth Ave., San Francisco, CA, 94112-1244, http://www.amazinggrease.com

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Dressy Bessy

Dressy Bessy

The California EP

Kindercore

Dressy Bessy have cranked out their share of buoyant and comely indie-pop throughout the latter half of the ’90s. Their 1999 debut LP, Pink Hearts Yellow Moons, showcased their twee skills and proved that Denver has more to offer than Broncos, skiing, and a hearty homeless population. Since Pink Hearts, they’ve been busily adding to comps and soundtracks (they covered Free Design on The Powerpuff Girls CD, and landed two numbers on the soundtrack for the film But I’m a Cheerleader). On The California EP, Tammy Ealom’s vocals give a saccharine-pop feel to the new songs. In this regard, the disc resembles the recent work of Papas Fritas and the Apples in Stereo (especially those numbers in which Hilarie Sidney sings). Robert Schneider, front-man of the Apples, who served as producer, has left his unmistakable imprint all over The California EP. The production has that warm, eight-track quality, similar to Fun Trick Noisemaker and Tone Soul Evolution. Even the melodies have a sort of Schneideresque feel, like tracks from the Marbles or the Apples. This is a definite asset. Yet some of the songs are hindered by Ealom’s flat vocals. There are albums in which pitch doesn’t mean much, but with the type of pop music Dressy Bessy shoots for, it’s an odd impediment. In particular, on “Hangout Wonderful,” the flatness is perplexing and irritating, especially since the EP is really good besides this. Chalk it up as a tone-deaf slip up. Regardless, their forthcoming LP, due out in June, is worth looking forward to.

Kindercore Records, P.O. Box 461, Athens, GA 30603, http://www.kindercore.com

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Cinerama

Cinerama

Disco Vilante

Manifesto

David Gedge, long famous as the frontman for the UK indie favorite the Wedding Present, has released his second lush full-length with Cinerama. Gedge is a pop wizard who has been drawn into the deep end of sensual indie, yet he’s not going for kitsch points (as did the hordes of Gainsbourg and Hardy followers). With Cinerama, it seems that Gedge has been filling out indie pop with slicker styles and smoother grooves in order to reinvigorate this sometimes-stagnate genre. Disco Vilante has this equation just right. Far better than 1998’s Va Va Voom, Disco Vilante, with a little help from Steve Albini, retains some of the Gedge edge that fueled the Wedding Present. In fact, Disco Vilante sounds like the Wedding Present at its best, although as a much more polished version of that angular outfit. The album evokes some of the energy and power that went into the Wedding Present’s 1994 smash, Watusi. A couple of the numbers on Disco Vilante, especially “Because I’m Beautiful,” could easily have appeared on Watusi. Continuing with amorous themes from both the Wedding Present and Cinerama, not surprisingly, the songs on Disco Vilante are based on both unrequited and requited love, desire, sour grapes, and women’s body parts. Some of the real knock-outs include “Your Charms,” “Heels,” and “Superman.” As usual, Gedge’s voice on most of the tracks is so distinctive (and strange) that it should provoke either adoration or annoyance. In the end, though, for those who are at all interested in resplendent, sexy indie — an unlikely mix — this record should come as a welcome surprise.

Manifesto Records, 740 North La Brea Ave, 2nd Floor, Los Angeles, CA 90038-3339; http://www.manifesto.com