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Starflyer 59

Starflyer 59

Ghosts From The Past

Tooth & Nail

Starflyer 59’s double disc collection of alternate takes, b-sides, and covers may seem an intimidating starting point for a virgin listener, but from the first two seconds of the opening song “Automatic” it’s clear that the 31 tracks are going to serve as a primer for a fan in the making.

Conjuring the same calm and eerie air as the great British post-punk pioneers who knew when to use distortion and fuzz, and when to let the melody ride high and clear in the mix, the Riverside, California band has quietly been keeping the dream of Echo & the Bunnymen and My Bloody Valentine alive for 16 years — very much under the radar. Living inside of songs that embrace minor keys, Starflyer 59 are buried deep in gorgeous ache and vocalist Jason Martin personalizes that ache with both his voice and his lyrics.

Challenging the bewitching vocals of Martin for top billing are the sometimes lush/sometimes fuzz-drenched guitar work on this impressive greatest hits bundle. The sexy ache of the strings and voice combined straddle wondrous pop songs that beg to be devoured. Whether sucked on like the piece of candy that is “I Love You Like The Little Bird,” or gnawed on like the gritty “Mr. Martin” (whose secondary acoustic take would otherwise be sipped on like a cool lemonade), these songs are to be savored.

Mixed in with the band’s originals are notable covers of classic songs by The Smiths, and The Church.

Starflyer 59: www.sf59.com

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Music Reviews

MXPX

MPMX

Let It Happen (Deluxe Edition)

Tooth and Nail

Originally released in 1998, this rarities collection has been brought up to date to allow fans of the influential punk-poppers to have the definitive MXPX album complete with a bonus DVD of music videos.

It’s certainly an enjoyable listen, and places the band as forefathers of the Green Day/Blink 182 sound with a succession of memorable two-minute punk-pop songs. In comparison to the three polished new songs like the brilliant “Prozac,” older material such as “Creation” and “Swing Set Girl” are a little rough around the edges, but that’s all part of the band’s charm.

After 14 years, MXPX are still going strong and Let It Happen (Deluxe Edition) is proof that the band have both a proud past and a future to look forward to.

MXPX: www.mxpx.com

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Music Reviews

Joy Electric

Joy Electric

The Ministry of Archers

Tooth & Nail

Ripped from the ’80s new wave handbook, Joy Electric’s The Ministry of Archers is composed entirely of vocals, moog synthesizer and analogue sequencer. A one-man-show, Ronnie Martin fashions together songs alternating between a bouncy post-punk beat and cool calm aloofness. His melodies are strong throughout the album, though the disc suffers from a transitory air, where few of the tracks carry enough weight to be remembered beyond their closing second. His lyric subject matter, while delivered in a brooding tone, comes up light on substance, but as with most dance music, once the beat lures kids onto the floor, keeping them there isn’t such an intellectual feat. It seems like the indie scene has moved past this kind of melodramatic electro-pop. High quality as it is, sacrificing some of the sheen for a little extra flair or eclecticism would’ve made the disc more memorable.

Tooth & Nail Records: www.toothandnail.com

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Music Reviews

The River Bends

The River Bends

And Flows into the Sea

Tooth & Nail

The River Bends is the latest project of the prolific solo artist Denison Witmer. On this release, he joins forces with several musician friends to create a subdued and rather intimate release.

This record is solid, but it’s almost too mellow for my taste. Fans of Elliot Smith will have no problem warming up to this one, as the similarities to Smith are obvious. Warm and simmering guitars abound, and Witmer’s blanketing voice is the perfect companion for this style of laissiez-faire music. For me, it just didn’t leave a mark. But again, I’m not really a fan of laid back indie rock stuff. If you are, you’ll probably really like this album.

Tooth and Nail: www.toothandnail.com

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Music Reviews

Watashi Wa

Watashi Wa

The Love of Life

Tooth & Nail

Watashi Wa are about as sickeningly sweet as pop rock can be, combining the “safe” rock antics of Goo Goo Dolls and Superdrag, with the occasional punk reference points of softer Foo Fighters or Green Day. The Love of Life is, however, masterfully written, performed and recorded, making me guess that this record will be a huge hit in Christian circles, and could possibly garner Watashi Wa some mainstream radio airplay.

Watashi Wa don’t really bring anything new to the table in these twelve songs, as it’s pretty much an album of love songs, with subtle references to God. The guitars ring and jangle more than they are distorted, playing simple three and four chord progressions, as the drums (quite buried in the mix) keep the time going in adequate fashion. The stars of Watashi Wa are the vocalists. Their voices are tailor made for the big time: warm, perfectly on key and somewhat Beach Boys-esque. The sparkly guitars, warm vocals and feel good lyrics evoke a positive feeling that is almost impossible to avoid while listening to this one.

Will The Love of Life put these guys on the mainstream radio airwaves? It’s really hard to tell, but the hooks on this album are so incredibly catchy and syrupy that I found myself playing this CD several times just for fun, and I don’t really like pop music. If Watashi Wa can make me a believer, I’d be willing to bet that fans of melodic pop rock, a la Weezer, Get Up Kids and Superdrag, will enjoy The Love of Life quite a bit.

Tooth & Nail Records: http://www.toothandnail.com/

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Music Reviews

Starflyer 59

Starflyer 59

Old

Tooth & Nail

In a 2001 interview provided with the promotional material for this album, Starflyer 59 front man Jason Martin says that “A lot of Christian music is just trying to be ‘the other music’s’ counterpart…we’ve always tried to do what we’re doing, not just be the Christian form of some other band.” I’m not claiming to be an expert on Christian music, but this is something I’ve noticed myself over the years•often when I’ve seen such a band it strikes me that they’re basically doing what “secular” bands were doing two years ago.

Starflyer 59, although their records don’t owe much to Pete Townshend, seem likely to agree with his statement that “Most of my songs are about the idea that there is salvation, and that there is a Savior. But I won’t mention his name in a song just to get a cheap play (on Christian radio).”

I loved their previous full-length album, Leave Here A Stranger, almost from my first hearing of it, and it grew in my esteem to the point where it was my sixth favorite new album of 2001 The band, centered around Martin’s vocals and guitar and Jeff Cloud’s bass, are Christians but not, as it were, obnoxious about it.

Martin’s whispery vocals (he’s mostly abandoned the falsetto that featured on some of Stranger‘s standout tracks) and powerful songwriting here yields to his instrumental prowess. Starflyer 59 still make a reflective mix of dream poppy indie rock, but Old is a record which is much more interesting for its performances than for what they say. One of those CDs that make you remember how much you loved the band’s last one, you know? I don’t want to go so far as to say it’s not good…just not as good as.

Martin’s lyrical obsessions are just as melancholy and wistful as on the last record and the deceptively simplistic music reflects them with calm representation, animating pictures of resignation.

Maybe Starflyer 59 will never be one of the world’s greatest bands, but there’s soul here. This isn’t a new observation (is anything, really, these days?) but “soul” music need not sound like Stevie Wonder or Michael Jackson. Maybe especially not Michael Jackson.

While Martin is undeniably talented, he does not seem to have been blessed here with a surfeit of inspiration as a songwriter. Maybe that’s why, annoyingly, he chose not to provide lyrics for more than one song (“First Heart Attack”) this time. But I’d still hire him to orchestrate one of my records (if I were making any, that is) in a half-second. The CMJ New Music Report said Leave Here was “definitely before-bed music.” Old is like a “Next Day” sequel. A little looser and broader in its influences (I swear I hear a little techno in there, and you will, too, if you pay attention), brighter, brasher and louder. It’s pretty but dense, like a jungle or rainforest, and may be better off as background music than foreground.

The cover of the CD shows a man silhouetted in the doorway to what appears to be a bedroom. His back is to the camera and we cannot see whatever it is that he sees. My guess? He’s a dying man who has skipped the first four stages and gone straight to acceptance. Good luck to him.

Tooth & Nail: http://www.toothandnail.com/

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Music Reviews

mae

mae

destination:beautiful

Tooth and Nail

“What did you say? A cute, quirky, provoking emo record? An emo record that doesn’t plunder everything that’s gone before it, but doesn’t drown in obtuse ‘original’ intentions either? And it’s a debut?”

Well yes. The above conversation is the one that I had with myself when I first slipped destination:beautiful into the CD player. And this album has only gotten better with repeated listens. The awe is gradually being replaced with intimate familiarity as I follow the many strands on display, which leads me to make the following point about mae’s debut (yes, it’s a debut) LP: it’s incredibly full-bodied and layered, but the listening experience feels simple and fresh.

mae are an emo band in the least derogatory sense of the word (if emo can even be used positively any more), but they’re a pop band, too. They’re a little reminiscent of Sunday’s Best, like on the opener, “Embers and Envelopes”, which is one of the most straight-up songs on the album. Elsewhere they weave sunny synth lines and programmed drums into emopop gems. “Soundtrack for Our Movie” is a burst of punky pop energy, suggestive of the upbeat moments on Jimmy Eat World’s Clarity. And, “On Sun” incorporates some perfectly-placed drum-machinery and a piano coda, both of which are real shiver moments — the kind that make you think, “Wow, this is amazing!” (Because it is.)

Sure, some of it’s gushingly high school-esque, but, at the same time, it’s proof that overwrought adolescent emotion (and who can say that overwrought adolescent emotion something that we ever really “grow out of”?) can be laid down well on tape. Besides, there’s enough musical and thematic maturity on display here to silence any cries of “cry-baby emo kids!” that might be thrown mae’s way.

mae are a band who’ve got it utterly right — their synthesizing of so much into an album that feels uncluttered and intuitive is nothing short of breathtaking. destination:beautiful is one of the best emo-pop-rock records I’ve ever heard, and one of the few essential releases of 2003 to date.

Tooth and Nail Records: http://www.toothandnail.com/ • mae: http://www.whatismae.com/

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Music Reviews

Further Seems Forever

Further Seems Forever

How to Start a Fire

Tooth And Nail

Who needs Chris Carraba? These guys really don’t. The ex-Further Seems Forever frontman, currently every teenage girl’s favorite “alternative” singer (he’s the heart of Dashboard Confessional), couldn’t have pieced together half of these songs — not because he’s not good enough, but because this album is far, far removed from what Chris is putting out these days. From the title track’s hardcore overtones to the somber post-emo body of the record and the flourishes of sheer songwriting genius (“On Legendary”), How to Start a Fire stands alone as an eclectic slice of really fucking good music, with mere hints of Carraba’s legacy on display.

This album has grown on me immeasurably since I first received it. When a band can be diverse and never derivative but still distinctive and recognizable enough to retain its own identity, I’m impressed. The production values are nothing extraordinary, but they don’t detract from the work on show to any significant degree. Besides, this release isn’t one where lush instrumentation or intricate engineering form any sort of focus — Start a Fire is an example of how well guitar, bass, drums and voice can work on their own merits. If only everyone who bought the latest Dashboard release (UnpluggedTRL junkies singing louder than Chris included) would get their hands on this…

Further Seems Forever: http://www.furtherseemsforever.com

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Music Reviews

Twothirtyeight

Twothirtyeight

You Should Be Living

Tooth & Nail

To be frankly honest, a record like You Should Be Living is the reason that I completely love music as much as I do. This record is completely incredible, and is, without a doubt, the best record of any genre, I have heard in the past two years.

First off, let me describe the band’s music. They can easily be pigeonholed as an “emo” band, for they are extremely emo; but, just as Karate should not be categorized in such a generic fashion, neither should be Twothirtyeight. Twothirtyeight bares many a resemblance to early Karate, back before Karate became the primarily jazz band that they are today. Twothirtyeight is what Karate fans wish Karate had evolved into: melodic, intricate, emotional, moody, dark, deep, rockin’, and thought provoking.

I got my first taste of this band with the Regulate The Chemicals rerelease on Tooth & Nail at the end of last year, and I was blown away. You Should Be Living is better.

Lyrically, the band writes of subjects so personal and honest that some listeners will cringe at the sheer brutality of the truth within. It’s almost impossible to describe, but it’s like this: imagine that Chris Carraba (Dashboard Confessional) was actually believable… such is Twothirtyeight, believable Dashboard Confessional that rocks, too.

Musically, this band is completely infallible. The guitars are biting and grating, very Jawbox or Braid sounding, and the players are of very high talent and ingenuity. The little melodies they come up with are both somber and peppy at the same time. The bass guitar is ringy and overdriven throughout, but in a manner very tasteful and quite ballsy. Being straight from the land of perfect album mixes, the drums are very loud and just right in the mix; they hit hard, the bass drum is enormous, and the drummer does these cool little tricks on the snare drum (rolling and shuffling) that aren’t noticeable unless you’re listening through headphones, but that really accentuate the music (see “Romancing The Ghost”).

To be frankly honest, the fact that this record is so amazing scares me. The last time I liked a post hardcore record this much was Braid’s Frame And Canvas, and they never made another full length before breaking up. I think Hey Mercedes is OK, but Frame And Canvas is simply a masterwork.

I didn’t speak much of the vocalist yet, but his voice is both unique and completely right for this band. It’s both tortured, wise, grizzled, and pristine, and his delivery is laid back for the most part, but urgent when it needs to be. His voice is easily recognizable and unique, just as unique as Geoff Farina’s and, I think (this may be blasphemous), better.

Like I said, this record is the best of 2002, and one of the best records since the turn of the millennium. My all-time favorite bands, The Cure, Sonic Youth, and Bjork, are all at the point in their careers where they only put out a record every two or three years, so to have a new favorite band, young in their career and creating completely amazing music, is just wonderful. I’m so giddy and in love with this record that I can’t eat or sleep.

Twothirtyeight: http://www.twothirtyeight.com

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Music Reviews

Poor Old Lu

Poor Old Lu

The Waiting Room

Tooth & Nail

Seattle band Poor Old Lu return after a five-year long break with what is surely their most realized album to date. In essence, this is college rock played with emo’s ferocity — like Jimmy Eat World, really, only better. Poor Old Lu revel in great, incessant hooks, sweet and unassuming melodies, and do it with enough style and passion that there’s little use fighting back.

And while they surely don’t tread any new paths on here, it’s still done with an overabundance of ideas and a genuine love for the music, ensuring that it never sounds either derivative or too clever for it’s own good. “Crushed” sounds like a sure-fire college radio hit, “Now” is classic pop with a hook to kill for, and elsewhere they bring to mind both Matt Johnson and latter-day Tears For Fears. You’ll definitely need a heart for 1980s pop rock to enjoy this thoroughly, but if that’s what you’re after, Poor Old Lu is just what you’ve been waiting for.

Tooth & Nail Records: http://www.toothandnail.com