Going Underground April '06
“Pop culture is produced by amateurs…”
--Albert Goldman, circa 1971
Cannibalism is a necessary evil in modern rock music. There is no escape from influences, inspirations and references. None at all. This is even more pervasive in the Internet age where one is able by a click of the mouse to listen to a range of music that only gets wider and wider. And of course, there’s the underground. As rock music becomes more and more stratified and genres become more and more limiting, there comes a time to throw off the shackles of categorization and celebrate the catholicism of what the underground offers. With that in mind, let’s see how far we can go with this month’s offerings…
From a Compound Eye (Merge)
Many cynics scoffed when Bob Pollard retired Guided By Voices – “Aren’t Robert Pollard and Guided By Voices one and the same?” – was the insistent refrain. Yes and no, I would argue. Pollard’s latest solo album, which clocks in at over 70 minutes, lacks one vital ingredient which distinguished the last couple of GBV releases, the guitar work of the incomparable Doug Gillard. Thus the guitars (played by Pollard and producer Todd Tobias) are generally under-stated and utilized in angular shapes and sounds, hearkening back more to the GBV approach before Gillard. In that sense, one may say that From a Compound Eye is unlike a GBV album. That said, the songwriter remains the same and thus, everything you loved about GBV you will find here – references to the Who, prog-rock, post-punk, nonsense lyrics and killer tunes. Loads.
Sao Paulo Underground
Sauna: Um, Dois, Tres (Aesthetics)
There is a palpable international feel about this album, despite its localized name. Rob Mazurek and Mauricio Takara are musician-composers that can claim affinity with the music communities of NY, Chicago and yes, Sao Paulo. So, this collection of instrumental tracks may leave traditional pop-rock fans a little cold but no one should downplay the craft and ingenuity on display here. Featuring hybrids of electronics, dub, samba, rock and jazz – or to put it lazily, post-rock – Sauna: Um, Dois, Tres will appeal to lovers of great rhythmic music – “Afrihouse” particularly is a beauty. Expand your horizons, my friends.
The Chrysalis (Universal)
Lunarin is a goth rock trio from Singapore consisting of Linda Ong, Ho Kah Whye and Loo Eng Teck. Sure I realize that this album is distributed by Universal but the Singaporean angle must qualify Lunarin as an “underground” band. The Chrysalis is the kind of moody, atmospheric, dark rock album that the likes of 4AD have been releasing for years. There is a prog-rock edge to many of the tracks that border on pretentious but the fine instrumentation and Linda’s delicate larynx more than compensate. There are some keyboard passages (especially “Shiver”) that would not be out of place on a arty film score which add to the overall ambience of The Chrysalis. It seldom gets more exotic than this, boys and girls.
Two Part Confessional EP (New Surf)
Pop-rock enthusiasts will have sussed out Larson’s point of reference the moment he begins singing with that confident, luxurious voice over plucked acoustic guitar. The sounds of the American West Coast in the early 70s as bands like Crosby Stills & Nash, Neil Young and America made a significant impact on popular culture of the day. Drop in a keen sensibility for the work of Gene Clark and Gram Parsons and the picture is almost perfect. Sure, you could say that Larson’s muse is nostalgia and his agenda is derivative but when he creates such beautiful music, these objections and concerns are irrelevant. Only a hard-hearted philistine would not fall in love with breezy songs like “Looking At December,” “A Better Day” (a collaboration with America’s Gerry Beckley) and “Play Through.” Jeff Larson demonstrates decisively that good music is music with heart and not artifice pandering to style and fashion.
Automatic Head Detonator
Well I never. Drum samples. Cock rock guitars. Cool songs.
Who does Automatic Head Detonator think they are? Apparently, it’s just one guy – Zeke Wray – who has been credited for writing, producing, arranging, sampling, looping and performing this profane, brilliant, arcane, mercurial piece of rock ‘n’ roll achievement. And it’s funny too – check out the hilarious “Piano Song (Fuck U All)” to see what I mean. So many things going here that it would take a couple of weeks (easily) to figure it all out. Indeed, you could probably rattle out allusions to Link Wray, Love & Rockets, Beastie Boys, Ween, DJ Shadow, Apollo 440 and more. For those of us who sometimes want rock ‘n’ roll to be fresh, visceral and in our face, Automatic Head Detonator is both disease and cure.
The Sleepover Disaster
Loud is the New Quiet (Overcast)
This Californian quartet is very focused about its sonic delivery. The shoegazing movement in the UK during the early 90s is its prime inspiration, which in turn were influenced greatly by the Big Music of the 80s. Is it a coincidence that this genre is gaining prominence and popularity amongst the youth of today turning stars of bands like The Editors, Stellastarr* and Youth Group? Not really, as The Sleepover Disaster has been in existence since 1998 and I believe are genuine fans of that glorious era. That said, whilst the guitarists seem to get the sound pat with all the right pedal effects and the songs are reasonably interesting, The Sleepover Disaster lacks that crucial energy and passion in its music that would have made all the difference. Still, fans of the aforementioned bands should check out The Sleepover Disaster for a competent shoegaze facsimile. And, oh, the sleeve is just nasty – the original shoegazers had such gorgeous evocative covers.
A good mix for you to consider and explore. I shall be back with more from the underground. Live well and prosper…