Monthly Archives: November 2009

Cheap Time “self-titled”

Cheap Time
(In the Red: 2008)


I had skipped over this one, as I had heard it described as “new wave” one too many times.  I am many things, but I cannot count among them ‘a man with a hard on for lots of new wave albums’.  So I felt pretty safe leaving this one on the racks unheard and unloved.  But In the Red Records have been on such a role lately, and I spotted it in the used rack at my local record store.  So I thought to myself, “hum, I might pick that up.”  Then, “where you coming from now?  You hate new wave.”  Then, “but it’s only 4 dollars.”  And on and on, with the end result it being in the CD player later that day, obviously. 

 But this ain’t your mama’s favorite new wave band.  I can see why everyone insists on calling it that, but this is new wave with BALLS.  Big hairy balls, balls that have balls of their own.  (So let’s see, you have two gigantic balls, each of which has two balls of its own.  So this is a new wave album with six balls).  These balls don’t just lay around all day in a nut sac either.  No, way.  These balls like to get down, jump around, fuck shit and just have a riotously good time in general.  So yah, new wave, you’ll like this album if you like Blondie (fronted by Jay Reatard) or the B-52’s (fronted by Andy Falkous).1 

1  Editor’s Note:  if Paul is saying Cheap Time are like a cross between Blondie and Jay Reatard or the B-52’s and Mclusky, he is full of shit.  Nothing is that good.

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Rain Machine “Self-titled”

Rain Machine
“Rain Machine”

Rating: 7.5

Being one of the biggest bands in the world, TV On the Radio have little room for error.  If they release an inaccessible album they can quickly drop from the mainstream spotlight.  This might explain why singer/guitarist Kyp Malone decided to explore his earthier sounds with his side project Rain Machine, rather than forcing them upon his super group.  At first glimpse, Rain Machine sounds no different than TVOTR, but as the self-titled album unravels, it becomes quickly apparent that Kyp is the band’s George Harrison, willing to experiment with Middle-Eastern instrumentation and move toward more tribal horizons.

 Stripped down – this musical term, often over-used by music critics, fits perfectly in this case (call me a hack if you must). The drum machine has been stashed away in favor for tambourines, hand claps, and jingle bells.  The lack of a pulsing beat in the music helps make Kyp more down to earth, but at the same time, makes the music seem less significant and quaint.   It still features the signature TVOTR “double guitar lead” falsetto vocals, but the music is atmospheres away from Thin Lizzy’s stadium sound.  The album sounds like it could have been performed in your living room, although its trippy vibe may require a quick trip to Target for throw pillows and bean bags. 

Even the guitars, although often drenched in overdrive, seem to meander in a jumbled faze, fingers sliding up and down the fret board in search of a melody.  “Driftwood Heart” is the best example of the album as a whole, being a five minute mess of banjos, mandolins, and the soft “oohing” and “ahhing” of a ghostly choir. 

 On the first half of the album, Rain Machine balance the jangley with the more modern stylings beautifully, presenting a basic, soilly sound that works wonderfully. Unfortunately, songs like “Winter Song”, “Desperate Bitch”, and “Love Won’t Save You” take the sound too far. Each of them is over eight minutes of the band trying to find a melody that never takes shape.  By the time you reach the end of the album, you are tapping out. It’s just too much – too lost, too droning, too whiney.  While you’ve got to respect the band for following its muse, you wish that the album had more songs like “New Last Name” and “Give Blood” from start to finish.

 Despite all its flaws and extravagant rambling, Rain Machine has a simple charm to it.  It isn’t going to change the world.   The songs aren’t on worldly topics that TVOTR tackle.  No, Kyp doesn’t use Rain Machine to send any big messages. Instead, he sings borderline filthy lyrics like “I tried to change my name to Big Fag” or “You could have the fattest cock or the sweetest pussy.”  But in the end, maybe Kyp is making a bigger statement than I give him credit because amidst a recession, there is no better endowment to invest in than the one in your pants.


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Mew “No More Stories Are Told Today, I’m Sorry, They Washed Away”

“No More Stories Are Told Today, I’m Sorry, They Washed Away”

Rating: 6

A few weeks ago, my parents flew in to town to visit for the weekend.  During our touristy weekend, I took them to Mamacita’s, a Tex-Mex restaurant decorated to look like the town square of a little Mexican town, complete with a tortilla shop, cantina, water fountain, and a ceiling that resembles a starry night. I’d been to the restaurant before, but on this visit I noticed something new: an animatronic Davey Crocket standing atop one of the pillars, playing a faux violin. Although offensive as hell (can you imagine a Dallas restaurant featuring an animatronic JFK playing acoustic guitar?) I found pleasure in the awkward jerking of the American legend, as he moved clumsily with the mariachi recording playing on the loudspeakers.


But after Davey moved about maladroitly for 20 minutes, the music abruptly shut off, and a spotlight appeared over his head, where he stood frozen for a moment. Then, suddenly, what was once a distraction, became an eerily realistic violin performance that would put any Chuck E. Cheese man-sized mouse to shame.

Check it:

 Mew’s “No More Stories Are Told Today, I’m Sorry, They Washed Away” is a lot like that Davey Crocket mannequin.  The album starts with the unexpected swirling sounds of “New Terrain”, with Jonas Bjerre’s once angelic voice being thrown into a blender, masked in flanger and played in reverse, with a backward synth line to boot. Obviously, the title fits. The building tilt-a-whirl of sound leads straight into “Introducing the Palace Players”, an epileptic, off-beat, mind-fuck of sound.  The guitars are twangy; the beat is a half step off every few seconds – yet somehow it all sounds perfect.  At this point in the album, it is evident that this Danish rock band is capable of much more than their self-proclaimed “indie stadium rock”. 

 Then the experiment stops. The bunson burners are put back in the cupboards and the test tubes placed in the sink.  Although songs like “Repeater Beater” and “Sometimes Life Isn’t Easy” hint back to the possibilities their sound offers, the remainder of the album stays rooted in their signature sound of falsetto anthems with swelling synths and driving beats.  Unfortunately, their return to their tried and true doesn’t wield as great of results as “And the Glass Handed Kites”.  The songs aren’t nearly as anthemic, nor do they flow together as naturally and masterfully as their last effort (plus the 15 song marathon is a bit much). These songs lack the weight that the last album commanded of you; with “Glass Handed Kites” you couldn’t stop the album without feeling like you were stomping on a fragile chrysanthemum. 

 The more you listen to the strange songs on “No More Stories Are Told Today, I’m Sorry, They Washed Away”, the more you yearn to hear more of the bands gawky, new dabblings.  And really, as cool as it was to see Davey Crocket look so realistic, in a strange way, I preferred awkward Davey with all his flaws and foibles exposed for the entire audience of patrons and stuffed avocados to see.

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Times New Viking “Born Again Revisited”

Times New Viking
“Born Again Revisited”
Matador Records

Rating: 7

If you listen to most of the music on popular radio (yes, the ancient technology of radio isn’t extinct just yet), you are likely to hear songs caked in reverb and manipulated beyond recognition, hiding the artist’s flaws behind glossy over-production.  Times New Viking have always opted to go the opposite route, burying their catchy songs beneath a lo-fi production of filth that requires you to listen closely for the hook, drowning amidst the ear piercing squeals, crackles, and hisses.  Even when they joined powerhouse indie label Matador, they still opted for the “mix-tape run-over by a car” sound.

 Being a prominent leader of the lo-fi sound’s resurrection, it was surprising to read that their latest album “Born Again Revisited” would be a step toward a cleaner sound (to be exact, they claimed it was “25%” cleaner).  And they did clean it up…kind of.  The album is still noisy as hell, but on “Born Again Revisited” they rely more upon the growl created by their guitars than the buzz of a 1980’s tape recorder.  Having seen the band live several times, “Born Again Revisited” is the closest they’ve come to capturing their live sound. Don’t get me wrong, the album is still not up to 21st century recording standards, but in this case, it’s a good thing.  “Born Again Revisited” sounds a lot more accessible than past albums, yet it retains its lo-fi groove. Basically, it sounds more like a Guided by Voices album than anything they’ve attempted before.

 Of course, running TMV through the rinse cycle has its draw backs.  Now their flaws, which once were hidden, are up front and center.  For starters, the vocals of Adam Elliott and Beth Murphy seem generic, lacking any distinct definition.  While other lo-fi groups like Blank Dogs and Thee Oh Sees have found a unique vocal niche, TMV continue their ho-hum reliance on massive reverb.   The album’s 15 song noise marathon also lacks the same amount of pop gems that were more evident on their past offerings, leading you to wish they’d go back and give classics like “Teenage Lust!” and “Mean God” a quick remastering tune-up.  

Don’t get me wrong – there are some great songs on this album.  “City On Drugs” sounds like a cleaned up classic that would just sound messy through the “Rip It Up” filter, and “These Days” shows a slower, softer side to the band.  If they had trimmed the fat off the album, cutting out sludgy tunes like “I Smell Bubblegum”, “Half Day in Hell”, and “Hustler, Psycho, Son”, this could have been a short, sweet, treasure chest of memorable pop songs.  “2/11 Don’t Forget” is the album’s highlight, sounding like a 1991 Superchunk concert bootleg.  Hearing hints of Mack beneath the still evident hissing makes you wish the band would drop the lo-fi gimmick all together. If only they’d go for 50%, I’d be happy like a fool.

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