SILVER CIRCLES REVIEWS May 09

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  • Original Noise review from
    9/85 (reissued on Merge in 2009)

    VOLCANO SUNS
    Homestead
    The Bright Orange Years
    12-inch LP
    I can’t help it. Whenever I hear Volcano Suns I get this image of
    things crashing into each other—hard and loud. Sort of like that bit
    in the latest Mad Max saga (actually I think it’s in all of them)
    where the good old Mel heroically drives a desert-car-thing headlong
    into another Mohican-driven desert-car-thing—leaping out at the last
    minute. All for a good cause I suppose, only I have the feeling that
    if Volcano Suns were in the director’s chair, he wouldn’t have jumped
    in time.
    Well, if Mel is a man-to-end-all-men, then
    The
    Bright Orange Years
    is a record-to-end-all-records.
    Or at least somewhat erratic earlier live shows promised and sometimes
    achieved—it’s all here. And what’s strange is that it all makes
    sense; from the band’s self-capsulizing name, to the scrawled back
    cover that’s as messy as it is legible, to the furiously synchronized
    cacophony of the music itself—this record is so haphazardly together,
    it’s frightening.
    Perhaps the really astounding thing is that the final crash never comes—even
    when a song like “It’s Stewtime” seems intent on tearing itself
    apart in four different directions at once, it suddenly transforms into
    a blindingly unified chorus.
    One could toss out reference points like the Wipers, Hüsker Dü, and
    Fleasheaters but Volcano Suns don’t really need musical guidelines.
    More relevant is someone like Van Gogh, who had the technique to paint
    what he saw precisely and correctly, but allowed his mind to churn it
    all upside down before sloshing it out. He was rather horrid shades
    of bright orange too. (Polly Campbell)

    DREDD FOOLE & ED YAZIJIAN

    Bo’Weavil Recordings
    That Lonesome Road Between Hurt and
    Soul

    7-song CD
    Fellow fogies will remember Dan Ireton as the lung-busting frontman
    for Dredd Foole & the Din, whose often dirge-y but cathartic howls
    of pain and loneliness once even briefly employed Mission of Burma members
    as his backup band, so you know it wasn’t a walk in the park. If you
    didn’t know him then, you might not believe it’s the same guy. Whacked-out,
    largely free-form, minimal-ish acoustic sob ’n’ wail, and utterly
    haunting. Like the old stuff, it’s kinda dissonant, but oddly comforting,
    just a whole lot quieter and less, uh, orderly. Only one track is shorter
    than 6:50, and the opener is over 21:00, but it’s never boring, despite
    the apparent lack of tangible structure. The cover (great art, by the
    way) says everything is a first take with no overdubs. The press sheet
    (amazingly) says that early shows in this format were met with “indifference
    and downright hostility.” It also says he’s quit performing, but
    hopefully some recent shows will officially disprove that. This is the
    sorta stuff I wait for all year and never get, something completely
    outta left field that doesn’t rely on a single concrete formula to
    grab your attention and tax it to its intellectual limits. Brilliant.
    (Joe Coughlin)

    PLANETOID

    Shadow of the Planetoid

    11-song CD
    Their kiss-my-asteroid heavy metal approach and cockeyed sci-fi lyrics
    will probably guarantee this self-designated “ghastly tribunal”
    some sort of cult following among folks most kindly described as, uhh,
    “enthusiasts.” Now, I well remember the likes of Black Sabbath and
    Blue Cheer, and the music here really isn’t a very far cry from those
    theatrical showboaters of yore. For one thing, the grunting-to-screeching
    ratio is decidedly in favor of phlegm. For another, certain songs often
    remind one of certain highly esteemed and extremely collectible obscure
    garage punk classics: compare “Electro-Chemical Overload” with,
    say, “Action Woman.” For steak ’n’ potatoes fare this is surprisingly
    appetizing: better by far than Ponderosa though perhaps not exactly
    hundred-dollar prime rib. And the lyrics are… how shall I put it…
    diverting. They don’t sing about bees making honey in a lion’s head.
    Dig: “Now the parabola trap is sprung/As the smoke escapes from a
    dead man’s lung.” It sort of puts me in mind of what Frodo and the
    boys might punch into the jukebox when J.R.R. Tolkien isn’t looking.
    (Francis DiMenno)

    JAMES HOULAHAN

    Seven Years Now

    14-song CD
    This is such a great album—full of bittersweet lamentations and twanging
    guitars. There are a lot of good songs here, so let me name some highlights.
    “Paper Man” is so beautiful and plaintive—Houlahan is backed by
    an unnamed female vocalist who adds a haunting dimension. “Rocketship”
    is another really beautiful track with especially depressing lyrics.
    “Seven Years Now” adds some cello and piano to the album’s typical
    acoustic guitars for a memorable effect. “Rest Here Easy” incorporates
    some fiddle for a slightly more upbeat Tom Petty-like feel. “Diamond
    Highway,” which breaks away from the slow-and-sad format of all the
    other songs, is the only song I don’t like—it’s just cheesy and
    fails miserably at imitating Merle Haggard. Other than that, this is
    a great album chock full of melancholy but nostalgic tracks and I’d
    highly recommend it. (Emsterly)

    DAGGER OR A DRAM
    Post Colonial Records
    Dagger or a Dram
    9-song CD
    There’s a kind of neo-Crazy Horse/ Neil Young vibe on the first tune,
    along with a tight, rolling guitar sound. My curiosity was piqued. The
    country-esque twang remained on the next tune, an appealing thing without
    being overbearing. It was on the third tune that the word Americana
    as a musical term came to mind. Some would say, oh no. But it really
    sounded good. These guys have it together and know how and why they
    sound like they do. A lot of bands don’t have that self-awareness
    in their overall sound. Dagger or a Dram’s music exhibits confidence—that
    one thing so many acts try to convince people they have but don’t.
    The aforementioned styles sort of segue into a more modern sounding
    alternative awareness as the disc moves along, which is nice. All in
    all, a really good album from a bunch of guys who say they like to drink
    whiskey and rock out. (Mike Loce)

    WALTER NOONS

    Remixed

    29-song CD
    Hi, this is the bluebird that hops outside Slimedog’s apartment inhabiting
    Eleiziak, the bird of Zortar. Now for those who question this, it’s
    true that I don’t exist; only Slimedog thinks that I do. I reviewed
    Walter Noons before and I apologize if I gave the impression that lo-fi
    was said as a derogatory term. I, in fact, like most animals in nature,
    appreciate a more natural setting. Slick (as in oil slick), is usually
    a very bad thing, unless you’re James Brown or Kraftwerk. A lot of
    this is folky but not in the lame paint by numbers style that usually
    lands in my nest. This is more of an eccentric with a guitar bringing
    to mind someone cool like Neil Young or Tom Waits, both of whom he sounds
    nothing like. And this is a double CD that contains mucho tunes, not
    all I care to chirp to, but my tiny bird ears would rather listen to
    this than most because of its originality. (Slimedog)

    THE BYNARS
    Back From Outer Space E.P.
    7-song CD
    I should call it a 5-song CD, since two tracks are just sound effects
    (one’s seven seconds of clicking noises, the other’s a 28-second
    swooshy outro). Anyway, they describe themselves as “synth-space-pop-love,”
    and that pretty much sums it up. Shimmering, upbeat, lightweight stuff
    with bloops and bleeps. Thus I’m not getting the outer space angle.
    Outer space is cold, dark, foreboding, limitless, and possibly deadly,
    while this is an assful of sunshine. There’s even a track
    called “Sunshine,”
    which actually reminded me of the Brady Bunch kids doing “Sunshine
    Day.” It’s
    that frickin’ happy, even when they’re singing about relationship
    woes. Which is fine (lord knows lotsa bands have made snappy, infectious
    heartbreak songs), and they ARE damn good at it on a strictly craft-wise
    level. Not sayin’ they should be harder musically, but it’s missing
    that elusive certain something that fucks with your head and separates
    ’em from the others attempting this kinda thing. But I think they
    CAN do it, and probably will, even. I’d still pay to see ’em right
    now, which is more than I can say for most, because the overall sound
    and execution really are swell. I hear sincerity and great potential.
    The songs themselves, well… almost.
    (Joe Coughlin)

    THE SHILLS

    Ganymede

    15-song CD
    There seems to be wide range of influences displayed in this self-styled
    concept album. But also an almost definitive formula, comprised of a
    mix of Frankenstein parts scavenged from Queen, the Police, McCartney,
    Genesis, and others. Please notice that none of the above mentioned
    are exactly controversial. They are mainstream artists, and, no matter
    what their myriad charms, also masters, for the most part, of a calculated
    inoffensiveness. In the book world, writers who leech on to the work
    and reputation of more talented and original authors, and pen self-styled
    “sequels” to, say, Huckleberry Finn or Jane Eyre, are known as writers
    of “subsidiary works.” The same mentality appears to be in play
    here, though to nowhere near as grotesque an effect. I was never really
    tempted to shout “Write your own damn album, already!” Because there
    are patches of pathos, melodic invention, and blatant loveliness throughout
    this album. It’s not really for me to say that these stalwarts should
    get put their sophomore album behind them—and work to forge their
    tight and servicable approach to pop tunesmithing and channel it into
    creating more original and durable work. This ought to be a self-generated
    insight, which they may, in time, decide to act upon themselves.
    (Francis DiMenno)

    CARRIE AUSTIN

    Send Me

    12-song CD
    Hi, this is the bluebird that hops outside Slimedog’s apartment. And
    besides all the horrid debauchery I see in there involving power tools
    and farm animals I’ve actually witnessed them going to church. Well,
    it’s not a real church but one of those modern rock ’n’ roll churches
    where they have a band play with a stage, large P.A., lights, and video
    screens on either side. I mention this shocking revelation not only
    to help dismiss the myth of Slimedog’s inscrutability but this CD
    is Christian rock. So unless you’re a believer you might not relate
    to songs using God, lord, savior etc. (just substitute Suzie, my man,
    or beer). The music is pop/ rock with folky leanings, mostly upbeat
    and some songs start with an over fuzzed lead guitar that makes you
    think you’re gonna get some ’60s hit like “Green Tambourine”
    or something. We birds don’t believe in anything but the sky, which
    you can call God, we don’t mind, but now I’m off to drop my warm
    surprise on unsuspecting humans. (Slimedog)

    JEFF ROOT
    Root Cellar Records
    The Secrets of Love
    12-song CD
    There are lots of good songs to be mined from Mr. Root’s repertoire,
    though sometimes he reminds me of what my college ethnomusicology professor
    once said about Stevie Wonder: “Ah, yes—our young friend who writes
    so much.” Root’s songwriting is often in the tradition (though
    not at the level of accomplishment of) Bob Dylan and Randy Newman and
    Warren Zevon—albeit at their most mordacious. And he is not the most
    technically accomplished singer. A trouper, yes. A satirist, betimes.
    Sardonic, yet with a heart to care. Sure enough, on his latest project
    he casts about, sniping at various targets and indulging in his usual
    hooliganistic genre clowning: his self-announced “All I Want To Do”
    Beatles rip-off “The Heart of You” is actually a pretty neat song
    in its own right, and the novelty sludge-metal tribute “Like a Zombie”
    is good for a cheap laugh. Root alternates his gallery of the whimsical
    and the grotesque with some high-quality love songs such as “Across
    the Teak Parquet.” But there are, inevitably, in such a scattershot
    approach, some missteps: The reggae-fied track “Failure Is Freedom”
    is only tolerable; the title track is more than a bit treacly; and the
    metal-rap take-off “Snap, Crackle, Pop” initially seems too facile,
    though the alternating Chipmunks-homage sections are irresistable. However,
    his closing confection, “My Latest Masterpiece” puts me in mind
    one of those wide-awake goofs like Zal Yanovsky’s “As Long As You’re
    Here,” or the Kinks’ “People Take Pictures,” or even the Monkees’
    almost goony “D.W. Washburn.” Great stuff, and well worth the price
    of admission all by itself. (Francis DiMenno)

    MINKY STARSHINE

    75 or Less Records
    Unidentified Hit Record
    10-song CD
    Hi, this is the bluebird inhabiting Zortar who’s inhabiting Slimedog
    who’s passed out under the couch in a pool of vomit consisting of
    bourbon and cheese doodles. I know—too much information. Well, this
    is power pop—pop that’s supposed to be un-lame. But pop is poop
    with one less “o,” no? So what does this mean? Crystal clear vocals,
    perfect harmonies, catchy hooks, and a bit of energy so it’s doesn’t
    digress into Paul McCartney singing “Silly Love Songs” and more
    toward Cheap Trick surrendering the rock. It’s kind of in-between
    here, if’n you think the Raspberries are more wunderbar than the Stooges
    this might be for you. Me, when I take to the friendly skies, when I’m
    floating without a care, free in the breeze, where my mind is in a place
    that has no place with where I’m at, I’d rather listen to Rammstein-Coca-Cola,
    wunderbar. This bird has flown. (Slimedog)

    LAKE CHAMPAGNE
    Summer of Love
    4-song CD
    While this CD is a load of fun to
    listen to, Lake Champagne’s latest shouldn’t be dismissed as superficial.
    There is some great songwriting and instrumentation for the mind to
    feast heavily on. The songs are playful and feature lots of nice call-
    and-response vocal moments. There are jaunty Ben Folds piano romps
    and moody synth textures with just the right amount of reverb.
    It’s like the Monkees and Joe Jackson doing Slowdive and Elliot Smith
    with sandwiches in a Banana Splits lunchbox and a bottle of YooHoo to
    wash it down. The mix is sublime. Everyone should own this.
    (Joel Simches)

    WILL DAILEY
    Torrent, Volume II: By the Blue
    Hills

    6-song CD
    I’m just enchanted by this guy from the first song: he has such a
    unique and endearing voice that you have to hear to appreciate. It’s
    just plain cute—I bet this guy has no trouble with the ladies. These
    songs are very well written, extremely upbeat, and catchy—and Dailey’s
    got an adorable voice. “The Right One” is a catchy, upbeat song
    with a fantastic chorus that has been stuck in my head since I first
    heard it. “Tomorrow Still Comes” is a standout track with impressive
    guitar solos and an infectious chorus. The songs are a little bit too
    happy-go-lucky for me, but they’re still so good that I’m surprised
    the radio stations my mom listens to haven’t snapped up Will Dailey
    yet. But you should definitely check this guy out if you’re into happy
    melodies and uplifting lyrics.
    (Emsterly)

    CROP DUSTER
    Crop Duster
    6-song CD
    This band will surprise you. I expected a lot of high-powered
    indie rock, yet this music slithers into your cerebellum like an acid-drenched
    bong hit of wonder. The songs evoke an easy Uncle Tupelo/ Wilco/
    Grant Lee Buffalo rootsy vibe, while the keyboards and atmospherics
    are channeling the ghost of the late great Rick Wright circa 1972.
    The electric piano and organ take you far into the moss while the gritty
    guitars spin around the reverb drenched vocals, creating a picture of
    technicolor dreamscapes with film loops by Storm Thurgeson. I cannot
    possibly get enough of this. (Joel Simches)

    ST. HELENA
    Slow Jack
    6-song CD
    Slow Jack
    is St. Helena’s self-produced second release. Founded in 2003
    by lead vocalist and guitarist Patrick Teahan, the band evokes emotions
    through intensely beautiful melodies and insightful lyricism.
    The opener, “Fortune Cookie” is particularly worthy of repeated
    listens, as is “Oh Jane,” a track made all the more heartbreaking
    by keyboardist Magen Tracy’s backing vocals. Shawn King Devlin’s
    drumming is consistent throughout the disc, giving each song an added
    kick. With influences ranging from Pixies to Wilco, Wolf Parade
    to Neutral Milk Hotel, St. Helena is every indie enthusiast’s dream.
    As their one-sheet states, “Like the real St. Helena, the Patron Saint
    of Lost Causes, the music pulls from both waste and hope. The
    band shines a light onto your forgotten toys, your old wins and losses,
    and reminds you that you still have a chance. We’ve all got
    to dig to find some glory.” (Julia R. DeStefano)

    ROSS LIVERMORE
    …To Life
    6-song CD
    Livermore’s low key, almost brooding approach to songwriting evokes
    a late night chardonnay vibe. Flashes of Ben Harper come to mind,
    with little jazz excursions that remind me of Stevie Wonder. Livermore’s
    vocal gymnastics at times channel some of Jeff Buckley’s best moments,
    while retaining some of Norah Jones’ sunny lilt. The instrumentation
    is very organic—loads of acoustic guitar punctuated with bongos, piano,
    Hammond, and some understated jazzy drums. This album is great
    for late night drives with your best girl or when unexpected guests
    arrive to tell you about their trip to Spain. (Joel Simches)

    ADAM RICH
    100 Years of Summer
    5-song CD
    Rich’s songwriting hits the ears like a midmorning summer shower.
    His voice is certainly evocative of the moods he tries to create and
    is perfectly punctuated by his choice of instruments accompanying his
    mindful strum. Melodically there are flashes of Tim Buckley and
    Harry Nilsson, but lyrically there is nothing new here. What keeps
    the music compelling is the arrangement and the production. This
    isn’t a purist album. Voices drip with echo and the washes of
    reverb keep the music floating and dreamy, just like a hundred years
    of summer. See what I did there just now? (Joel Simches)

    SLOW CENTURY
    Slow Century Music
    Novels
    5-song CD
    This band has a cool dynamic between siblings Matt and Marya McLaughlin
    on bass and keys, respectively. They also both sing and have a
    free, alternative vibe going on in the music. Makes me feel like wanting
    to be a carefree collegiate again, with nothing better to do than drop
    acid and watch the sunrise from a Breakheart hilltop (ah, memories).
    Guitarist Matt Murray and drummer Greg Salvucci round out the ensemble
    effectively and add their tasteful chops to the musical stew.
    The overall concept of the disc is the McLaughlin duo’s thoughts and
    ideas on what it was like growing up. With material like this, one wonders
    what their next effort will sound like. (Mike Loce)

    THE SHADOWS SMILE
    Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horrors
    6-song CD
    This album tries to be Goth with a capital “G.” You have a moody
    guy singing in the lowest gravelly voice he can muster, punctuated by
    a female vocalist. They sing songs about howling at the moon and
    being dead and undead. They win points for having a real drummer
    playing, but the tempos are so shaky that I almost wish for an 808 instead.
    The fact their name is inspired by a Cure lyric from
    the
    Crow
    is a dead giveaway that their
    exposure to goth is limited to buying Johnny Depp T-shirts from Hot
    Topic when they should be at home watching
    The
    Hunger
    or even the original Nosferatu
    silent film instead. I am sure the live show is one hell of a
    spectacle, but on record sounds like a
    South
    Park
    parody of goth more than anything
    else. (Joel Simches)

    QUARTERLIFE CRISIS
    Jaded Romantic
    3-song CD
    After a few years of slogging it out in the club scene as Stronghold
    In Siam, this four piece decided to up the ante and go commercial and,
    as Quarterlife Crisis, has crafted perfect pop songs for MTV’s
    TRL Generation.
    Fans of Matchbox 20, Sugar Ray, and Third Eye Blind will giggle and
    wet their panties over the upbeat, sugary, pitch corrected indie pop
    on display here. I can’t help wonder why the world needs another
    one of these generic, MTV TRL formula bands. Even MTV put that
    tired teenybopper show to rest last year. It’s definitely time
    for something new and fresh. This isn’t. (Joel Simches)

    If you’re band or act is based
    in New England, and would like your CD reviewed, send it to: T Max/
    the Noise, 74 Jamaica Street, Jamaica Plain, MA.
    Then please be patient—we’ll get to it as
    soon as we can.

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