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Wednesday, June 28

No Pop No Stars Corner: Envelopes - 'Demon' - Cool Album.

Pop bands that deconstruct pop music are nothing new. But rarely are they this good. On first listen, I was ready to dismiss Envelopes, to relegate them to the “too smart and self-conscious to be meaningful beyond being hip” category. Name your favorite band and there are elements of said band on Demon. Talking Heads? Yes. Pixies? Definitely. Velvet Underground? Of course. Hazelwood, Stereolab, Magnetic Fields? Yep, yep, and yep. In addition to the artistic reference points, the album sounds like the great indie releases of ‘80s underground (Beat Happening, et al), and has the hipster checkpoints of male/female vocals and a Moog.

"Sister In Love"

Now, this review is like a Choose-Your-Own Adventure novel. If the above description made you feel super-excited to hear Envelopes, this album will be a perfect 10 for you. Stop reading and go buy the import version of the album to get that “I had it as an import!” edge on your friends. If the above description made you roll your eyes and/or yawn, keep reading. First things first: the DIY sound of the record is not, necessarily, a gimmick. The 11 songs on the record are in fact demos recorded by the band themselves in a rented house in the English Countryside. Demon is Swedish for demo, which makes sense, since the tracks are demos and the band is 4/5’s Swedish, also serving to absolve Envelopes of a trite Beelzebub reference.

The three opening tracks, “It Is the Law”, “Glue”, and “Sister in Love”, are no doubt the most indie-friendly and/or the catchiest songs on the record. They will probably be the tracks that get the band the most notice; it is the rest of Demon that (will) justify the attention. The fourth track is where things start to get interesting. "Your Fight Is Over” is a wistful melody, gentle pop tune in the vein of Belle and Sebastian, and that great track is immediately followed by "I Don’t Even Know”, another strongly crafted pop tune with a jagged guitar hook and some delicious "whoa oh whaa oh… hey!” backing vox. This one-two (or four-five?) punch is where Envelopes begin to distinguish themselves from all the other bands that can write a catchy indie single like "Sister in Love”.

"Audrey in the Country" is the offspring of The Velvet Underground’s "After Hours” but it’s still well executed and serves as a nice lead-in to the meat of the disc, the sequence of "My Fren", followed by "I Don’t Like It”. Then comes the album’ standout track, “Massouvement”, which is firmly planted in Hazelwood/Sinatra territory, but bouncier and with tasty slide guitar lines. The final track, "Sotnos”, is John Cale "Amsterdam"-ish, but no matter. By track 11, the Envelopes have proven that they are far beyond pastiche without comment or emulation without improvement. They’ll no doubt attract a great deal of press and indie-love in 2006, and it will be much deserved. Time will tell if the Envelopes were merely able to muster up one great album or if this is but the beginning of an artistically progressive career. But either way, Demon is a stellar debut album.


Text By Ryan Gillespie - Pop Matters

Envelopes Home Page

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Tuesday, June 27

Sonic Youth, Yea Yea They Are Truly A Real Dirty Old Buggers (25 years on stage by now). But Still, Fresh & Mostly Dark & Deep...This Is It!

someone i don't know posted at amazon this full of intellect text bout the new album...

That's what famed British DJ John Peel would often say about his favorite band, the Fall, and he meant it as a compliment. Despite their many personel changes, the Fall always remained the same--which to Peel meant brilliant. Sonic Youth, who haven't had a signifigant personel change in twenty years (Jim O'Rourke, who joined the band a couple of albums ago, recently parted amicably to persue a film music career), have instead been changing their sound. This has evolved naturally, over the course of their career, as longtime fans can attest. For "Rather Ripped," they've created a permutation even stranger than the experimental noise projects for their SYR label. This is--gasp!--kind of a pop album, with melodies and everything, and even more shocking, it's relatively noise free! Still, it's undeniably a Sonic Youth album, the same way "The Straight Story" was still undeniably a David Lynch movie.


Their guitars still chime and hum like you'd expect, even if they only occasionally go "boom." Kim Gordon actually seems to sing here--in tune, no less!--but it's the same Kool Kim we've come to love, not some lame American Idol wannabe. Most of the songs clock in under 5 minutes, and guess what, most of them are memorable. Strangely enough, the weakest song here, "Sleepin' Around," is also one of the noisiest. Nevertheless, with Sonic Youth's trademark odd guitar tunings and well-honed interplay, these are pop songs unlike any you'll hear this year. "Rather Ripped" is psych-pop that even the Flaming Lips couldn't pull off. SY's feet are still on the ground, but the guitars are in the stratosphere. There are moments of such sheer beauty that angels will be screaming in your head for a long time to come.

A closer listening will also reveal the band's experimental tendencies shining right through. "Do You Believe In Rapture?" is built around a minimalist sequence of bell-like chiming. The lyrics are also somewhat edgy, a sly comment on the absurdity of fundamentalism: "stand behind his light of love/hear him yowl his bloody tongue/hear him yell 4 blood and war." It's a rare moment of political commentary for the band, but with a song like this, totally welcome as well. "Incinerate," which would be an excellent choice for a single, has similarly violent lyrics: "I ripped yr heart out from yr chest/replaced it with a grenade blast..." This one isn't political, however. This is Thurston Moore's idea of a love song! It may be melodic and laid back, but still punk at its core.

"Do You Believe In Rapture?"

Elswhere, it appears that Lee Ranaldo didn't get the memo about making less noise, as his song "Rats" is as gnarled and dissonant as any in the past. This one is just shorter, so instead of a mid-song sonic freakout, the feedback is forced into the verse and chorus. Of course, instead of the monolithic noise of say, the Jesus and Mary Chain, with Sonic Youth it's like a roller coaster careening around your brain pan, shooting off sparks along the way. Other standouts are the lengthy "Pink Steam," in which the vocals don't start until more than five minutes into the song, using the extended intro for cool sonic interplay. "What a waste" is a raw slice of punk-pop, punctuated with whooshing sheets of vacuum cleaner feedback. The closer, "Or," is a sublime and subtle take on the most cliched of rock album clowers, the tour song: "what time you guys playing?/where you going next?/what comes first,/the music or the words?"

"What A Waste"

"Where you going next?" could also be about what the band plans for its next act, and even after all these years, it's still something that'll be fascinating to find out.

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The Art of Love Making
by Martin Wallace
music by Tindersticks...Hit It! (real player only)

Friday, June 23

Well, I Don't Really Like The Mekons For All Their Catalog, But This Song Always Made Me Wonder About The Ghosts Of American Astronauts...

Bio: 1963. From a book depository window above sun-blasted Dallas, Texas USA; a lonely gunsel watches the motorcade and cuts down the King of Rock and Roll with the magic bullet. Deprived of its refining influence, the nation falters and cowboys reclaim the west. A decade later, J.> Osterberg steals the famous car for a joyride with a ladyfriend. Her hair is the color of the blood dried on the upholstery. She says she doesn't mind. Clever Sintians forge a web of power in the balkanized states from their base on Lemmy's island. A failed deal with the American devil looses their uncouth fury and thins the ranks. the cell splinters, but band photo forays back to the continent suggest conquest is still possible, if not imminent. History has a stutter again. The Mekons are here for a little more reconnaissance.

1977. Never Been A Riot single is released on Fast. Jon Langford plays drums. Members are seemingly coming and going. the names are difficult to decipher. Only those involved know the real truth. The kids in England are angry. It spills over to America. The Mekons get picked up by Virgin Records. The Mekons get dropped by Virgin Records. Red Rhino and CNT push the ball a bit further.

1984. The country sound, with Susie Honeymoon on violin, plays it's hand with Sin Records. She joins the core of Jon, Tom, and Kevin. 1986. There is some touring happening in the States. All are excited. Sally timms adds sexy vocals to the mix, now as a permament member. Twin/Tone picks up the ball and passes it to A&M. Kevin leaves in 1989. Sad.

1991. Mekons hate A&M. Blast First and Loud run a bit further. Quarterstick scores touchdown in 1993 with I  Mekons. Critics view in amazement as the Mekons become cult hero supra-exploder on the Trans-Atlantic scale. Thousand points of Mekons: Chicago, New York City, Leeds, London. Subsequent Millionaire single and Retreat From Memphis LP solidify relationship. People rejoice heartily as 1963 is revisited. Full circle. History indeed does have a stutter again. And Reconnaissance is not the only thing on their minds. Late at night, when all the tourists have been put to bed, something shuffles restlessly through the hallways of Graceland. From within the walls comes the pounding of a secret heartbeat. A deathly chorus swells and the floorboards throb in confusion and sympathy. In a nearby motel, a couple unknowingly match the rhythm and shudder coldly. Back at the mansion the pulse fades and those televisions downstairs come alive, blaring the new of His return. He's cut another rock and roll record at last.

Check out this compilation, pulled out in 2004 by Cooking Vinly

Sunday, June 18

Loren MazzaCane Connors & His Guitar, Are Shaving The Dawn...

Loren MazzaCane Connors was born in New Haven, Connecticut in 1949. Best known as a composer and improviser, Connors has released over 30 albums on record labels across the globe. Music has always been a part of Connors' life. As a child he studied violin (which he credits with shaping his vibrato technique on the guitar) and trombone and guitar during his teens. Though in 1966 he began playing bass guitar in a rock band. Early on Connors was heavily influenced by his mother's singing as well. She often performed Johann Sebastian Bach pieces at funerals. This exposure to classical music led Connors to investigate the music of Giacomo Puccini and Frederic Chopin. Blues, particularly the works of Robert Pete Williams and Muddy Waters, also appealed to him. Instead of concentrating on music Connors decided to study art at Southern Connecticut University and the University of Cincinnati in the early 1970s. Though he quickly decided his music was more original than his painting. He moved back to Connecticut in 1976 and lived in a warehouse artist community. In 1978 Connors began releasing his first LPs -- an eight volume series of improvised acoustic works on his own Daggett imprint. Around 1981 he shifted from this style of free improvisation to a more structured style, performing mostly traditional and original folk music with singer Kath Bloom, which he recorded on his Daggett and St. Joan labels. Then from 1984-1987 Connors abandoned music and it wasn't until the end of this hiatus did he turn to electric guitar.

By this time Connors had ceased Daggett and was releasing his (and Robert Crotty's) work on St. Joan and recording regularly with vocalist Suzanne Langille. He also recorded under numerous names: Loren MazzaCane, Loren Mattei and Guitar Roberts before settling on Loren MazzaCane Connors in 1993. The 1989 LP "In Pittsburgh," managed to gain a growing interest in Connors. After moving to New York City in 1991 Connors released his most heralded album at that point, "Hell's Kitchen Park," on yet another label of his own, Black Label. Since 1991 Connors' profile has risen dramaticly. Portland, Oregon's Road Cone label became one of the first to issue Connor's albums for him. Since that time Connors has performed across the United States (including Alaska), Ireland, England and Sweden. He has performed with Keiji Haino, Alan Licht, Jim O'Rourke, Chan Marshall, Darin Gray, Rafael Toral, John Fahey, Thurston Moore, Henry Kaiser, Dean Roberts and numerous others. Suzanne Langille has continued to appear on many of his recordings as vocalist and songwriter, and has also edited and arranged many of his solo recordings. Currently, Connors often performs with his band, Haunted House, which includes Langille, guitarist Andrew Burnes and percussionist Neel Murgai.

Connors' recorded output has gained momentem during the '90s, making him possibly the most prolific guitarist in music. There are over 50 records of Connors' on his own imprints and on over two dozen other labels: Road Cone, Table of the Elements, Union Pole, P-Vine, Halana, Ecstatic Peace!, Father Yod, Drag City, Dexter's Cigar, The Lotus Sound, OO Disc, Hat Noir, Secretly Canadian, Family Vineyard, Megalon, Menlo Park, Persona non grata, Forced Exposure, Gyttya, Drunken Fish and more. In 1999 Glass Eye Books issued "Autumn's Sun" Connor's first trade publication. Text & Bio From His Home Page

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Album Of The Week By Boomkat: Loren Connors is a name which still may not be familiar to many of you despite a career that spans over 30 years in the sphere of the most tantalising and independent stripped down guitar music ever produced. Emerging from a rich musical background, Connors (his Grandmother’s surname, replacing MazzaCane) originally started recording and pressing-up his own records in the late 70s – but it was only in the late 80s that he achieved anything resembling popularity. It was a re-discovery by Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore, Forced Exposure’s Jimmy Johnson and Jim O’Rourke (among others) which catapulted Connors’ music into the well polished sights of the avant garde, and before too long re-issues were surfacing of Connors’ classic work and the delights of his blues influenced guitar improvisations could be enjoyed by those unable to track down his limited run vinyl pressings.

With a recording career that spans over an incredible 9,000 hours of guitar music, this epic box set compiles some of the most interesting moments drawn from long-deleted 7”s, oddities culled from cd compilations and, most importantly, previously unreleased works. Compiled with an evident show of love, the three cds here flow incredibly well and are just a pleasure to listen to from end to end, ranging from his characteristic slow, melancholic and pensive blues to more distorted and lo-fi tracks that almost sound like a cross between John Fahey and Vincent Gallo in places, taking in the debris of his surroundings. Connors has a spontaneity which is apparently due to his Parkinsons disease – he says he never knows which day will be his last playing the guitar – but the recordings seem driven by so much more than biological necessity, it’s as if playing guitar is his way of orating his views to the listeners, with words and emotions carried across the sparse notes. This really is quite an incredible collection, fans and newcomers alike should dip in without delay. Essential Purchase. Text By Boomkat - Go To Listen

More Info

"It's Almost Impossible To Believe, That People Were Making Music This Progressive, This intense, This Fucked Up & Forward Thinking" Back In 1978...

Trying to explain why this band is so good is sort of like trying to explain why ice cream is so delicious. Or why Bush is such a terrible president.
Or maybe it's kind of like writing an introduction for the new Pynchon novel. Or telling a few jokes before Richard Pryor comes on stage. Or throwing a couple quick passes before Joe Montana comes on the field. It's that daunting, that overwhelming, that impossible.

The trio of Charles Hayward, Charles Bullen and Gareth Williams known collectively as This Heat were one of the few bands that literally changed people's lives. Changed the way folks thought about music. I (Andee) couldn't believe music like this actually existed. It was everything I wanted to listen to before I knew that THIS was exactly what I wanted to listen to. Hit It Or Quit It publisher / rock critic / indie scenestress Jessica Hopper once wrote that she literally pee'd her pants the first time she heard This Heat. And it's not hard to see why. Without This Heat, modern, alternative, avant-garde music as we know it would be a whole different beast. Post-rock, math-rock, avant rock are hugely indebted to the genre shattering experimentalism of This Heat. Tortoise, You Fantastic, Yona Kit, Brise Glace, Psychic Paramount, Laddio Bollocko, Radian, Village Of Savoonga, Larsen, Starfuckers, Circle, Salvatore, I Am Spoonbender -- none of those bands would even exist if it weren't for This Heat, or if they still did you can bet they would sound a whole lot different. And that's just off the top of our heads, AND that's -just- bands whose sound directly reflects the influence of This Heat. Imagine how many performers and artists were influenced by This Heat but who let that influence manifest itself in not so obvious ways.

We once described This Heat as "Krautrock-ish hyper rhythmic tape-looped prog." Which comes close to succinctly describing the magical musical alchemy of This Heat, but still only scratches the surface. The sound of This Heat is rhythm and texture and dynamics. The recording studio as instrument. Every sound and every song is based on rhythm and texture. There are hooks, and melodies, but they exist to serve the rhythm and are often born from the deft manipulation of sound and tempo. Even the most static and repetitive parts manage to sound -musical-. There are vocals, but they are minimal and otherworldly, weary and sing songy and completely mesmerizing. A droning musical accompaniment to the haunting whirs and clanging percussion in the background.

Their entire catalog has gone in and out of print over the years, mostly out, with all of these records pretty much completely unavailable for the last 7 or 8 years. Rumors of a complete box set began to circulate a few years back and it has finally surfaced and it's everything we could have hoped for and more. Every single release, remastered, repackaged in swank digipaks, including a bonus live disc, a huge booklet, amazing archival photos, extensive liner notes, all packed in a gorgeous box. It's a testament to the power this band holds over their fans that pretty much everyone who owns all of these records already will buy the box without a second thought. We're almost jealous of folks who have never even heard This Heat. The thought of entering into this box set completely blind, is almost frightening, as the world of This Heat is so singular, so powerful, it will be difficult to ever listen to music the same way again.

"24 Track Loop" (Blue and Yellow)

"Makeshift Swahili" (Deceit)
"Rimp Romp Ramp" (Made Available)
"Aerial Photography" (Live 80/81)

This Heat's self titled debut, originally released in 1978 (which is almost impossible to believe, that people were making music this progressive, this intense, this fucked up and forward thinking) is such a totally immersive and strangely lovely musical environment. From the machinelike krautrock of "Horizontal Hold" to the dreamy contemplative "Twilight Furniture" with its simple chiming guitars, muted tribal percussion and keening vocals, to the bizarre affected drum workout of "24 Track Loop", it's like wandering through some alien musical world. A sky full of greys and blues, smeary drones floating gently by, haunting quavering vocals drifting below, like tendrils of smoke, the barren landscape littered with all manner of rhythmic outcroppings, harsh jagged crashes and booms, as well as low rolling thumps and stutters, off in the distance simple spare melodies float and hover, each note a glowing spot on the horizon. Absolutely and utterly overwhelmingly brilliant.

The Health And Efficiency ep followed in early 1981 and took their sound in a strangely pop (for them at least) direction, sounding like some tweaked and twisted version of Wire, the title track all angular new wave guitars, monotone vocals, driving drums, strange convoluted arrangements and creepy background sound effects before the whole thing splinters into super abstract rhythmic experimentalism, looped grooves, played over and over, while sounds float and careen in the background, so incredibly hypnotic and repetitive. The second track on Health And Efficiency (which runs a brief twenty minutes) is "Graphic/Varispeed (45rpm)", a lengthy drone, a warm synth whir that surfaces within other This Heat tracks, recontextualized and often chopped up and reassembled, but here, it's a slow shifting slow motion single tone soundscape, with the tone occasionally being pitched up or down, very simple but quite haunting, and a cool glimpse at how This Heat managed to mix and match, use and reuse, without ever treading water.

"Horizontal Hold (Peel Session)"
"Paper Hats"
"Health And Efficiency"

Later that same year came Deceit, with the band continuing to expand and explore. Deceit consisted of shorter songs, but that didn't mean their process, or disdain for convention was altered. If anything, they managed to subvert pop music in a way never thought possible. Imagine Brian Eno circa Taking Tiger Mountain, but filter that through some avant industrialism, angular new wave and hyper rhythmic krautrock and you'll begin to get the picture. The songs on Deceit are impossibly catchy, especially when examined closely. Abstract, obtuse, angular, convoluted, tangled up but without ever losing that thread, that melodic sensibility that grounded the songs, kept them from falling apart completely, instead, the perilous arrangements only added tension and emotion. An incredibly explosive sound that somehow hybridized all of the countercultural fury of punk and situationism, within a sonic context informed by the technological advances of musique concrete and electro-acoustic experimentation. The sound was definitely punk in its own way, but certainly wasn't expressed through three chord song structures or snarling postures, instead This Heat injected their own complex pop agendas with a jittery nervous tension always building to a dramatic and cathartic release. Deceit was sadly the band's final release disbanding soon after.

In 1993, a disc of unearthed This Heat recordings was released and consisted of three lengthy tracks of tape loop experiments and random rhythmic explorations. Repeat has come to be This Heat's defining work even though it is essentially a record of outtakes and pieces meant to be incorporated into other songs. But it's hard to argue with the 20 minute title track, and endless, almost funky groove, punctuated by weird electronic swells, sprinkles of woodblock percussion and occasional handclaps but held together by one of the most amazing drum parts ever. A relentless pound and shuffle, drenched in effects, sound very dubby, but also very krautrock, a tripped out blissed out drone drenched rhythmic space jam never matched to this day. Every time this is played for a friend, musician or not, the listener is inevitably confused, perplexed and then quickly obsessed with hearing more. The second track, appropriately titled "Metal" is an abstract soundscape of, well, metal, clanging, clinking, like some ancient junkyard gamelan, almost like the previous piece transcribed for sheet metal, garbage can, metal pipe and dumpster. The metallic symphony shifts and sways, melodies surface, rhythms twist and turn, all very hypnotic and quite lovely. The final track revisits a song on Health and Efficiency, but slows it down a bit to become "Graphic/Varispeed (45rpm)", the same sort of slow, murky drone, just made even slower, so more tonal colors surface, and the subtle shit is much more noticeable, a gloriously dreamlike warm warbly whir.

In 1996, This Heat's 1977 Peel Sessions were finally released and demonstrated once again that This Heat were untouchable, effortlessly unfurling a sound equal parts avant pop, krautrock, progrock, musique concrete and a handful of parts that defied easy classification. Every track here a jaw dropping, mind blowing performance. Especially the new version of "Horizontal Hold", one of This Heat's finest moments already, played here with much more verve and vigor and with a sound quality so much clearer, a recording so incredibly hot, that the song is reborn and completely confounds and amazes. The whole session is rhythmically dense, rife with bastardized pop, incredibly complex arrangements all rendered again in such a way that they are emotional and moving, instead of just intellectual musical exercises. And the sound is so crystal clear, that you can hear a band at the top of their game, taking over the BBC studio and using it like they would a second guitar or another drummer. The Peel Sessions also include a handful of songs that never made it onto records proper. All as good as anything on their official releases.

The bonus disc included in the box is a compilation of live tracks recorded between 1980 and 1981 all over Europe and sequenced to resemble the set list the band used on tour in the eighties. Recorded using a single stereo mic, the sound is less that crystal clear, but captures the band in their element at the top of their game. The songs are amazing, it's awesome to hear the band recreate pieces that on record relied so heavily on the studio, more evidence as to the genius of This Heat. Our only complaint about this box was that there is definitely more This Heat material out there, and anyone picking up this box, would have gladly paid a few bucks more for one or two more discs of lost rare material. But then we spied this in the liner notes of the live cd: "Further CD's from other stages in This Heat's music to follow, including collaborations, improvisations and site-specific work as well as other live cds." We can hardly wait! There are plenty of places on the web and in magazines to read more about the history of the band, the band members, various versions, releases and re-releases and past reissues, but none of that ultimately matters as much as the sound. And oh the glorious sound. Just take a listen to the sound samples and no words will be necessary.

This Long, Long, Long
& Deeply
inquiring Text
Published By
Aquarius Records.

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Saturday, June 17

Audio Ovni - The Real Meaning Of The Term: "Electronic Progress". This Is Only A Reminder...

Stylus Mag, Chattering About Their Last Album "Control Room Secondee" - out in Electrode Nipple Label 2005:

Those of you who read my review last week of Noze’s fantastic Craft Sounds and Visions know that we’re desperate for interesting material here at Stylus. Christ, we’re pathetic. We have blind spots. As such, we’re willing to go back to the vaults, to swivel-head to last year’s better releases that we somehow overlooked. Go ahead, overthink it. We’re so hip we ain’t swayed by how unhip it is to cover records we missed. I’d like to ask John Leland, or maybe Ishmael Reed, ‘cause I’m obviously all about the transference of hip. Consider it a preoccupation for January.

In this effort, I might take the next several weeks to point to these flaws. But then there’s the upcoming Cedars record. And then there’ll be something else that steals my time the week thereafter, maybe Isolee’s forthcoming odds and sods comp. Maybe that quintessential pint-of-sprite effort by the Arctic Monkeys. Who can say. Something will arrive.

Still, in the meantime, I’m duty-bound to tell you about the gloriously in-incandescent record by Audio Ovni, Control Room Secondee. My immense salary at Stylus precludes me from personal voicing; I’m all about the community. As such, I’m here to tell you this is Stylus’ newest staff-wide find. We can’t find enough off-the-cuff witticisms for its dim, toxic-skeletal Kid A atmospherics. Or maybe this is all bullshit. Maybe I’m a lone maniac.

Either way, the duo of Jeff Press and Eric Liebman form Audio Ovni, whose 2005 release, like Noze’s, is worth our late words here. Unlike that French jazz-tech duo, there’s little time for celebratory sax sqwonking. Instead, there’s ambient nihilism at work in Control Room Secondee, a quiet stunt of atmospheric electronics, delayed sounds, unrecognizable lyrics, and the steel-heart pulse of androgynistic malaise. I hesitate to throw them out, the omnipresent reflection point for much of tech-pop’s landscape, but you’re with me: there’s some Radiohead in the pale wind of this dystopia.

But that’s far too facile a reference, though it’s a bound to lead many to write this album off as derivative. To look past Audio Ovni simply for their similarities to Oxford’s post-aught fracturists is to miss the sophisticated bloodlines in the duo’s past. Audio Ovni is more tactile in their dissection of Eno’s blueprint and more willing to drift and return. This ain’t no one-trick pony. They allow the listener time to enter their cottoned symphonics and to leave without notice. There are no choruses to speak of, nothing that secures a track to natural progress. Instead, Press hovers over the duo’s billowed din at random will. His lyrics are almost completely indecipherable; it’s the fleshy cadence of his voice that’s important. You can fade out and recommit yourself to these songs at your discretion. Follow along with a lyric sheet or content yourself to the buttery simmer of Press’ operatic tenor.

Musically, Audio Ovni hum through soft, gristled static and almost inaudible synthlines, tied to the ground by only the softest drum-machine thump. Their music recombines the summer-lake ambience of Fennesz into the acoustic-thromp of Julian Fane and Type Records’ artists like Khonnor. “City-State,” for example, is uncluttered and sterilized, a revolving guitar line and lilting synthwork backing perhaps Press’ clearest vocal refrains. Vaguely anhedonic, the quiet rebuke of the tread-upon, Press summons the fate of the smashed bug, tiny, tremored, and now pressed clean of pulp.

On the other side of the fence is the garbaged vocal of “Couture.” Press swoons in circling chimes and static, but it’s the reach of his voice during the chorus (“Gloooooo-oooooo-wing”) that marks its earthless beauty. As with most of the record, there’s an intangible movement at work. The inner-ear is drained, balance is lost, and the result, drugged stumble and concrete scratch, gives these scars and this roughened skin its glow. These are the moments when you wish Control Room Secondee were one breathless MP3 unmarked by number—or perhaps a lonely snowstroll broken into arias. As with the fractured polynaise of “Design a Tease” or the tribal ghost-chant of “Traffic Light Coordination,” Audio Ovni creates funeral dirges out of the bytes of misplaced digitalia. These are the hymns of a dig without dirt, a time when we’ll lock ourselves in capsules and balloon into eternal grifterism. Thieves, vegetarian chefs, and shape-shifters in us all then, space oddities without helmets or craft. After all, Audio Ovni can’t possibly be made for us in 2005. It’s so crude and strange. No, it’s far easier to project and wait: Control Room Secondee will greet us in the soon.


From the Faucet Fell an Apostatic Drop (4:42)

City-State (2:56)

Couture (6:21)

Info From A O Home Page: In Audio Ovni, songwriting and sounds come together in a flurry of arpeggios, ever-ascending arrangements, electronic bleeps, noisy guitars, samples, and lyrics you'll be thinking about until the 23d Century. Audio Ovni was formed in New York City in 1998. An earlier incarnation of the band recorded a rockish album which was given a limited released in December 2000. Eric Liebman and Jeff Press forged on in a more electronic-oriented direction, and over four years later, released the sonically-challenging "Control Room Secondee," an electronic-rock melange that demands and rewards repeated listenings on headphones or other listening aids.

"Control Room Secondee" is the surreal tale of the numb denizens of a futuristic dystopia, whose souls are trying to navigate this world of ubiquitous cameras, active-state wallpaper, jumbo jet graveyards, custom designed physique, a dizzyingly advanced state of astrophysics and 'God-finding,' verisimulation fantasy worlds, '24-7 personal life recorders,' nanotech sleep medicines (complete with terrifying product recalls), brainports, headspeakers, outsourced space ship factories, 'discrete conditioning' pills, mechanical lifeguards, remote underwater battle stations, advertisement-covered space elevators, digested punishments, remote control people, spinning skyscrapers, microscopic 'peace planes,' and a nagging sense that something has been lost.

Listen or Buy or Both

Wednesday, June 14

"The Pitchfork Effect" - Finally Someone Talks About It, Very Interesting Article By The City Pages Online:

How an upstart record-review site won the animosity - and allegiance - of indie music scenesters and changed the rules for breakout bands. (Ask Tapes 'N Tapes.)

Tapes 'n Tapes manager Keri Wiese leans over to show me this recent e-mail on her Blackberry. It's the second-to-last night of the South by Southwest festival and we're both exhausted from the nonstop show slog. I shouldn't complain; Wiese and the band are the ones who have been hauling their gear all over town to perform nine times in four days. Still, we're sitting on a bench in a small, packed bar called Friends, reserving our strength for the band's only official SXSW set. (The others were afternoon barbecues, radio gigs, and private parties). And this e-mail, glowing with the unparalleled enthusiasm of a teenager who's just found her new favorite band, helps everyone soldier on. But how did an indie rock quartet with a modest following in their own hometown become the lunchroom fantasy of a high school kid over 400 miles away?

In the bathroom, I come across a girl with dark, curly hair raving about Tapes 'n Tapes to the uninitiated. She says she can't wait for their set, that the disc hasn't left her CD player since the day she got it. When I ask where she first heard about the band, she acts embarrassed. "I read about them on Pitchfork," she says. Then, without prompting, like someone who's committed a terrible faux pas, she adds, "I don't really like [the website], but I have to find out about new music, right?" has become the main arbiter of taste among independent music fans, a distinction once claimed by zines, college radio, and mainstream music mags that risked advertising dollars by taking chances on unknown bands. The news and reviews site has found its niche in catering to list makers, mp3 traders, and kids who are determined to love and leave a band before you've ever even heard of them. Pitchfork has plenty of faults—impenetrable writing, factual gaffes made by first-time critics—but they haven't kept it from turning the music industry's standard operating procedure on its head. It's the website every music-head checks and the website every music-head hates. Whenever anyone mentions a review they've read there, chances are the comment will be prefaced by a complaint about the site's esoteric references and narcissistic writer. But people keep reading.

Like some of the bands it would later cover, began as the project of a self-admitted slacker from the Twin Cities suburbs. Nineteen-year-old Ryan Schreiber was living with his parents in Victoria and occasionally working behind the counter at Down in the Valley. He had no plans for the future, no ambitions for a career. The one thing he was sure of was that he was never going back to school.

"I don't want to say it was all I could do to graduate or that I barely scraped by, but I was not a high achiever by any stretch. Once I was done with high school, I was out of there," Schreiber says from his Chicago office during a phone interview. "I was never a very good worker for other people, so I always felt like if I was actually going to do something, it made sense to go some entrepreneurial route."

Any self-starting businessman needs some kind of drive, and what Schreiber had was a passion for music and an appetite for magazines that catered to his interest, particularly the locally produced Cake. A friend introduced Schreiber to the not-yet-popular internet and the record store clerk recognized the potential for an underground music website.

"I wanted there to be a resource on the web that didn't exist at the time. Back in the day, if you searched for Fugazi, you'd get virtually zero results," says Schreiber.

He launched his own site in late 1995 and soon posted his very first critique—a review of the Amps' Pacer that he now remembers with embarrassment. "When I started this, I had no previous publishing or writing experience," he says. "I was just this kid with opinions, and writing was probably not really my forte. But that was the avenue that made the most sense for me at the time. I struggled for a long time in the early years in terms of writing anything that most people would actually want to read."

Fortunately for the young critic, there weren't a lot of people online back then. It took a full year, but Schreiber eventually reached his first goal—300 page views a day. Not bad for a site that was updated infrequently and offered reviews that were only 100 words long.

The website's residence in the Twin Cities ended in 1999 when Schreiber realized that the only way he would give it his undivided attention was if he had no other choice. He sold his collection of rare records on eBay and used the $2,000 in proceeds to pack up, move to Chicago, and make the website his full-time job. In its new home, Pitchfork grew as an internet presence and a business. The site was up to 2,000 readers a day and constantly gaining new freelance writers. Content was updated daily and reviews were expanded to 500 words. With more freelancers came greater diversity, and soon the site was reviewing hip hop, dance, noise, and the occasional jazz record in addition to its nonstop coverage of indie rock. Schreiber continued reviewing new albums, while trying to raise the company funds himself—a conflict of interest he was well aware of at the time.

"Selling ads was just a slog. The ads were dirt-cheap. It was almost like asking for donations," he says. "And these were [labels] whose records we were already reviewing. It was kind of odd that you'd be talking to someone about ad stuff and then it would switch to editorial. It just wouldn't feel right."

Eventually he hired an ad rep and rented out an office for the two of them. In the three years since, Schreiber's brainchild has grown to employ six full-time staffers including himself, not to mention two part-time reporters and a team of 50 freelance writers. That staff is preparing for their second annual two-day summer music festival in Chicago at the end of July. They're throwing around ideas about what their first book should include. But most impressive is the site itself. gets 160,000 visitors a day and 1.3 million unique readers every month.

Pitchfork's success story is marred by the kind of animosities any zine that grew into a near-mass success would engender. If a million people read Hit It Or Quit It or Punk Planet, those publications would be the subject of just as much message-board trash talk. After all, music geeks are a subset of people who will happily debate the top five Norwegian pop records or female lap steel players of all time. They're a pugnacious bunch. Even so, the site sometimes seems to invite complaints. Much like zinesters, Pitchfork's chronically under-edited writers are prone to waxing nostalgic about how a band turned the world upside down during its formative years. And while some publications have rules against writers using the first person, at times it seems as though Pitchfork imposes the opposite mandate. Aside from the occasional reigning-in of the more extravagant writers, Schreiber gives the freelancers complete creative freedom.

"I trust the writers to their opinions and to their own style and presentation. The most important thing to me is they know what they're talking about and are insightful," he says. "The last thing that I would want to do is dumb it down. It's not dumb enough is not a valid argument. More and more, criticism is not about criticism; it's about making comparisons. If you like this band, you might like this. To me, that's not what criticism ever was."

Schreiber's defense is a valiant one, particularly in an era when publications everywhere are giving critics less space and readers less credit. But overly florid writing is only one criticism Pitchfork haters frequently lob. The writers also have a way of isolating indie rock as a world unto itself. Visit the site for the first time and you may be confused by some of the references. The review of Tapes 'n Tapes's The Loon noted the band's use of "CYHSY organ." (That's Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, for those of you with better things to do than troll the internet for buzz bands.) As someone who's familiar with Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, I couldn't explain what the comparison means. Also, my split-second reading of the acronym still stumbles over Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young before I reach the right band.

Even more effective than the reviews are the ratings. Although Schreiber points out that "ultimately [the site is] publishing one person's opinion," many readers regard Pitchfork as an institution, one that has the power to bless or curse a newborn band. Should an album be marked with a low score, the humiliation is something akin to slipping on Jell-O in the school cafeteria and ending up wearing a hat made of mashed potatoes. A record store in Texas initially refused to carry Travis Morrison's Travistan after Pitchfork gave it a rare 0.0. Liz Phair faced similar ridicule following a double-ought for her self-titled release.

JD Johnson, an assistant manager at the Electric Fetus, says he sees the site's impact all the time. "A lot of customers mention it. I don't think there's a better site for reviews of indie music," says Johnson. "Two of the biggest [bands affected by the site] were Arcade Fire and Clap Your Hands Say Yeah. Especially Clap. Those guys pressed maybe 1,000 copies before Pitchfork reviewed them and created such a stir. They weren't on a label. Because of Pitchfork, they were able to sell CDs without having to share the money with a label."

The site has other ways of interfering with the general machinery of the music industry. As part of the race to be first, it often runs reviews of unreleased albums. Tapes 'n Tapes had self-released The Loon at the time it was reviewed but had no outlet for national distribution. Being stamped with the site's prestigious "Best New Music" tag and a rating of 8.3 left the band scrambling to fill online orders. "The day the review went up we saw a big spike in sales," says frontman Josh Grier. "I took the morning off from work so I could stay home and help with all of the additional activity."

While T 'n T were happy to make more trips to the post office, premature reviews are more troubling for overseas bands, who might not have a domestic release or U.S. tour until several months later. By the time U.S. stores saw copies of the Go! Team's Thunder Lightning Strike or Art Brut's Bang, Bang, Rock & Roll, the bands were practically passé in the minds of indie-philes who read about them on Pitchfork the previous year and downloaded the album. The time lapse between import and domestic releases can wreak havoc on a band's position on radio and record sales charts. But as Schreiber points out, this problem has more to do with the industry failing to keep up with the age of the internet than with overzealous writers wanting credit for breaking a band. "It's actually pretty sad that that process hasn't sped up to keep pace," he says. "For a U.K. band or a Swedish band or a Norwegian band to get a U.S. distributor, it's still a process that takes time. And it's sort of unfortunate that it happens like that."

To be fair, the Tapes 'n Tapes whirlwind popularity wasn't entirely due to Pitchfork's review. In fact, all of the band's Austin shows had been booked before the review was even posted. The first whisperings that led to the band's blowout indie success came from mp3 blogs like Music for Robots, Gorilla vs. Bear, and Brooklyn Vegan. If Pitchfork critics are the tastemakers, these bloggers are lesser-known sometime-gatekeepers. The next big thing doesn't necessarily have to go through them before it reaches Schreiber's site, but it probably will.

In general, the success of music-related sites has left industry traditionalists nervous about the changes the internet has wrought in the rules of music marketing. After all the fuss over how downloadable music would destroy careers, it took people a while to realize that the newfound access could also have the opposite effect. Main case in point:'s ability to connect musicians to an audience (and vice versa) was the major development that made community-building predecessor obsolete. For many young rock bands, Myspace has rendered professional publicists irrelevant. The new do-it-yourself PR requirements are simple: a few uploaded songs and the patience to spend hours at a keyboard, checking out kids' favorite bands and inviting the right demographic to the musician's circle of friends. If the strategy works, it only takes a few minutes of online listening for a stranger to become a fan. That's how Quietdrive, a Minneapolis band virtually unknown in the local scene, found almost 40,000 online supporters across the country and signed a deal with Sony BMG subsidiary Epic Records—despite a lack of radio play, press coverage, or endless touring. Musicians are now building massive fan bases before stepping foot in a new town. Even making a name among the local nightclubs is no longer necessary. Why should a group spend time and energy trying to climb from New Band Night to the First Avenue Mainroom if their fans aren't old enough to get into the bar?

The line between artist and businessman isn't the only one getting blurred. Fandom and hype machine are getting harder to separate all the time. Mention the "H word" to Schreiber and he recoils.

"I think hype is sort of disingenuous and dirty," he says. "It's marketing, publicity, payola. It's the money that a label puts behind their bands in attempts to break them to radio and press. A lot of publications are guilty of buying into that, but I think it's different from what we do. It's definitely true that we get really excited about a lot of new bands and that not all of those bands necessarily connect with all of our readers, but I don't mind that. If the alternative is to wait around and see what gets popular and only cover that, I would rather have the reputation that we have."

Enthusiasm is enthusiasm—but when backed by enough cash, it becomes hype anyway. Though Pitchfork is finally a viable business, "labor of love" seems to be a key phrase when it comes to similar ventures. Most bloggers aren't scouring the ether for new bands because it's their job; they do it because they want to. The rewards are free CDs and the occasional guest list spot for a show the writer would've gone to anyway.

Although a print publication has the potential to be more profitable, Schreiber says he has considered it but isn't up to the task. Even if he were able to tackle the project logistically, it's doubtful that readers would follow. Online media have bred a whole generation that regards amateur news sources just as highly as the ones they'd have to pay for.

"Rolling Stone is just fluff now, not much better than People," says Johnson. "With Lindsay Lohan on the cover, it's hard to take them seriously. A lot of our customers favor the British magazines—Mojo, Uncut, and Q."

Shortly before SXSW, the Plastic Constellations made it into the "Bands to Watch" issue of SPIN, a national magazine with a reported circulation of 500,000. The locals were another one of Pitchfork's "Best New Music" bands who saw a spike in popularity after the site awarded 2004's Mazatlan an 8.5. (The buzz cooled somewhat when the follow-up, Crusades, received a respectable, yet numerically damning, 7.8.)

Waiting for the Plastic Constellations to take the stage for their own SXSW set, I wonder if their SPIN citation will prove as big a draw as Tapes 'n Tapes's standing at Pitchfork. The turnout is good, although the place isn't sold out. Still, the crowd is remarkably similar to the one at the Tapes 'n Tapes gig. The audience members nod their heads appreciatively, seemingly unfamiliar with most of the music. But when the band plays the song that was a featured mp3 on Pitchfork, everyone knows the words

Text...By Lindsey Thomas