Tag Archives: shane meyer

[Review: Settlers, ‘Goth Dad’]

The catchiest and most fully rounded songs on Settlers’s first album Goth Dad—“Point Breeze,” “Cicada Summer,” and the title track—function in a similar fashion: a nifty picked melody works itself out against a background of driving drums and laves of reverb-heavy distortion. This Buffalo group’s songs don’t develop like classical music, repeat like minimalist compositions, or offer the thematic exploitation of pop music; instead, as in the case of “Cicada Summer,” the musical substance (all of which was captured via 4-track in the basement of the Jungle Gym, a house venue on Buffalo’s West Side) is thickened through instrumental addition, and–after it has achieved a surfeit of density–it is meditated upon. Subtraction, rhythmic spacing, or key change is used to free the listener from the nervous excitement induced in the tracks’ more tightly wound moments.

Vocals aren’t vocals in the sense of pronounced lyrical content, but rather like voices carried on breezes; over the course of their journey they’ve somewhat dissipated and it would appear that what the voices are saying is less important than how they’re saying it. On the latter count, there is more than a hint of longing, melancholy, and homesickness; nonetheless, it avoids becoming schmaltz through balance with the music’s ecstatic presentation.

The Los Angeles-based duo No Age provides an obvious comparison (though Goth Dad is closer to the fragmented punk blusters/ambient blossoms of Weirdo Rippers, than the lush pop of Nouns) not only in terms of technique but also in terms of quality of feeling. It’s probably no coincidence the band’s website features a video of a skater (slo-mo, summer day) as visual accompaniment to the songs. The whoosh, clank, and roll rhythm of skateboarding lends a real world similitude to the inner life depicted in Goth Dad.

The tunes, when not moving about frantically,

“. . . as in a wanton freak”,

engage the listener more patiently:

“. . . perhaps to show its black and golden wings

Pausing upon its yellow flutterings.”

As Keats interpreted the schizoid temperament of the goldfinch.

Attempting to decant the significance of the music’s movement into a proposition is a tricky business, but, taking a speculative leap, I’d say the driving emotional force of Settlers is found in the frenzied state of imposing oneself upon experience and taking in as much as possible, in order to make up for that which one is constantly pouring out.

Several tracks (“Sleepy Dan,” “Dirty Eyes,” and “Days Park”) never make it past the gnarly intention present at conception. “Doing Nothing,” another in this mode, may be the most aptly titled song on the album. Meanwhile, the album’s two heavier tracks (“White-Out” and “Dead Kids”) edge into that goth-surf-garage stuff you may remember hearing at the Mohawk Place circa 2000.

At times a somewhat unbalanced first set, but, like other promising first sets, Goth Dad offers an abundance of charm that makes up for any lack in execution.

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Review by Shane Meyer


[Review: Thoughts on Air, ‘Random Tandem’]

Random Tandem, the double cassette from Hamilton, Ontario’s Thoughts on Air, begins with the two-chord, whispering moan of “Commuter Special,” is momentarily suspended in the expansive guitar drone of “Double Helix” (think a less arpeggiated version of Neil Young’s guitar work from the Dead Man soundtrack), and washes out near the end with the additive minimalism of “Waver” and “Woven.”

Nevertheless, ToA’s Scott Johnson doesn’t eschew the more ragged edges of experimentation. “Screaming U at Mimi,” the meditation of a post-blues lothario, mixes a rocking chair riff with warbling vocals and screeching guitars (the last mercifully low in the mix): “Ooh baby, the mystery / is in my mind / but my heart is warm / all the time.” The sentiment of the lines pervades much of the album—even where there is no lyrical content to spell it out.

“Hop (with Scotch)” is an especially captivating track: distorted drums, peeling vocals/guitar, and a kinda raga vibe raise it above the rest of the album. Soon enough, the dissonant picking and slurred vocals of “Fiddle Crap (with Bacon Grooves)” brings the album back into the realm of exhausted self. The latter track sounds like it could be a missing cut from Steropathetic Soul Manure, Beck’s early 90s ode to his own frustration with the musical arts.

Johnson is best when blending the two impulses—the emotional fullness experienced in musical flight and the imminent return to the incomplete self—as he does on “Mutuality.” There’s a sort of alternation between the two states over the course of this double cassette, as though the trippy voyage must always be reconciled with the earthbound body and its not-so trippy cares. “Mutuality,” with its repetitive first guitar and second guitar alternating in the bass and treble ranges, simultaneously keeps the listener on the hook and eager to take off.

The final track, “Hymn for She,” has a truly rad two-guitar, two-vocal harmony and deploys that old oceanic trick of building, cresting, and washing away. Woulda been fine by me if it were a few minutes longer.  In any case, the entire set is thoroughly recommended.

Random Tandem was released by the Old Frontiers label, also out of Hamilton, and the double cassette included an absolutely astounding packaging that is made of an old converted audio tape case from the Hamilton Public Library (the disclaimer is still inside). The cover art and the 12-page booklet are both top notch and were put together by Johnson and Old Frontiers mate Sean Gadoury using a color photocopier and, according to their website, “a technique of blending images by feeding the paper back through the machine: a unique process with fortuitous results.”

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Review by Shane Meyer


[Review: Sax Tape, ‘S/T’]

Sax Tape kicks off with a challenge (via a garbled sample of WFMU’s Tom Scharpling): “Hey, look, we can admit the saxophone stinks as an instrument, right? It’s kinda like, you take it—like, ‘fine, I’ll take it’. When has a saxophone been good?”

Presumably, that is the question this LP from Guelph’s Bry Webb, who also fronts indie band The Constantines, attempts to answer.  In fact, the answer turns out to be a ponderous one, taking the listener through a series of saxophonic/rhythmic variations: the breathy burn of digi-lounge, the nasal strains of free jazz, the dizzying swells of carny trip-hop. There are also a few samples, stitching the whole thing together, including a few of Scharpling and also from fellow Canadian act Feuermusik. In sum, the listener gets a fair selection of the sax’s non-pop possibilities—or rather its range, which roams freely from pained seduction in the low end to riotous ecstasy in the high end.

The transitions are not about-faces (usually); instead, over the course of the recording’s 60 or so minutes, the variations bleed into and out of one another (the reader should be advised that there are no song-like delineations on either of the two 30-minute tracks). A change in beat often signals the introduction of a new musical contour, of which there are many; nonetheless, a paranoid, minor mood persists throughout. On the first track, neither percussion nor breath dominates and the two remain fairly subdued enough (notwithstanding the occasional fit) to label the thing atmospheric.

The drum machine tends to make the music a tad samey, and when it drops out (or gets less machine-like), at about the halfway mark on side two, a great, enticing funk vamp starts up—a sort of Miles Davis, Jack Johnson-era thing. This turns out to be merely a teaser, and we are slid comfortably back into the breathy/digi stuff from the first side.  By the last few minutes of the second side, we get some “hey-ho” drumming and nifty sax/electro-bleep freak-out, which then settles into a fizzle instead of erupting into a full-blown jam.

Note: Webb is donating all of the money generated from the download of this album to Ecojustice, Canada’s leading charity using the law to protect and restore the environment. So buy it.

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Review by Shane Meyer


[Review: Code Suite: 104, ‘Gateway’]

Gateway is the debut release from Montreal’s Frank Ouellette (aka Hobo Cubes) under the Code: Suite 104 moniker and comes to us via Albany’s Tape Drift label. The cassette consists of two tracks, “Time Key” and “Exit,” both of which clock in at about nine minutes; and, besides the incidental similarity in length, these electro-acoustic recordings share just enough in common to be considered of a single piece.

A pulsating and looped patting provides the backdrop for “Time Key.” Moments into the track, a tone, reminiscent of a dial-up modem, is lain overtop providing a theme which is returned to at the end. Other sound fragments add complexity: faint static, throbbing distortion, occasional sustained notes hinting at the emergence of melody that never arrives. Midway through the track, the rhythmic patting gives way to another more insistent tapping pattern. It is difficult to call the rhythms ‘beats’ as they stay in a bass-stripped trebly register, but they do generally point the way forward musically.

“Exit Area” resumes on the low vibrating wave which “Time Key” rides out and pursues the conceptual theme of the melody’s non-emergence: first through tonal repetition, then tonal disfiguration. It is always the background noise, however, that is gradually brought forward (but never fully pronounced), hinting at the artist’s preference for music’s neglected spaces.

Where “Time Key” tapers off into electro-cricketdom, “Exit Area” is transfigured into an interplay of droning and mangled tones. The rhythm all but disappears by the end and the last couple minutes sound like a Peter Brotzmann number arranged for a band of junkyard insects. If the pitches seem too high and the changes too subtle, it’s likely owed to the diminutive nature of their instruments.

The recording never rises too far above the surface, which means you might have to wade a little further into the deep end than you’re accustomed.

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Review by Shane Meyer