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  • Stephenhero "57 Stars of the Air Almanac"
    Wednesday, January 30, 2008

    Wow, talk about coming out of nowhere! Stephenhero is the ongoing project of Patrick Fitzgerald, the former lead singer of the wonderful and well-missed Kitchens of Distinction. But it's been several years since his last record, so I wondered if he even still made music. Glad to know that he is.

    If you have never experienced the utter brilliance of their 1991 album, The Death of Cool, you need to stop reading and discover this unfairly obscure masterpiece. It's one of the best records I've ever heard, period. After the band split, Fitzgerald formed different projects, Stephen Hero being the most notable. The music he released was quieter, mellower, and often instrumental--none of which ever reached the heights of The Death of Cool.

    Until now.

    57 Stars of the Air Almanac, now credited to Stephenhero, is a paraphrased return to The Death of Cool's majestic heights. I say he's "paraphrased" because these songs cover the same kind of lyrical themes, and are as emotionally powerful and painful as Death of Cool except...the powerful wall of guitar has been piano! We're talking about a guy who wrote beautifully melancholy lyrics on a par with Morrissey, tempered with the noise of My Bloody Valentine.

    When I read a few descriptions of this new record, I never would have expected such, would never have expected much, and, honestly, before I heard it, I was skeptical that he could really replicate his storied past without his powerful guitars. But Patrick can, Patrick has, and my mind has been...well...blown. Now, mind you, 57 Stars of the Air Almanac isn't trying to be Kitchens of Distinction mach 2, and I'm glad, because otherwise, it all would sound a bit too forced. Patrick was and is an excellent songwriter, and that's what is on display here. Whether it's a love song, or a not-in-love song, Patrick can write a song that aims for the jugular.

    I've rambled around a point, a very simple point, and that is this: Patrick Fitzgerald is one of the finest songwriters of our time, bar none. That he's released a potent and beautiful record in painful obscurity isn't his fault, nor should it be a reflection of the quality of his art. I've loved the man's music for nearly two decades. 57 Stars of the Air Almanac reminds me why I fell in love with his music in the first place: powerful words and beautiful music. And, well, "58 Stars" brings a tear to my eye every time. That's all that matters to me…

    Listen To: "58th Star"

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    posted by joseph kyle @ 12:11 PM   0 comments
    The World on Higher Downs Land Patterns
    Tuesday, January 29, 2008

    I bought the wonderful debut record of Wisconsin's The World on Higher Downs. It took me a while to find it, but found it I did, and other than one major flaw, this record is utterly flawless. (To get that one flaw out of the way: the new CD I bought had a scratch on the otherwise wonderful "Ascension And," and not only do I have to skip that song, but I also cannot return the album, as I bought it from an online dealer who does not take returns on import titles. Damn.)

    Aside from having to program that song out, Land Patterns is a collection of beautiful, epic ambient instrumentals. The songs are languid, but not plodding; they are long--all but "Waterpath Street" clock in at least seven minutes--but the length merely allows the songs to expand and flourish in a way that makes listening an enjoyable experience. I've listened to the record at least half a dozen times, and each time I feel the record passes way too fast. The songs are also rather quiet; if you're wanting music that is hushed and will allow you to relax and meditate, you'll find that here.

    It's sort of a shame that this wonderful record is somewhat obscure; a record as good as this should not be confined to a Japanese-only release. Still, you can find it, and find it you should; it will soothe your soul and will please your senses.

    Listen To: "Her Static Will"

    Land Patterns is available now from Plop

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    posted by joseph kyle @ 1:24 PM   0 comments
    Paul Metzger Deliverance
    Tuesday, January 22, 2008

    When is a sitar not a sitar? When it's Paul Metzger and his amazing banjo, that's when! The three tracks on Deliverance certainly don't sound like something from Deliverance. Instead, these three very long songs are woozy, intoxicating and simple in their approach. If you're looking for a record to relax you at the end of the day, or to provide quiet music for a nice, sedate gathering of you and your intellectual friends, then burn some Nag Champa, pour some Midori, turn down the lights, place Deliverance between your Modern Jazz Quartet and Ravi Shankar records in your CD changer, hit random play, and relax, man.

    Listen To: " Orans(Excerpt)"

    Deliverance is out now on Locust Music

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    posted by joseph kyle @ 11:56 AM   0 comments
    The Drift Ceiling Sky
    Friday, January 18, 2008

    Lost in the shuffle of a year's music, a dirty car, and some other best-left undefined excuse, Ceiling Sky, The Drift,'s compilation album (if you can call it that) of twelve-inch singles and rare vinyl-only tracks has spent a bit of time on my stereo. The six songs are cast from the same mould--gentle, unhurried, jazz-based instrumental rock.

    Ceiling Sky begins where The Drift's story began, the "Streets"/"Nozomi" 12" single. "Streets" is spaced-out gentle jazz, not unlike Spaceheads, or, perhaps, some of A Certain Ratio's quieter moments. "Nozomi" begins with a late-90s post-rock style guitar strumming, and then quietly turns into a peaceful Spaghetti western-style jazz number, not unlike Calexico.

    I wish, for descriptive purposes, I could state heartily that the other four songs found on Ceiling Sky differ radically from the previous two, but they don't. Okay, Four Tet's "Gardening, Not Architecture" introduces a heavy dose of beats and computer blips, and Xian Hawkins' "Invisible Cities" is space funk par excellence--but underneath their embellishments beats the quiet, gentle heart found on the other songs here--and, for the most part, on the band's debut.

    I know compilation records are usually seen as time-fillers for bands taking an exceeding amount of time to complete or release a new album, but Ceiling Sky is an album worthy on its own merit.

    Besides, you didn't buy the vinyl.

    Listen To: Streets

    Ceiling Sky is available now on Temporary Residence, Ltd

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    posted by joseph kyle @ 1:00 PM   0 comments
    Larsen & Friends Abeceda
    Wednesday, January 16, 2008

    When I first heard samples of Larsen & Friends' Abeceda, I was impressed.
    When I took it out of the mailer, I was enthralled.
    When I examined the artwork, I was intrigued.
    When I read the lyrics, I was amused.
    When I read the liner notes, I was educated.
    When I read the lyrics again, I was impressed.
    When I listened to the sound recording, I was hushed.
    When I contemplated the music, I was overwhelmed.
    When I watched the video and contemplated the music, I was weeping.
    When I sat at my desk the next day, I was nostalgic.
    When I went to Amazon and bought two copies for friends, I was generous.
    When I thought about how I was sharing with loved ones one of the most beautiful records I've ever heard, I was, and am, and shall forever be, content.

    Listen To: Section One

    Abeceda is available from Important Records

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    posted by joseph kyle @ 12:01 PM   0 comments
    For Against In the Marshes
    Saturday, January 12, 2008

    I've been enthralled by In The Marshes, the latest in a reissue series for post-punk band For Against. While I must admit I've never really reacted to the other records in the series--I simply haven't connected with the music--I must make an exception for this latest record. This record is a reissue of a vinyl-only EP from 1990, which contained demos from the band's beginning. Instead of the moody, heavy atmospherics of those records, the songs found here are raw, rough, and slightly primitive. Yes, the elements mentioned before are still there, but in this state, they work quite well. The biggest influence I hear in these baby-band recordings isn't Joy Division but Marc Almond. The influence is most obvious on "Amnesia," for I half-expected lead singer Jeffrey Runnings to break into "Memorabilia." "Fate," though, sounds like a Cure outtake from "A Forest" sessions, with guest vocals by Mr. Almond. In my mind, the prospect is interesting; in my mind, the song is excellent because of it, even if, well, the vocals are somewhat muddy.

    The Rosetta Stone element comes from a bonus track, a studio version of the original EP track "Amnesia." The demo version is dominated by a drum machine; the vocals are languid, the bass line is rolling, the guitar parts are minimal--almost nonexistent--and the whole song feels like you're floating around in (and on) thick cough syrup. The finished version, however, adds real drums, heavier guitars, a faster tempo, and a buried bass line. The song doesn't work at all, though, because it just sounds a mess. It's the vocals that ruin it, in my opinion. Runnings sounds as if he's trying to keep up with the band's more rock-like arrangement, and the song works better with a more minimalist approach, as heard on the demo. The other bonus track works the opposite angle, presenting a demo version of the EP's "Amen Yves," whereas the EP version is a bit lighter than the heavy, dark, and moody demo!

    Perhaps the band's other albums had too much of a sheen to them, and the live-to-tape element found in these older, not-intended-for-release songs adds a dimension lacking in their more focused, official releases. I'd have to go back to those albums and spend some time with them to really back up what I've just stated, but In The Marshes is compelling enough to make me want to do that.

    Listen To: Fate

    In The Marshes is available now from Words on Music

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    posted by joseph kyle @ 9:28 AM   0 comments
    Ringo Deathstarr
    Wednesday, January 9, 2008

    I have to say that the moniker "Ringo Deathstarr" made me relate this young Austin band to "Dandy Warhols" and "Brian Jonestown Massacre," and not because of the music. Then I heard the music! I was pleasantly surprised and a little shocked to see how well these guys fit in with that pantheon of brilliant bands with clever names. (The less said about REO Speeddealer and John Cougar Concentration Camp, the better.) Setting aside the trivial matter of the band's name, I have to say that Ringo Deathstarr rocks, and they rock hard, in that Jesus & Mary Chain and Dandy Warhols kind of way. I can't say I was surprised when I learned that they opened for Dandy Warhols, either--my only regret is not being there!

    Cute platitudes aside, this band approximates the music of William and Jim Reid in such an amazingly accurate way, I actually felt like I was listening to some sort of bizarre covers EP of unreleased Jesus & Mary Chain songs. From the first moments of the aptly-titled "Swirly," I knew the sonic trip would be trippy, and I wasn't disappointed. Rumskib and A Sunny Day in Glasgow helped launch a reverend shoegazing trend; their respect for the sounds of earlier times is obvious. Ringo Deathstarr simply taps into the emotional element, and in so doing, they tap into an element that's universal: love. I can't really make out most of the lyrics, but from what I can understand, their lyrical themes are about love: falling in love, falling out of love, longing to be near a loved one, and, simply, loving. "Some Kind of Sad" is about a girl whose lips "taste like honeydew," and, in a fun little reference, are "just like honey, too." "Down on You" has a lusty yet angry guitar riff, and lyrics that are probably as lusty--if you could understand 'em!

    The total winner here, though, is "Sweet Girl," the most poppy number on the record, and the most coherent, too; the song's pulsing rhythms remind me of why I loved Darklands, and it's about a girl who makes the lead singer simply swoon. It's a song meant for mix-tapes for crushes. It's also a song, I hasten to state, that could be a hit. (Cliche ends here.)

    Other than the fact the band comes from Austin, I know nothing about the band. I also know that this EP's amazing! I hope an American label takes the time to sign this band. Oh, and also, they're the best sexy-ass shoegazing pop band to come out of Beaumont since The Cocker Spaniels!

    Listen To: "Sweet Girl"

    Ringo Deathstarr is out now on Spoilt Victorian Child

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    posted by joseph kyle @ 4:54 PM   0 comments
    Raymond Scott Woolson The View From Boggins Heights
    Monday, January 7, 2008

    I have a feeling that, somewhere in the "pile" of records I never reviewed, I have the initial release of Raymond Scott Woolson's self-released The View From Boggins Heights. I'm not going to look for it, though; I simply don't have the desire to wade through what is most assuredly a mediocre pile of music. Besides, it doesn't matter, as this 2007 reissue I just picked up suits me just fine.

    Woolson's music is soft, simple, and quiet. It's an all-instrumental affair, and though it drifts nicely into the style of bliss-rock artists like Robin Guthrie, on "Six Hours One Friday," "Dear Wanda," and "Wheels Whirling On A Red Plastic Motorcycle," I honestly expected to hear singing, as the music seemed geared to accompanying vocals. Makes me wonder if Woolson has some singing in mind for the future, hasn't found the right vocalist to sing with him--or might not be quite confident enough to take the mic.
    Overall, Woolson specializes in the electronica/pop/shoegazing mix that Ulrich Schnauss does quite well, only Woolson does not really remind you of Schnauss. When he gets into a melody, Woolson does his best to turn it into a mind-melding, head-expanding trip. The man does a good job of it, too, as its easy to get lost in the atmospheres of "Selina's Bonfire," and the closing epic "Wayfarers All" is just pure, unadulterated bliss.

    Thankfully, though, Woolson doesn't fall into the sticking to one style trap, as it's not all blissful guitars; The View From Boggins Heights has enough sonic variety to hold your attention, even while you're being exposed to music that's very dreamy. The fast-paced "The Audubon Print For Ken" will wake up any sleepy-heads. "Dear Wanda" is a straight-up pop song, with instruments in the place of vocals; it has a Musak-meets-shoegazing feel that wouldn't sound out of place on Japancakes' cover of Loveless.

    Apparently, Woolson reissued this to tide people over and get people ready for a big record he is releasing this year. After spending a cold, dreary weekend with The View From Boggins Heights I say--bring it on!

    Listen To: "The Audubon Print for Ken"

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    posted by joseph kyle @ 10:52 AM   0 comments
    Cloudland Canyon Silver Tongued Sisyphus
    Saturday, January 5, 2008

    Cloudland Canyon's Kranky debut, Silver-Tongued Sisyphus, is a two-song mini-album that impresses as it engages. Both songs are nearly twelve minutes in length, and both are similar, yet different. The first song, "Dambala," starts off with a drone, but it turns into a disturbing trip into space, with robotic creaks and glistening blasts of space. Then, halfway through the piece, with a jarring shift not unlike a primitive-era bone turning into a post-futuristic spaceship, the song turns into something different. A rather nice beat comes in, and keyboards are now prominently featured. Near the end of the piece, though, the sounds from the beginning fade back in, creating a lovely little sonic orchestra.

    The title track starts off with a gentle futuristic beat, again replete with robotic bleeps and bloops. Then, about three minutes in, it changes into a full-out psychedelic-rock FREAK OUT jam session, not unlike the sounds found on their previous record label, Tee Pee. It's an interesting contrast, as these sounds are wonderfully kaleidoscopic, though it stands in contrast with the previous song.

    Silver-Tongued Sisyphus is a nice introduction to a rather interesting band. This EP also serves as Kranky's introduction to the band, with their full-length Kranky debut coming early this year. If that record is anywhere as interesting as this EP, then the label has scored an impressive find.

    Listen To: "Dambala" (Excerpt)

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    posted by joseph kyle @ 11:00 AM   0 comments
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