'Round the Dial: From the land of ice and snow
Wednesday 11 April @ 15:00:48
by TOM HALLETT
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: â€œFollow the flock--step in the shit." â€“ Anonymous
SONG OF THE WEEK: "A Song Is More Than Just A Song" â€“ Stook!
Greetings, 'Dial-heads, bored coffee shop patrons and maniacal stalkers alike! With spring playing hide 'n' seek lately (even the weather here in Alaska is mondo bizarro), I was recently struck by how disparate, how wildly, defiantly and delightfully different some of the latest batches of CDs to come across my desk have been. As Bob Roberts once so eloquently said, "The world's got everything in it," and boy, is that the truth. So rather than stick with one particular style or genre this time out, I thought I'd review a couple of completely different beasts and throw in some interesting rock 'n' roll news to boot. So strap in, pull your hat down 'round your ears, and let them headphones hit "10" ...
While the City Sleeps
One Little Indian
Bjork isn't the only wondrous musical export hitting our shores from Iceland these days--former Without Gravity singer/songwriter Kalli (aka Karl Henry) delivers shimmering, soothing, ethereal pop music with a dose of melancholy and a staid fixation on water, tears, rain and weather in general. Though his band, Without Gravity, made some indie inroads here in the States back in 2005, the general public still seems to be painfully unaware of Kalli's hypnotic, true-to-life musical confessionals and absolutely stunning pipes.
Taking the layered haze that ran through Without Gravity's debut, Tenderfoot, and dosing it heavily with his own inimitable brand of star-crossed, doomed-lover's balladry, Kalli's managed to build a healthy international following and continues to draw in kindred spirits with his naturally-grounded musical style and a voice that recalls, at various times, Ryan Adams, Radiohead's Thom Yorke, My Morning Jacket's Jim James, Beck and even ol' David Gates of '70s pop-wonders Bread.
On While the City Sleeps, Kalli's solo debut, the vibe of the album itself is immediate. The album cover (created by Berno Ogrodnik) resembles the animated junkie puppet used in the video for Tool's song "Sober" a few years back, and the song titles read like excerpts from a bittersweet personal diary: "Raindrops," "Bridges Burn," "River of Darkness," "It's Over" and "Fear" among them.
Flowing through the slick grooves of this finely-produced and keenly-written indie-pop masterpiece, however, are literally dozens of treasurable moments, delightful musical experimentations, keen lyrical insights and, of course, Kalli's positively addictive vocal attributes.
Diving right in from "Raindrops," an almost eerily prescient light-before-dawn ballad, Kalli immediately establishes his innate ability to soak up and shake out literally dozens of musical influences, his voice reminiscent here of Thom Yorke, the music a gooseflesh-inducing melange of driving, acoustic countrified guitars, gentle keyboards flowing like salty tears down a broken-hearted face and insistent bass and drums.
"River of Darkness" is more akin to a Handsome Family track: dark, yet containing a smart grain of deep-seated self-esteem beneath its cry (a river) in your beer vibe. "It's Over" belies its heartbreak title with upbeat keyboard runs, snappy drums and an almost cheery bass line, Kalli singing "It's over, and it couldn't get any colder in my heart," like he's almost been waiting for this moment. "I'm gonna pack up and leave before dawn," he warns, and one can almost feel the trepidation mixed with a deep-seated excitement at facing the unknown and new, fresh lovers and newfound friends lurking in his future.
"Fear" bleeds out of the speakers on an almost spooky push, keys swirling and whirling like the water from the last bath two lovers will ever take together. Along with a very few select guests (Arnar G. Vala Gestsdottir on viola, and electric guitarist Kristjan Mar), Kalli has created a veritable wonder of an album here, and the diversity and drive he and his mates display prove they're only just beginning to make their mark on the musical world at large.
Album closer (and title cut) "While the City Sleeps" is THE song you want to hear as you drive or ride home from another empty evening out, knowing deep inside you've still not found whatever it is you're really looking for, Kalli gently urging you to "turn the lights down low, and drift away / Wait until there's nothing left to say / Thinking of the past / Of what you used to hold / Your spirit broken and your heart is cold ..." A genuine gem of an album from a fellow music lover whose goals are pure and whose message is universal, healing, and empathetic all at once. Highly recommended listening. Check Kalli out at myspace.com/kallimusic or onelittleindian-us.com.
Electric Doll Records
Guitarist, singer/songwriter, producer, founder of (according to All Music Guide, anyway) the '80s "jangle-pop" sound, and all-around music nut Mitch Easter has a long and impressive CV when it comes to contributing to the evolution of indie pop as we know it today. As a kid in Winston-Salem, N.C., he became fixated on instrumental wonders The Ventures, and when he hit his teen years, he began following his now-infamous muse to shows by the likes of Kraftwerk, The Talking Heads and Alex Chilton.
Though he earned a degree in radio and television at UNC, Easter was born with rock 'n' roll in his blood, and that passion began to display itself at an early age (he got his first guitar, a Brand X from Woolworth's) in the '60s, and by the early '80s, he'd already served guitar/vocal duties in a plethora of authentic but publicity-challenged bands, most notably The Sneakers and Let's Active. Let's Active did score a minor hit on early MTV with 1983's "Every Word Means No," but the wily axe-man/producer is probably best remembered for his work with a very young REM--he produced their first single, "Radio Free Europe," and continued to assist the band up until 1984's Reckoning. The man never quit playing, writing or rocking, though, and this album proves he's still got more fire and inherent rock 'n' roll chops inside of him than many of the bands he's worked with over the years--including REM.
Whether he influenced the bands he worked with (a tiny smattering of which include Chris Stamey, The Windbreakers, Game Theory, The Connells, The Hummingbirds, Moose, Shalini, The Fiendish Minstrels, Pavement, Helium and, most recently, Velvet Revolver, whom he appeared with on a recent tour) or soaked up the complex and varied sounds of those outfits, it's clear on Dynamico that Easter is ready to roar out his own bad-ass brand of garage-y rock 'n' roll.
Despite the able assistance of a few expert sidemen (including Eric Marshall drumming on one track and Shalini Chatterjee helming bass on six cuts), Easter has created what's surely his solo masterpiece pretty much on his own. Recorded, engineered and "kitchen mastered" at his own Fidelitorium Recording Studio (which he finally built after years of producing classic albums for others at his world-famous Drive-In Studio), this album is a driving, rocking, bucking beast of a release, and proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that Mitch should be spending more time creating and releasing his own music than he does working with others.
Bashing right out of the gate with the jumpy, hard-rocking "1 Â½ Street," Easter gleefully cranks the amps up to "11" and blows away any notions that he's been hiding away working on other people's projects because he didn't have anything to say for himself. "Break Through" kicks off with the instantly recognizable first two chords of Deep Purple's "Smoke on the Water," then meanders into a catchy, thumping creature that's meant to find out what your bass speakers are really capable of.
"Ton of Bricks" finds him taking things down a notch, tentative pickin' leading into an intrepid and slightly unnerving ride through Mitch's wild imagination--by the time he kicks into electric on his axe, you're impossibly lost in this effects-laden tale of karmic cause and effect--"Just sign right here please," he implores (playing the record company honcho?), "here's your ton of bricks!" "To Be Cool Thing" wends out like a delicious daydream, Easter showing his romantic side and imploring the object of his affection to drop the humdrum drag of daily life and join him in his colorful, inspired inner world.
"Why Is It So Hard" is a slightly countrified slice of American gold, Easter showing the now-grown children of jangly rock 'n' roll where it all really came from with a friendly but knowing wink. "Glazed" is a thrumming, teasing piece of pop wizardry at full, glowing force, grand keyboards lifting both the song itself and Easter's tasteful, honeyed vocals.
"I Want a New Scene" rolls out on soothing acoustic licks, then morphs into a head-spinning, impossibly catchy pop single that, unfortunately, cuts itself off at the knees by its very subject matter. What "modern rock" station or phony music TV outlet is going to play a song this perfect that states, no bullshit, that things in today's music world are wildly out of whack and not doing a damn thing for true art or artists?
Album closer "Love Slaves to Paradise Lost" is a perfect cap on this heady dose of true-blue Yankee pop/rock, Easter shaping yet another undeniable nugget with a hell-bent-for-leather attitude and head-boppin' boplexity. Killer stuff from one of America's true unsung musical heroes--a must-have. Check it out for yourself at mitcheaster.com.
ROCK 'N' ROLL NEWS:
As the wind 'n' rain blusters me into the shelter of my office, I've collected a few worthy news nuggets I thought the readers might find of interest.
â€¢ GIG OF THE WEEK: Wed., Apr. 11, Americana goddess Lucinda Williams takes her fresh, highly acclaimed album West on the road and to the Twin Cities at The State Theater at 8 p.m. I'm not sure if the show is sold out, but if I were in the 'Cities tonight I'd stand around outside hoping for a ticket even if it is. The album is her best work since Car Wheels on a Gravel Road--you can read my review of it on both the Pulse Archives or the official Lost Highway Records site.
â€¢ Ever been fascinated by the ages-old Hatfield-McCoy feud? I know I have--and it's inspired a plethora of great music over the years as well. It turns out that the feud actually may have been started because of a mysterious, undocumented genetic disease (please, no inbreeding jokes here)--Google Hatfield-McCoy feud and check it out for yourself. Fascinating reading.
â€¢ A new Golden Smog album, Blood on the Slacks, is due out on Lost Highway Records on April 24. Check out the 'Smog's MySpace page or Lost Highway's site for a taste of some awesome new rock 'n' roll from one of my favorite TC-based bands. Like manna from heaven!!
â€¢ I missed, regrettably, a chance to catch him and his band a few years back in St. Paul, but former Beatles drummer Pete Best is back in the news and his story is a wonderful and inspiring slice of rock history any Beatles fan should be aware of. Google Pete Best and check out a new interview from Pete and some cool Beatles-related details that aren't common public knowledge.
â€¢ Former '70s English pop star Gary Glitter (Yes, he's the guy who wrote that redundant sports anthem "Rock and Roll, Pt.2" that you hear incessantly at your favorite sporting events, but he also wrote "Do You Wanna Touch Me (Oh, Yeah)," which was covered righteously by Joan Jett, as well as a few more nuggets over the years) is requesting early release from his prison sentence in Vietnam, where he was arrested a few years back for having sexual contact with 10- and 11-year-old girls. Bad, bad, bad Gary. You don't deserve early parole, you deserve castration and public humiliation. I'm bummed that a guy with the talents he had turned out to be such a waste of air. Check out Gary's sob story online and judge for yourself.
That's it for me this time out, gang. I'm gonna get back to that Mitch Easter album and enjoy the fruits of Matanuska Valley ... heheheh. 'Til we meet again--make yer own damn news.
If you have local music news/gigs/events/CDs you'd like to see mentioned in this space, or you'd just like to rant at the master ranter, send replies to: Tmygunn77764@yahoo.com. ||