Worm is Green...Alkaline/One Man Army...Alva Star
Wednesday 14 July @ 13:34:11
by Tom Hallett
It’s record reviewland time again here at the ‘Dial, kiddies, so strap on yer best divin’ fins an’ take a deep breath...cuz here we goooooo...
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “You can’t think that understanding people, or perceptive and sensitive people, are going to be perceptive and sensitive in other areas of human relationships. It just doesn’t hold true. Talent has nothing to do with it, that’s all. There are shits who are understanding and extremely talented, and there are shits who are without a shred of talent. There’s good guys on both sides.”
SONG OF THE WEEK: “Pocahontas”
— Neil Young
Worm Is GreenM
Thule Music (2004)
This record is probably already passe’ to discerning club-goers, trip-hoppers, and computer geeks, but it’s become such a comforting little musical pal o’ mine over the past few months that I just had to throw out a short review. Like the monumental glaciers surrounding the tiny burgh of Akranes, Iceland — where it was conceived and recorded — the album creeps and crawls its’ way inch by inch into the folds of your mind and becomes an ongoing soundtrack to whatever trip you may be on when you hear it. Though Arni Asgeirsson and his pals create electronic sound pastiches that hover somewhere between the spooky guitar noodling of Neil Young’s soundtrack to the Jarmusch movie Dead Man and the blips and burbles seething throughout the latest ‘Lips and Radiohead releases, their grooves are uniquely their own.
Vocalist Gudridur Ringsted’s haunting pipes are like a Bizarro-world melding of the best of Nico and Linda Thompson, and the bedroom feel of the record (it really was recorded in a bedroom, with the exception of some samples Asgeirsson recorded in his grandfather’s jewelry shop of ancient Icelandic stones rubbed together) combine to add a truly sexy vibe to a genre of music that’s usually regarded as cold and devoid of the messier emotions. The collective’s influences are wide-ranging and eclectic (Automagic includes a thrilling, terrifying cover of Joy Division’s classic “Love Will Tear Us Apart”), but surprisingly anti-hipster. When compared by a Finnish television interviewer to Portishead and other chart-topping European electronic-based acts, bassist Vilberg Hafsteinn Jonsson half-jokingly retorted, “We are like Lionel Richie. Only newer. And not with The Commodores.” A refreshingly down-to-earth collection of some of the coolest e-sounds to come across this desk in quite awhile.
But don’t limit these smooth, Icelandic crooners- despite the laid-back, soul-soothing trickles of static, modern electronic juju crackling through Automagic, the band’s stage show is rumored to be a mind-boggling, rollicking sweat-fest; with a live drummer, vocals, and bass player, as well as “two synth maniacs.” Displaying a flash of the fierce independence and courage that recalls his proud, warrior heritage, Asgeirsson warns, “We’ve played shows that are more reminiscent of Nine Inch Nails than Worm Is Green.” Cool stuff.
Alkaline Trio/One Man Army
Split Series Vol. 5
BYO Records (2004)
Like the split 45 singles of days bygone (although it must be noted that a few indie labels and bands still release vinyl), the “split series” approach of presenting newer acts is a great- and relatively inexpensive- way for fans to more thoroughly check out an artist they may have heard on the radio or caught out live. This offering from BYO Records is no exception- six tracks each from a couple of up-and-coming label-mates who probably aren’t (and wouldn’t want to be) heading right for the top of the MTV charts. Alkaline Trio live up to their monicker in a big way- ask any farmer if he wants alkali in his soil- three guys fucking shit up real good.
Though the production here is a bit over the top for this listener, there’s no doubt that Dan, Derek, and Matt put everything they’ve got into their power-chord-laden pop/punk tunes. “Fine Without You,” the lead track here, puts anything Green Day or their ilk have released in the past five years to utter shame, and despite the sorry state of the airwaves these days, it’s a sure bet the kids will sniff out Alkaline Trio before long and, well, you know what happens then.
Get ‘em while they’re hot! One Man Army groove to a more Clash/ska vibe, and that includes their subject matter. While Alkaline Trio mine their electric gems from ol’ Mount Love (or anti-love, as it were), One Man Army are decidedly more political/social in their lyrics. “The T.V. Song” rages against the idiot box with nearly the urgency of, say, “Jail Guitar Doors,” while “The Hemophiliac” deals with the modern fears of poison blood transfusions and the effect they may have on relationships.
“All The Way” is a positively snappy little ditty about a guy who’s had it up to here with the whole ball of shit and is leaving his life and hometown in the dust. “The Radio Waves Gave Me A Lobotomy” is the logical combo of The Ramones’ “We Want The Airwaves” (Or maybe “Do You Remember Rock And Roll Radio?”) and “Teenage Lobotomy,” but bites even harder, with lead singer Jack howling, “They never play what I wanna hear/Just some shit I hate!” then going out with a bang- “we’ve got our favorite songs/so come on and turn off your radio!” A collection of high-powered, fast-paced, rockinfuckinroll, no matter what genre you wanna stick it in. Two thumbs up (my nose while I pound an Old Mil), way up, for this split series.
Escalator (6-song advance copy)
Princess Records (2004)
On the surface, you might think Alva Star are just another one of those local outfits that are chock full of highly talented but sorta snobby musicians and songwriters- you know, the kind ya just love to hate, but who seem to claw their way to the top of the pops (on the local scene, anyway) despite obvious agendas or ego flights.
In this case, the players are John Hermanson (Storyhill, Olympic Hopefuls), Darren Jackson (AKA Kid Dakota), Erik Applewick (Vicious Vicious, etc.), and Ian Prince (Houston, etc.)- smart dudes making smart music for smart people. We all know the drill, too. With a description like that, one would assume that the music may be just a little on the smarmy- oh, fuck it- let’s call a spade a spade. A guy might figger that this shit is more than a little pretentious. Which would be a shame, really, because judging from this six-song sampler (which can’t be too pretentious, considering it came my way from the PR folks as a home-burned unit with a broken CD case), Alva Star seem to have managed to launch a project that appears to be as fun and all-inclusive as anything Golden Smog or a hundred other “super-star line-ups” have released in the past few years.
Yeah, Escalator is rooted in electronic music- computerized, layered, and multi-tracked to the nth degree- but Hermanson (as well as his compadres, I’m sure) has an unbeatable knack for writing a sweet pop hook to die for, and not even the cold click of digital codes can take anything away from that. The title track is packed with chunky axe-work, throbbing bass, whooshing effects, and heart-break vocals- a psuedo-dilysergic love song of the highest order. “Comeback” is drop-dead gorgeous, showcasing Hermanson’s Chilton-style vocals (and on-the-money lyrics) atop a bed of spine-tingling synth work and biting guitar licks. “Cold Calculated” addresses the very issues that would normally make me nervous about a super-star line-up recording an electronica-tinged record, with lines like, “I can be cold, calculated for you...I’m givin’ it up for you...” and “I’m in a zone/The label has thrown a bone/Can you create/Then can you recreate/The pain it takes/What do you have to make/To get it out, sellin’ your best intent...”
“Tornado Girl” is a deceptively upbeat hope/love song delivered with an almost palpable urgency (love the cough left in the mix, John!), while “Downsides” takes a dark, late-night cruise down those avenues of your mind you probably don’t want anybody else traveling. “The Level” finds the band mixing up their Third/Sister Lovers-era Big Star influences with a healthy dose of Brit-pop sensibilities and just a dash of Rundgren-esque experimentalism, while “Downsides,” a dreamy, loping number with a hint of cool funk/R&B underpinnings, would work equally well on a sunny-day-in-the-park boom-box and over a post-closing time club sound system. If nothing else, each cut on this sampler is so diverse, so completely unlike the ones before and after it, that there really is something for every taste here.
If this was just “smart rock for smart people,” I’d pan the fuck out of it, emperor’s new clothes be damned, but I think these cats are genuine (musically, anyway, don’t know ‘em personally) and I actually, honestly LIKE all of the songs on this collection. Even if the six tracks on this sampler were the only good songs on their forthcoming full-length, you’d still be gettin’ yer money’s worth.
Shit, you’re lucky to get two or three good ‘uns outta twelve cuts on an album these days. As for their live show, well, I guess their musical pedigrees speak for themselves. I’m sure they won’t disappoint. Check ‘em out for yourselves on Saturday, July 17th at The 400 Bar, as they share a bill for their official CD release party with Chicago’s Giant Step. ($8, 8PM, 21+). As for me, I can’t wait to hear the whole ball of wax-tasty stuff, boys.
That’s it for this week, folks. I shall return next week with more local and national reviews—until then, make yer own damn news.
If you have local music news/gigs/CDs you’d like to see mentioned in this column, or you’d just like to tell me what the hell ever happened to Space Hog, send replies to: (temporary e-mail) email@example.com.