Three Dozen Roses



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Braid


Movie Music, Volumes One and Two


[Polyvinyl]

Great bands aren't born, they're made. And rare indeed it is that we the listener get to witness the process. Most bands don't appear on our listening radar until they've spent months or likely years refining their sound, writing songs, throwing out the bad, perfecting the good, and generally streamlining. Really good bands, though, get to put out rarities compilations which often give us a chance to hear their developmental years. You've got to have quite a reputation to release an album like Braid's Movie Music, let alone two.

So even if the first several tracks on Volume One are somewhat underdeveloped, let's give Braid the benefit of the doubt. Even if the hollow-sounding drum thump and aimless yelling of "Sounds Like Violence" and "Perfect Pitch" don't quite match up with the Illinois quartet's best work, listening as the band gradually evolves into Frame & Canvas form is very thrilling indeed. I have many of the tracks on this CD collection of single material on 7" already, but even if you're one of the depressing few folks out there who still has a functioning turntable, you'd have to be a world-class record dweeb to have all of them.

Movie Music, Volume One supports my general idea of how Braid's career progressed. Beginning as fairly unremarkable scenesters, they gradually developed a signature sound. The band's aggressive but melodic guitars grew to be perfectly counterpointed by the dueling vocals of Bob Nanna and Chris Broach. Up through the Age Of Octeen LP, they tended to be somewhat inconsistent, lending to their reputation as a singles band - there's a lot less space for filler on a 7" than on a full-length.

Then, represented here by the phenomenal "First Day Back"/"Hugs For Boys" 45, everything fell into place, and the rest is history. Frame & Canvas became the most acclaimed emo album since Sunny Day Real Estate's Diary, and when the band announced they were calling it quits, a nation of indie kids paused for a moment of silence.

For its second half alone, Volume One will be a must-own for any self-respecting emo fan. "Forever Got Shorter" and "What A Wonderful Puddle" are already standards, and now that I'm hearing "Please Drive Faster" as a regular song rather than the Last Braid Release Ever, I appreciate how good a tune it is. The liners, with a note thoughtfully but not pretentiously penned by guitarist/singer Bob Nanna, include tons of great photos perfect to indulge your nostalgic side in, and the convenience of having all of these tunes on one easily accessible CD is well worth the slight redundancy that will occur if you're as big a Braid fan (and vinyl buyer) as I am.

Listening to Movie Music, Volume Two, I found myself wishing - and feeling a little guilty for doing so - that Braid had been just a little bit less generous. As Nanna notes in the liners, the band just couldn't bring themselves to refuse any offer to appear on a compilation or split a 7". They probably should have. Many of the songs on this collection sound like the work of a band spread dangerously thin. "To Kiss A Trumpet Player" just sounds like noise, "Do You Love Coffee?" goes nowhere a half a dozen other Braid songs haven't gone already, and the not-all-that-different versions of "Collect From Clark Kent" and "Consolation Prizefighter" included here don't exactly scream must-hear.

Still, the second disc of the collection has a lot of enjoyable moments, and a lot more humor than its companion volume. The sequence of impeccably chosen covers that close the disc is enormously fun, from two reverently done Smiths tunes to a swaggering take on the Pixies' "Trompe Le Monde" that almost improves on the original. That the last words on the last Braid studio album are Bob re-enacting Kim Deal's "there were rumors he was into FIELD HOCKEY PLAYERS!" ramble from Surfer Rosa is somehow cosmically appropriate.

Not essential by any means, but quality fan fodder. The (awful) first song Braid ever recorded, "Elephant," is here, as is a predictably squelchy Travis Morrison remix of "A Dozen Roses" which leaves the drum and vocal tracks but replaces the guitars with what sounds like portable telephones being dialed. Their cover of Burt Bacharach's "Always Something There To Remind Me" doesn't match up to Elvis Costello & The Attractions' "I Just Don't Know What To Do With Myself," but I'd still buy a Braid/Bacharach collaboration if there ever was to be one.

If you're not already a slavering Braid cultist, I recommend getting Volume One first, or even better, Frame & Canvas. But if you are...I imagine you've already ordered and received your limited edition slipcased double CD set from Polyvinyl. I hope you're enjoying your copy as much as I am mine. [Mark T.R. Donohue]

Giant Sand


Chore of Enchantment


[Thrill Jockey]

Dramatic, atmospheric, and with an overwhelming sense of positivism in the face of mankind's all-too-evident mortality, Chore Of Enchantment is the record Yo La Tengo's And Then Nothing... ought to have been. The funny thing is, Enchantment's greatness is almost accidental - this wasn't precisely the album Howe Gelb and friends meant to make. The record's strange journey from major label broadside to mail order-only curiosity to final safe harbor in the hands of prominent indie Thrill Jockey neatly parallels the unpredictable, serendipitious course of Giant Sand's live shows (and increasingly, Giant Sand's career).

Chore Of Enchantment was initially supposed to be Giant Sand's debut full-length for V2 records, which released Gelb's solo Hisser a few years back ("Temptation of Egg," one of the highlights of that record, is reprised here in a version with Juliana Hatfield on backing vocals). The label stonewalled for more than a year, refusing to either release the record or officially announce that the band had been dropped. Giant Sand more or less gave up hope that the album would ever be released and began recording new stuff. Then, along came Thrill Jockey. Unlike older Giant Sand albums (the band used to habitually release a new album every eight months), the material here is the best of four years and untold dozens of recording sessions. It's easily the best thing they've ever done.

Taking country and folk structures as basis for tunes which employ samples and Walkman-hooked-up-to-delay-pedal stunts as naturalistically as Wurlitzers and accordions, Gelb creates a deep sonic bed for his subdued, laconic vocal murmurings. Chore Of Enchantment resonates throughout with a sense of loss, partly for Gelb's late best friend Rainer Ptacek (whose haunting slide guitar solo "Shrine" closes the album), but partly for something less tangible. Howe sings of a "headachy nation," with wolves circling just outside the door, yet "still ill equipped to care."

The music backs the lyrics' discomfiture with spacious ease. Plenty goes on around the backbone of Gelb's guitar, Joey Burns' bass, and John Convertino's drums - the amusing album credits include mentions for "pump organ mocking Howe's can't remember licks," "Casio a la Love Unlimited Orchestral Manueverings," and "all that clicking." Most of the tunes are slow acoustic-electric numbers with flashes of organ and pedal steel to add texture, but the exceptions are well-chosen and effective. "Satellite" is a reverb-drenched noise rocker with wrenching lead guitars and the unsettling noises of scraping chairs and fast-forwarding cassette tapes setting the mood for a goofy Gelb lyric which includes the line "you can get Leonard Nimoy to play the part of Leonard Cohen." Homemade experimental numbers like the wacky "Overture" and junk-punk "1972" appear as occasional pace-breakers. "Wolfy" sets one of Gelb's most apocalyptic lyrics over a jarringly inappropriate dance beat and distorted piano clanks.

The album's heart is in clean, honest songs like "Shiver" and "No Reply" where Gelb really exposes his vulnerability stripped of his studio tricks and sneaky wordcraft. "Come on deliver," Howe mumbles on the former, "the shiver." Chore Of Enchantment does so in spades. [MD]

Dirty Three


Whatever You Love, You Are


[Touch & Go]

The Dirty Three are one of my very favorite bands. There's something incredibly naturalistic about them. The immediacy in their recordings (there probably because they record almost entirely live in the studio) is something very rare indeed. There's also something disarming about the way they come across. You envision not three hardened music pros, but just three sort of disheveled Aussie bar rats who were out for a pint or two, noticed the house band left their instruments on stage, and just decided to pick 'em up and see what happened.

What's happened is a series of records, from the sedate Ocean Songs to the rollicking Horse Stories, which reveal instrumental music as the most direct form of emotional communication possible. Amazingly, the Three have been able to stick to their spare trio alignment - violin, guitar, and drums - and stay away from production frippery or keyboard overdubs, and still make albums that don't repeat themselves in the slightest. Whatever You Love, You Are is one of their most exposed statements yet, more personal than the refined Ocean but more patient than the often rough-and-tumble Horse. Tellingly, three of the six long songs feature the word "I" in their titles.

"I Really Should've Gone Out Last Night" is one of the most direct works the Dirty Three have ever done. Percussionist Jim White, who usually favors a stop-and-start raindrop approach that works really well against Mick Turner's guitar and Warren Ellis's violin, actually keeps time as Turner and Ellis play theme-and-variation. The epic "I Offered It Up To The Stars & The Night Sky" is the exact opposite, beginning with a atypically showy Ellis violin solo and sliding into a very long, very atmospheric piece. Ellis experiments with his trademark windy harmonics, Turner spikes the punch with a series of jagged guitar interruptions, and little White snare drum triplets snap in and out like a rowboat going up and down on the waves.

"Stellar" is built for stargazing, with an upward-pointing little guitar hook and more shivery violins. Although the Dirty Three still make their music in the most simple manner, the effect Whatever You Love, You Are has on the listener is profound. It's music in its purest form. If their album title can be take literally, I AM the Dirty Three.

No, I'm not. But it's still a good record. [MD]

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