Here are the reviews that I did for the website Playlouder.com in April 2007.
‘Life Embarrasses Me On Planet Earth’
Seventeen Evergreen comprises the San Francisco based duo of Caleb Pate and Nephi Evans. The record appears over here on London boutique label Lucky Number that bought us Sebastian Tellier’s stunningly glacial La Ritournelle last year and announces itself with an album title that would place it comfortably in the company of the current batch of skewed US college-indie popsters such as Modest Mouse and the bands of the early 90’s such as Pavement that in turn inspired them.
Although Seventeen Evergreen share a sense of woozy melody and trebly warmth with those outfits the comparison falls short due to the pairs use of ‘cognitive computers’ and multi-instrumentalism to create organic, electronic backdrops to their wistful pop that is reminiscent of early Air or even the percussive soundscape work of The Album Leaf.
Despite tales of the band being inspired by recording wedged in-between a home for the deaf and an Alcoholic’s Anonymous centre, opening track ‘Music Is The Wine’ represents the albums most immediate track, an upbeat, open paean to the redemptive power of song that is an obvious choice for single filled with catchy, harmonised backing vocals.
‘Grays’ however forsakes straightforward verse-chorus structure and the acoustic guitar/organ led sound in favour of blissed out instrumentals while closer ‘Andromedean Dream Of An Octagon’ is a beat-less exercise in minimal tones closer to Steve Reich than The Shins.
The albums standout tracks, ‘Sufferbus’ and ‘Ensoniq’, marry these two contrasting counterpoints to great effect uniting rhythmic drumming patterns with echoed ambience and controlled but frenetic guitar solos. While vocally the Malkmus comparisons being bandied around occasionally ring true, particularly during ‘Haven’t Been Yourself’, the phrasing and delivery are at times more akin to the melody infused hooks of a John Mayer.
While this record fails to shine as either a warm Califone-esque sepia-toned pop record or as an electro-pop crossover album, such as The Field recently produced to great effect, ‘Life Embarrasses Me On Planet Earth’ beguiles in it’s own quiet way and in an environment where Modest Mouse are riding the US charts roughshod and The Shins can sell The Forum out back to back don’t be surprised if it beguiles a fair few.
The Adventures of Ghosthorse & Stillborn
Touch & Go
I must be getting old. It seems like only yesterday that this slightly quirky pair of sisters tumbled into view with 2004’s ‘La Maison De Mon Reve’ and a fittingly strange back-story of separation, reunion and the rekindling of their relationship through art and music. I think Devandra Banhart might have been in there somewhere as well. This was 2004 though remember and in that balmy summer of free/wierde/whatevereyouwannacallit-folk if you didn’t have quirky back-story and a bit of Banhart you were nobody. Its now 2007 and after a fair but hardly beguiling follow up in the shape of their patchy sophomore ‘Noah’s Ark’ album Bianca and Sierra Cassidy return with their third effort.
As if sensing we were all a little bored of the whole freaky-siblings factor Bianca has grown a moustache to keep us going ‘eh?’ a little longer. However, this album can only be judged on it’s merits and frankly in the company of wonderful albums by Joanna Newsom and Marissa Nadler already released this year it has hard to find many in ‘The Adventures Of Ghosthorse & Stillborn’s 40 minutes.
The elements established on the duo’s previous two albums are all present and correct: the contrasting of Sierra’s operatically trained vocal with Bianca’s more intuitive and occasionally rapped delivery, the use of hip hop elements such as a beat boxed beat, some laptopy ambience, strange animal and baby noises and the clink and chime of timpani bells all laid over harp or piano arrangements.
While opener Rainbowarriors offers a rollicking introduction the album yields little to engage on repeat listens, and while moments of beauty exist in both Werewolves and Bloody Twins the album lacks the wide-eyed of charm of their debut and it is telling that the records standout track ‘Japan’ sounds like a straight impression of Newsom. Perhaps Sierra’s been saving all her good ideas for Metallic Falcons but either way there is little to recommend here.
They needn’t worry too much about nobody buying the album though as like Vashti Bunyan and Banhart they seem happy enough to licence property to perfume adverts without too many qualms. Maybe Bianca realised that moustache wasn’t such a hot idea after all…
The Fucking Champs
The Champs have always seemed a little out of step, impossible to pigeonhole in any other category than perhaps their own definition of their sound as ‘total music’. For the uninitiated, The Fucking Champs play intense, loud, melodic, riff-led music that is so close to pastiche that it exists in some singular state of perfection. They have, for well over a decade, effortlessly distilled the essence of everything that makes the bombast of Judas Priest and Maiden a joy to listen to. It is no coincidence that a track on their 2000 album IV was cheekily entitled ‘NWOBHM part 2’.
The bands unique nature is perhaps best explained by its member’s pasts. Original guitarist Josh Smith played with legendry San Francisco cult Black Metal act Weakling whose only album ‘Dead To Dreams’ stands shoulder to shoulder with anything Norway has ever produced. While he went on to play with supreme blues-metalers Drunken Horse fellow founding guitarist Tim Green cut his teeth with the infamous Dischord agit-Hardcore outfit the Nation of Ulysses. The combination of these two duelling, bass-less guitar sounds anchored by Tim Soete’s rhythmic drumming would form the template that The Champs follow to this day: riffs build upon riffs, changing time and direction in complex patterns furiously with a constant sense of melody.
Theirs is a wonderful and immediately recognisable sound that despite Smiths departure has continued to flourish. While a lack of development could be seen as a source of criticism in other bands The Champs’ music is so exhilaratingly, grin-inducingly, fist-shakingly wonderful you cannot help but want more. VI delivers in spades. While their collaborations with fellow riff-obsessive’s Trans Am (as both The Fucking AM and Trans Champs) and even stints programming music for computer games have seen slight deviances into electronic elements it is in these periodic numerical albums, trimmed of any fat and bearing their fangs that The Champs shine brightest.
Despite the tremendous sound that issues forth from opener ‘The Lodge’ right through to closer ‘Column Of Heads’ the band greet us on the cover looking like college rock slackers as opposed to spandex clad shredders. The record is even released by Drag City, usual home to Will Oldham and other whispery folks like Ali Roberts! The Champs subvert any sense expectation with their immensely consistent and unfaltering sound. A triumph and that rarest of things: a perfect metal record that will be enjoyed by many that do not even realise that they are listening to metal at all.
Presenting us with an album purporting to be a trick of the eye it seems unclear on listening to this fairly derivative debut exactly who these Quebecoise kids are going to fool. People over in Canada must be pretty easy to trick though as the band have had great success in their homeland peddling their melodic-pop towards 3 Juno’s (sort of the Canadian Brits) and thus triumphing where many French language acts have failed and crossing over into the English-speaking Canadian consciousness. This success in their homeland has been followed by some riotous and rapturous reports from SXSW of life-changingly wonderful live shows.
It is always hard not to listen with a sense of expectation when these early warning beacons are flashing all over the place but first impressions upon a cursory listen are of indifference that slowly grows into affection. The general sound is one of fairly grand, melody based pop. The bands use of dynamics seems limited to the quiet build that bursts into either urgent call and reply choruses in the style of Aussie outfit Architecture In Helsinki, particularly on the hectic Fille A Plumes, or, more often than not, grand Arcade Fire moments of an epic chamber-pop nature.
The Arcade Fire comparison is an obvious point of reference both geographically and in terms of sound. Win Butler personally requested their support on international dates this year and Malajube’s Gallic delivery lends itself well to the almost choral elements of big melodic choruses.
A sense of individuality or originality seems to be the main fault in a fairly adequate overall package. It would be unfair to dismiss their fare as Arcade Fire-lite as songs such Le Crabe and St Fortunat echo glorious E6 records of years past in their melodic proximity to the Apples In Stereo and most specifically Of Montreal while La Ruse brings to mind early Modest Mouse.
With a supposedly great live show and these early missives in well-rounded pop it really only remains to be seen where Malajube can go from here. Their potential is unquestionable but transcending their influences remains a stumbling block in any attempt to carve a lasting legacy worthy of their initial hype.