Monday, March 19, 2007


If I could pad everything out to six long paragraphs, I'd do this for a living, wouldn't I?

The Memory Band: Apron Strings-- the first proper-band album from the mellow Brit folkies led by one Stephen Cracknell, erstwhile electronic-folk artist, Badly Drawn Boy touring bassist and Brian Eno sound-alike. The influence of electronica is there more in the ambiance than the instrumentation, which is predominantly acoustic guitars, bass and violin/viola, with some gentle metronomic percussion throw in. The Pogues this ain't: I counted one proper crescendo on the entire disc (on the traditional "I Wish I Wish," which not coincidentally is also the only instance of the drums being hit with any force). Dynamically, Apron Strings is about as static as you can get. Some of the cover material, including one quite nice track that I assume is by Chic, and another, a zombified rendering of "Want You To Know" by psych-soul band Rotary Connection, is decidedly non-traditional.

Like Cracknell's former paycheque, this is stuff that's very underwritten and underpowered, but very listenable, coming as it does with an undeniably nice vibe, a gentle earnestness and no grandiose pretensions. Instrumentally, the bowed strings take centre stage most often, and get to cut loose on traditionals "Blackwaterside" and, particularly, "I Wish I Wish." Female lead Nancy Wallace has a very attractive, slightly fragile voice which features nicely on both the presumed Chic cover "Why" and the traditional "Green Grows The Laurel." Cracknell original "Come Write Me Down" is pretty in a '70s folk-pop kind of way. His instrumental pieces are pleasant but don't light the house on fire.

A decent disc for after-dinner listening. 7.2 blissed-out beardie weirdos out of 10.

mp3: The Memory Band--"Come Write Me Down" (from Apron Strings)
mp3: The Memory Band--"Why" (from Apron Strings)

The Fratellis: Costello Music--debut album by the jock-rock three-piece. Franz Ferdinand ("Henrietta") and/or The Strokes ("Flathead") without any arty pretensions, The Fratellis (the band members have all taken the last name, Ramones-like) are unabashedly retro-reactionary, not to mention kitschy, with foot-stomps 'n' hand-claps, obvious Beatleisms ("Baby Fratelli") and Music Hall aesthetics ("Whistle For The Choir") all making their appearances, but they're also energetic, up-tempo and for the most part fun. The lyrical persona is a cartoonish working-class, featuring a curious mixture of antique rock templates and vulgarity.

It's not an album that you're going to listen to for the finer points. The playing gets the job done but no more, the production's pretty non-descript, and the songwriting, which works about 3/4 of the time, gets you from A to B with minimal diversion. Better tracks include "Henrietta," the single "Flathead," the twangy "Vince The Loveable Stoner" and the Beatley "Everybody Knows You Cried Last Night." "Chelsea Dagger" is a bit silly, and the last few songs aren't so hot, but by then The Fratellis have said about all that they're going to say. Frankly, once you hit track six or seven on Costello Music, you won't be expecting any subsequent reinventions of the wheel.

The wife likes it 'cos they play tunes.

Good for parties and drunken sing-alongs when you can only remember 1/4 of the words. 7.5 pieces of greasy haddock out of 10.

mp3: The Fratellis--"Henrietta" (from Costello Music)
mp3: The Fratellis--"Whistle For The Choir" (from Costello Music)

Deerhunter: Cryptograms--not coming soon to a chart near you is the second long-play by these Atlanta noise-sculptors, and their first for Kranky, the label that brought you Montreal's masters of the melodramatic (de)crescendo Godspeed You Black Emperor!

Here is Pitchfork's near-fellation of the record. Here's what the band, on its MySpace page, has wittily put in its "Sounds Like" blurb:

Actual Testimony: "Tonight I saw your group in Nashville. Please, STOP MAKING (what might be concieved as) MUSIC! You have no melodies, there was no songwriting skills involved, lack of chord structures, AND your songs are pathetically too long.

It doesn't get better.

Naturally, The Truth (copyright me, 2007) lies somewhere between these two views, but I have to admit I do kinda like this one despite some initial misgivings. But I can understand why some people wouldn't. The album's actually a combination of two separate and quite different-sounding sessions.

The second is comprised of self-contained songs and is considerably more upbeat. The Velvets inheritance predominates through its intermediaries, in this case the drone-like pulsing of early Stereolab and the aural screeching of Sonic Youth. "Heatherwood" and "Strange Lights" are very sunny, "Hazel Street" pretty lame and "Spring Hall Convert," a succession of deliberate gear-changes of rising intensity, probably the best. And that is apparently a guy singing on that one.

The first and longer part, which predates the second, is basically a continuous alternation between ambient/experimental tracks and "songs" and is to my ear more interesting. Others may well find it more annoying. The song side of things, particularly as exemplified by the title track, owes a big debt to Joy Division and often features distorted and monotone vocals (can't find a lyrics sheet anywhere, so no clue what they're on about). The experimental pieces are usually built up from tape-loops and are quite varied. "Providence" is all guitars (backwards and forwards, acoustic and electric) and sounds almost pastoral in its big rich chord build-up, but others like "Intro" and "White Ink" use whatever instrumentation to create pulses, swells and urban-environmental-type sounds. I walked by a condo construction site the other day while listening to the album and honestly couldn't tell which sounds were coming from the headphones. Cool.

The playing is rudimentary to say the least, which lets the side down here and there ("Octet"), and there's a couple of duff bits, like the aforementioned "Hazel Street" and the charmless "Lake Somerset," but otherwise I found Cryptograms' overall vibe very appealing. 8.0 industrial boring tools out of 10 (margin of error +/- 0.5).

The wife doesn't like it 'cos they don't play tunes.

mp3: Deerhunter--"Cryptograms" (from Cryptograms)
mp3: Deerhunter--"Providence" (from Cryptograms)
mp3: Deerhunter--"Spring Hall Convert" (from Cryptograms)

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