Happy Like an Autumn Tree
Cyann & Ben
Let's hear it for hard working bands. On the one
hand, you've got your Radioheads, your Breederses
and your Interpols, who take so long between albums
you'd swear they were putting effort into them. And
then, in the other camp, you have recent artists such
as MF Doom, Deerhoof and Xiu Xiu, who document nearly
every waking breath with another album, keeping their
fans in a near constant state of salivation without
ever letting the quality slip. Honestly, a hand of
applause is in order.
You can add to that list the
French electronic folk group Cyann & Ben. Which
list? Oh, let's say the latter. Last year, the band's
debut, Spring, managed to land the highly coveted
number four position on my list of the best albums
of all time that happened to see release in 2003.
Most people would need a breather after that. But
not Cyann or Ben (or the other two people in the
A few weeks ago, in my never-ending
Internet search to find the best music in the world
and deliver it straight to you, I came upon a curious
thing: a review for a new album by Cyann & Ben. “Why, what's
this?” I said. “Not bloody likely. I think
I would have known about something like that in advance.” But
lo and behold, a visit to the band's France-based
Web site, www.gooom.com, revealed that a new full-length
album had indeed been released, and in the end of
May (of all months!). How could this information have
passed me by? Why had no one else brought this to
my attention? I needed to know more. I needed to hear
it for myself.
Friends, I am pleased to tell you that just one listen
to Happy Like an Autumn Tree put my fragile elitist
mind at ease. A second listen brought me near to tears.
The third and fourth and eventually twentieth cemented
the album in my mind. It has now joined forces with
my circulatory system and is pumping blood and oxygen
like never before. I haven't felt this good since
I went off the Atkins diet.
But let's talk about the album, shall we? Q: Is it
as good as Spring? A: Yes, but not as long. And lest
the title of the album mislead you, bear in mind that
that autumn tree on the album cover does not look
all sunny happy, like a Beach Boys album. It's more
of an autumn happy, like the happiness I feel in winter
from realizing how depressed everyone else is.
Q: Will I like Cyann and Ben?
Can you name some other bands they sound like? A:
All right, but begrudgingly. When Spring came out,
I thought it sounded sort of like Wish You Were
Here-era Pink Floyd, Flying Saucer Attack, and Low.
Happy Like an Autumn Tree is a bit more intense. “A Moment Nowhere” sounds
kind of like Grandaddy covering The Pixies’ “Ana.” “Obsessing
and Screaming Voice in a Shell” sounds like
a slightly more upbeat Sigur Rós, only without
that insidious child molester feel.
But keep in mind, when I say Cyann & Ben sounds
like another band, I don't just mean if you like
that band, you will like Cyann & Ben. I mean
that listening to Cyann & Ben will replace your
need to listen to that other band. Pink Floyd who?
Exactly. Okay, maybe that's going too far.
The best thing I can say about Happy Like an Autumn
Tree is that as much as I loved Spring, I have nothing
to say about the new album paling in comparison to
its predecessor. I have no complaints about this album,
and honestly, either album would serve as a welcome
introduction to the band's rich pastoral sound.
Laced with Romance
In the Red
(out of 5)
Lots of bands sound like themselves.
Take The Velvet Underground or The Ramones. They
pretty much always sound like themselves. Some bands
sound like other bands. Like Creed and Puddle of
Mudd. (Nothing against either band, of course…Just kidding—lots
against both.) Some bands usually sound like themselves,
but every once in a while they have a cold or something,
and just don't sound like themselves at all. (See
Neil Young in 1983.)
And then there are bands that
never sound like themselves, or have only sounded
like themselves in like one or two songs. Chief
among such bands in my mind is The Jesus & Mary Chain. Don't get me wrong. I know
every Jesus & Mary Chain song sounds exactly the
same. But how many bands have attempted to recreate “that
J&MC sound;” how many times have I referred
to “that J&MC sound,” that most revered
of all sounds? When really, if you actually even listen
to a Jesus & Mary Chain album, the band itself
never really ever sounded like that.
I realize this is an alarming discovery with the
potential to disrupt the very fabric of the space-time
continuum as we know it. But thankfully, The Ponys
[sic] have come along to fill the void before anyone
else gets hurt needlessly.
This is because the Ponys actually
sound like Jesus & Mary
Chain. This is a good thing. Whereas most garage bands
are content to sound like such legendary garage bands
as The Strokes and The White Stripes, The Ponys are
actually kicking it old school, back when “kicking
it” usually referred to a can, and before “old
school” was synonymous with Will Ferrell and
a horse tranquilizer.
Jered Gummere's vocals are
more Tom Verlaine (Television) than Julian Casablancas
(The Strokes). And the band even gets a little glam
on the Pulp-errific “Fall
Inn.” But look at me, dropping names like a
lame emcee. Laced with Romance stands very well on
its own merits, and though a few songs fail to stand
up with the rest of the album, it’s a strong
debut nonetheless, and well worth a look for anyone
who may have soured on the nu-garage revolution.
Sonic Youth is BACK! Sonic Nurse, the band’s
best album in six years, and, unfortunately,
their only good album in that same timeframe,
is now out in stores.
For those of you who don’t consider Sonic
Youth to be in the top three greatest bands of
all time, along with The Beatles and The Velvet
Underground, the band members got all their instruments
stolen shortly after releasing their 1998 mellow
ride A Thousand Leaves. In a panic, they hired
musical mad scientist Jim O’Rourke as their
bassist and turned Kim Gordon into guitarist
no. 3. They then released NYC Ghosts and Flowers,
which is a really, really terrible album. And
remember what I said about them being the greatest
band in the world…Well, as that album
proved, it seems everyone in the world has the
ability to disappoint.
Shortly thereafter, they released the mediocre
Murray Street, an album I eventually came to
accept as decent, even though I initially hated
it, still jaded over you-know-what.
I was generally afraid that SY was never going
to release an album of the same caliber as, say,
1996’s Washing Machine (the idea that they
could ever match their 1988 masterpiece, Daydream
Nation, was a moot point. It would be like humanity
writing another Bible.)
But I can say right now that, at least, Sonic
Youth has made yet another great album. And you
feel it right in your bones with each passing
measure. The album’s opener, the quirky,
downright catchy “Pattern Recognition,” features
Kim Gordon singing in a way only she can—her
voice borderlines in the bored/sensual way that
has been her trademark since 1986’s EVOL.
It’s the voice that Kim Gordon fans can
wrap their arms and legs around.
As good as “Pattern Recognition” is,
it’s not where Kim Gordon really shines
in Sonic Nurse. Her two best tracks on this album
are “Kim Gordon and the Arthur Doyle Hand
Cream” and “I Love You Golden Blue.” The
first song might take some getting used to, and
if the listener can get past the idea of people
in their mid-to-late-50s trying to rock, then
it’s quite a song to be added to SY’s
repertoire. However, “I Love You Golden
Blue,” which is the second to last song
on the album, is a very pretty thing. It begins
with what sounds like tiny rocks of hale dripping
onto a windowsill. Then hale turns into tiny
hits of Steve Shelley’s symbols, and then
slowly, sonic guitars and sounds form dark clouds
around the song. By the time Gordon’s voice
comes through, though, the clouds have left,
and the sun comes out. Everything is golden blue.
If this isn’t a love song for Gordon’s
husband, Thurston Moore, it certainly should
be. The only thing I would change on the album
is to have this song be the closer. However,
Thurston Moore’s “Peace Attack” is
a wonderful little jangle-fest.
To anyone wary of buying this album, I say unto
you, fear not. Sonic Nurse is a quality piece
of work from a band that, amazingly, has been
churning out music like this since before I was
and Other Reviews
I am sorry I was unable to write any reviews last
week. Lest you suspect I was living it up in my golden
boat on Bear Lake over the 3rd of July weekend, I
thought it only fair to offer this explanation: As
luck would have it, I was sick for most of the week
with food poisoning (thank you very much Crown Burger…I
think). Perhaps you even had the privilege of being
thrown up on by me at the Sugarhouse Park fireworks
show. If so, congratulations. Treasure the memory.
In any case, I have only recently regained the will
to live/ability to sit at a computer screen and rattle
off ball-shatteringly powerful music reviews. It's
a shame too, because last week I was going to review
the new Bark Psychosis CD, Codename Dustsucker, which
some of you might remember as my #2 pick for album
of the year as of April.
Anyway, there's obviously no time for that now.
The music review train stops for no slouchers. And
I have two new victims for you this week. Though
I do feel bad. Because this new BP album is getting
tragically little press. So let's just say this:
though Codename Dustsucker may have slipped down
a few rungs in my mind since April, if you're a fan
of the band's previous work, or of Spirit of Eden-era
Talk Talk, you should definitely check it out. You
can get it for only £10 at www.firerecords.com!
Plus, just look at this cover art. Isn't it pretty?
And now, on with the slaughter! —BS
The Fiery Furnaces
It was only last September that the Fiery Furnaces
first raised eyebrows with their debut album, Gallowsbird's
Bark. “Why, stop that racket,” the eyebrows
would say. And the Fiery Furnaces listened. Over
the next few months, the brother-sister duo of Matthew
and Eleanor Friedberger would embark on a quest of
the self so harrowing and portentous as to nearly
drive both to the brink of insanity. And it was there
that they found Blueberry Boat.
Blueberry Boat is a 13-song, 80-minute electro-blues
concept album about pirates and their cache of summer's
most delectable fruit. Like nearly all double-length
albums, it is far too long and meandering. In fact,
many will find it unlistenable. But there are moments
on this album, particularly in its first half, that
chart sonic landmarks so brazen and bold as to ELIMINATE
THE NEED FOR ANY OTHER MUSIC ALTOGETHER. Observe:
The opener “Quay Cur” runs through about
eight different songs in its ten and a half minute
runtime. A harsh digital wind is pitted against funereal
piano hits until the song decides it wants to be
an iceskating laser show, and then a rockabilly throwback,
and then an oldtime slave dirge, and then a prog
rock finale with a solo, somber piano outro.
And that's just the opener. The title track and “Chris
Michaels” continue to succeed at cramming as
many ideas as possible into eight or so minutes.
This method has somewhat lost steam by the time “Inspector
Blancheflower” rears its lazy disco head, but
the Fiery Furnaces members have other tricks up their
sleeves. Hell, they've got other sleeves up their
sleeves, and some of those aren't even on their arms.
In the hands of most any other band in the neo-blues
garage revival, “Straight Street” and “I
Lost My Dog” would have been particularly blasé,
but the Fiery Furnaces take these otherwise traditional
blues numbers and enliven them with creative syncopation,
digital disturbance, and the occasional amp turned
up to 11.
If you happen to be looking at a tracklist while
you're reading this, you might notice I haven't said
much about Blueberry Boat's second half. In all honesty,
if the album would have ended after track eight, “Mason
City,” the album still would have been almost
50 minutes long, and I doubt I would have been able
to restrain myself from rewarding it a (gasp!) perfect
rating. (Cue fainting.) But even I, the four-eared
freak who often finds himself with eighty minutes
or more to spare, have a hard time getting through
the rest of this album in one sitting.
And if I must complain about one more thing, the
Friedbergers’ insistence on rhyming nearly
every single line with the one that follows it doesn't
always make for ball-shatteringly powerful lyrics.
But this is petty bickering. Blueberry Boat is one
of the most innovative and rewarding albums to come
out since, well, Animal Collective's Sung Tongs came
out last month, but barring that, it's certainly
one of the most unique albums to have come out in
several years, and it's quickly become one of my
favorites of 2004. —BS
Together We're Heavy
The Polyphonic Spree
[First attempt at review; June 2, 2004]
Make way, heathens. He's back, just like he said
he would be, and not a moment too late if you ask
me. So you can put away your showy wares, your naysaying
and your wantonness, and come on down to the church
with me for some celebratin'.
I am of course referring to Jeebus. I know most
of you either already know all there is to know about
him or are tired of hearing it, but these music reviews
do usually call for a bit of background, so bear
with me here for just one paragraph.
Jeebus and the Apostles first hit the scene in the
early A.D. years. Most of their work was limited
to a few hundred pressings on vinyl sandscript. Not
many people heard their recordings, but as the saying
goes, everyone who did hear them ended up starting
their own church.
All right, even I know this is lame. Jesus wasn't
in a band. He died for our sins, right? He was crucified,
resurrected, and then ascended to heaven, promising
to return when the time was right. Of course, not
everyone agrees on this matter. These are pretty
outrageous claims. But I think that after hearing
this new, highly anticipated album from the Polyphonic
Spree, you'll all agree with me on this one thing:
Jesus Christ is alive and well and living in Dallas,
Texas. He and his concourse of approximately 200
angelic cherubim have managed to arrive rather inconspicuously
onto the scene by assuming the form of a travelling
band. That band is called the Polyphonic Spree. Together
We're Heavy is the most incredible, redeeming piece
of music I've heard in over 2,000 years. Jesus gets
five stars. Jesus is Lord. That's all I have to say
on the matter. Amen.
[Second attempt at review; June 15, 2004]
Today I listened to Together We're Heavy for the
second time. Upon further research, The Polyphonic
Spree is actually headed by some guy named Tim. The
fifty people he tours with are just regular people
in white robes. They can sing pretty well though. “Section
11: A Long Day Continues/We Sound Amazed” is
a pretentious title, but the song still sounds divine.
I think these guys at least commune with God. Maybe
this Tim guy is some sort of a prophet or something.
[Third attempt at review; June 26, 2004]
I've been seriously looking into Judaism. I was
all right with lyrics about sunshine in my soul when
I thought it was my Lord and Savior singing them,
but who is this creep? Listening to this album is
like listening to the five most lyrically cringeworthy
seconds of Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots on endless
repeat. I want my money back. There is no God.
[Final attempt at review; July 10, 2004]
I've come to terms with my God and my musical tastes.
Together We're Heavy is a mixed bag. The first track
is still a great song, with an actual riff, something
the rest of the album could sorely use. There are
several other songs on the album that are musically
interesting, and the album is as a whole is very
well produced, but Tim Delaughter is in serious need
of a bad day. Or perhaps a songwriting coach. Here's
a tip to get you started: “Sun” is not
the only word that rhymes with “love.”
And now, it is finished. The review, I mean. Crap.
I hope God doesn't read RED Magazine.