Park Police — Ranchero (CD Review)

Park Police - Ranchero
Get it at Not Lame Records.

LOCAL (Baltimore) >>

Park Police
Rating: 8 (out of 10)
Independent Release | 2005

When Pat Wescott sings “We’ve been waiting for you to finally come around” in the opening track of 2005’s Ranchero, he’s being, for once, very serious. Though this is Park Police’s first album, the band, which also includes bassist Eric Bloodsworth and drummer Bruno Anderson, has been together in various forms for well over a decade. This is the Baltimore-based group’s first attempt at a trio, which explains the opening lines of “Mission Song”: “Ten years and pocket change/ we’ve been trying to rearrange/ had a choice for another band/ so we could find us a place to stand.”

It seems more like a place to slouch. Even after a decade of shuffling around, the three 30-somethings of Park Police still seem unconcerned with trying to make it big. They recorded at the Lil’ House, and their album is sold with Not Lame Recordings. As in “Mission Song,” their lyrics are often shrugs of self-deprecation; in “Tunnel,” Wescott confesses to “singing to static, but I’ve lost my place again.” Park Police even dubbed their debut after a defunct half-car, half-pickup truck – certainly not the most glamorous means of transportation.

But there’s nothing more comfortable than cruising around in a beat-up pickup – even half of one – and Ranchero is just the CD to blast from the busted speakers. Not only are many individual tracks bona fide driving songs (especially and obviously “Next Gear”), but the album as a whole is a rollicking, we-don’t-slow-down-for-speed-bumps kind of affair. Like the car, the music is pleasantly worn in, friendly guitar rock with origins in The Who and Rolling Stones. The band also collects frequent comparisons to Joe Jackson’s early work, and the snappy “Nationwide” and rich harmonies and catchy chorus of “I Tried” might mix well with the likes of “Is She Really Going out with Him?”

Ah, screw it – this album isn’t designed for serious discussions or analysis, so stop reading about it. Go get a jump-start, duct tape the brake lights back on and hit the road with Ranchero.

Depeche Mode at Patriot Center

Live Review >>
Depeche Mode at Patriot Center on December 9, 2005

Depeche Mode photophoto courtesy and © Depeche Mode

If the 1990s had a god, it was Depeche Mode, and if that god had a kingdom, it would resemble Depeche Mode’s stage at the Patriot Center on December 9.

The look might have been described as “interplanetary punk.” A moon-sized orb hung in midair, inset with scrolling computer screens and neon inscriptions of words like “sex,” “pain” and “love.” The trademark synthesizers were enthroned in semicircular silver pods. The backdrop was a massive black curtain featuring the feathered silhouette displayed on the band’s aptly named 2005 release, “Playing the Angel.”

First impressions of the crowd didn’t mesh with this otherworldly atmosphere. Unlike the hordes that gathered to worship Depeche Mode a decade or two ago, this congregation looked, well, normal. There was not a single eye-lined, dour teenage misfit in sight – just thousands of amiable 30-somethings. They wore pashminas and leather coats, or else sat uncomfortably in business casual, not having had a chance to change out of corporate wear before gathering to recant their alternative heydays. This observer wondered whether the devout Depechians had lost their faith.

But then everything went black, and then glowed neon blue, then red. The globe‚Äôs screen scrolled a digital ‚ÄúHELLO‚Äù ‚Äì and the demure crowd was on its feet to give their idols a proper welcome. They remained upright for the 21-song, two-hour show. Continue reading →

Big Star – #1 Record/Radio City

Big Star Radio City
Get it at Amazon

INSTANT REPLAY: overlooked moments in music history — by Ryan Kailath

Big Star
#1 Record/Radio City
Fantasy | 1972, 1974, 1992

In 1967, a journalist asked Pete Townshend what kind of music his band played. “Power pop is what we play,” he responded, coining a term that is as widely misunderstood today as it is used. Big Star keeps true tradition with the genre’s confused legacy, as an impossibly influential band eclipsed by its own imitators.

Big Star has oft been called “the most famous obscure band in the world.” Formed in Memphis in 1971 and comprised of Chris Bell, Alex Chilton, Andy Hummel and Jody Stephens, the band recorded three albums in three years before breaking up. This CD combines the band’s first and best two records onto one disc.

Bell, Hummel and Stephens had been playing Led Zeppelin covers in the back room of Bell‚Äôs house for close to a year when Alex Chilton, a teen star who sang The Box Tops‚Äô #1 hit ‚ÄúThe Letter,‚Äù returned to Memphis and was invited to join the band. Influenced heavily by the sounds and styles of the British Invasion, Bell & Chilton decided to share songwriting credits for #1 Record, à la Lennon/McCartney.

One listen through the record shows this was not the case. Bell’s darker, edgier contributions (“Feel,” “Try Again”) stand clearly distinct from Chilton’s pop-inspired melodies and world-weary lyrics on songs like “Watch the Sunrise.” The songwriting duo’s love of The Beatles may not have been evident in their creative method, but they certainly shared Lennon and McCartney’s famous tension. Bell, clearly the team leader of the first Big Star record, left the band after the album failed miserably in both sales and charts, though it was critically acclaimed across the music press.

Big Star disbanded upon Bell’s departure, but reunited a year later after playing a successful reunion show for a music journalism convention in 1973. Now a trio, the band recorded their second album, 1974’s Radio City, with Chilton at the controls. This second record, marked by it’s pop sensibility and stripped-down production, is generally hailed as the band’s masterpiece. Many songs off Radio City are thought to be originally penned by Bell, though Chilton is vague on the subject. Chris Bell, who never fully recovered from the crippling failure of #1 Record, died tragically in a car crash in 1978, his promise unfulfilled. Bell’s solo project, I Am The Cosmos, was finished and released in the 90s by his older brother David.

Big Star’s artistry and influence, though unrecognized during the band’s time, has proved indisputable in today’s music scene. R.E.M., The Replacements, The Posies and others all cite Big Star as one of their primary influences. In a recent poll conducted by Magnet Magazine, eighteen artists including Janet Weiss (Sleater-Kinney), Davey von Bohlen (The Promise Ring), John Davis (Superdrag), and Phil Elvrum (The Microphones) named Big Star tracks as their favorite power-pop songs of all time. If this record is not in your collection, it should be now.

Pretty in Person: Pretty Girls Make Graves at Black Cat

Live Review >>
Pretty Girls Make Graves at Black Cat – Washington, DC
December 8, 2005

Pretty Girls Make Graves
Pretty Girls Make Graves

When Pretty Girls Make Graves take stage, don���t expect some complicated light show or a shower of pyrotechnics. In fact, the band members will more than likely be wandering around pre-show, taking turns conducting their own sound check and set-up. They remain completely accessible, despite the fact that Pretty Girls Make Graves have the makings of band most likely to take over the world.

After a handful of Fall dates opening for Franz Ferdinand, PGMG rounded out the year with several headlining appearances, providing a sneak peek for their forthcoming 2006 release from Matador Records (produced by Colin Stewart, whose most recent credits include Black Mountain). Originally formed in Seattle in 2001, PGMG is a hybrid of talent from bands including Death Wish Kids, Murder City Devils, and Kill Sadie. Fronted by Andrea Zollo, the crisp, aggressive, and haunting sound of PGMG is also brought to life by guitarist Jay Clark, drummer Nick Dewitt, and bassist Derek Fudesco. The new kid of the PGMG block is keyboardist Leona Marrs from Hint Hint, a wise addition who also provides the perfect backing vocal ying to Zollo���s yang.

Their December 8th appearance at the Black Cat opened with the hypnotic-turned-explosive ���Something Bigger, Something Brighter��� from their most recent release, the brilliant, critically-revered The New Romance. The evening continued with a welcomed audio assault of other PGMG favorites, all fueled by the urgency conveyed in Zollo���s voice ��� be it the slowly building crescendo of ���Blue Lights��� or the aching ���A Certain Cemetery.��� If the band had any concerns about reactions to the new material, they need not worry ��� the crowd jumped right on board as PGMG blazed through a sampling of glittery gems sure to keep fans buzzing until the official release. The encore culminated with the epic, manic anthem, ���This Is Our Emergency,��� and by the time PGMG took their official, for real-real final bow, their ability to fill even the most intimate venues with kinetic energy could not be denied.

P.S. To the two girls in the back dancing all Molly-Ringwald-Breakfast-Club-ish: Fan enthusiasm is great, but ladies ��� didja��� have a few cocktails before the show? Uh-huh. That���s what I thought.

The Cocteau Twins – Treasure

Cocteau Twins' Treasure CD
Get it at Amazon

INSTANT REPLAY: overlooked moments in music history — by Ryan Kailath

The Cocteau Twins
4AD Records | 1984

Fans have said that after they first heard The Cocteau Twins, other music sounded pale and pointless in comparison, like shadows on the wall of Plato’s cave. Plato’s allegory was concerned with waking from life’s slumber to find reality. This Scottish trio, comprised of Elizabeth Fraser, Robin Guthrie and Simon Raymonde, has always been content to live in dreams. Their ethereal melodies set them apart from any artists then or now. It’s not that they have no competitors, but that they have no comparison. Their sound is truly unique.

The Cocteaux were signed early on to 4AD. Label founder Ivo Watts-Russell said that his aim was to unearth music that was timeless, free of any trend, movement or era. He lived up to this claim by housing some of the most avant-garde artists of the last 25 years, including Bauhaus, The Pixies and Mojave 3. After a handful of EPs and full-lengths, heavily promoted by the late BBC mogul John Peel, the Twins changed bassists and recorded 1984’s Treasure. The addition of Raymonde marked a departure from their heavier bass-driven sound, and Treasure was instantly recognized as a radical new chapter in the band’s unfolding story.

The gossamer textures of delayed guitars and drum-machine are now apparent as obvious precursors of the dream-pop sound that was to come out of the UK years later with bands like Slowdive and Galaxie 500. Rather than playing at the listener, the music invites you to come inside and explore its stream of conscious. The Cocteau Twins are to music what David Lynch is to film: never a consistent critic’s favorite, but always inventive and instantly recognizable spinners of surrealist dreams.

Rogue Wave at Black Cat, 12/3/05

Live Review >>

Rogue Wave photo
Rogue Wave

Zach Rogue is auditioning for the role of leading man in the indie rock world. Being from California—Oakland, to be exact—he should know that he needs to look the part. But Rogue‚Äôs version of sensitive singer/songwriter for his band Rogue Wave would be better cast on MTV‚Äôs ‚ÄúJackass‚Äù than an MTV2 music video. He‚Äôs got muscles, an earring, slicked back blonde hair ‚Äì and, much unlike the emaciated, gloomy addicts that typically typify his position, a sense of humor and a smile.

First impressions when Rogue happily hopped onto the Black Cat stage on December 3rd: No way could this guy produce the emotional, melodic gems that have critics comparing Rogue Wave to Elliott Smith and Death Cab for Cutie. But then again, the band‚Äôs two Sub Pop releases in two years—Out of the Shadow in ‚Äô04 and Descended like Vultures this October—have won plenty of placements on indie sites‚Äô ‚ÄúNot To Be Missed‚Äù lists. They‚Äôve had a song chosen as iTunes‚Äô free song of the week, and even earned one of Pitchfork Media‚Äôs endangered good reviews. Continue reading →

Chris Mills Review – Backstage Room at the Black Cat, 11/30/05

Live Review >>

Chris Mills photo
Chris Mills

Chris Mills is really psyched to see you. A lot of musicians might proclaim this when onstage (���Thank you Cleveland! Goodnight!���), but Mills seems like he really means it, as though he hand-wrote and mailed invitations to everyone standing in the Backstage room at the Black Cat. He comes across like the perfect host, smiling as if it���s his birthday but you���re the one who���s about to get the present: a powerful, deeply personal performance laced with sounds of folk, classic rock, even a hint of big band ��� all wrapped up with a big, alt-country/pop bow.

A longtime fav among the Chicago indie rock scene, Mills (who now calls Brookyln home) has been wrapping up a stateside tour in support of his October 2005 release, Wall to Wall Sessions (Powerless Pop). One of his last 2005 appearances included a recent stop in D.C., with Mills providing the first act for an evening that also included the performance of locally based Justin Jones (an extremely talented musician in his own right also deserving of much wider recognition). Continue reading →

Iron & Wine, Calexico at 9:30 Club

Live Review >>

Iron & Wine photo
Iron & Wine – photo by Dennis Kleiman

In response to Iron & Wine’s set at the 9:30 Club Wednesday night, members of the packed audience did something inconceivable. It was hard to tell, sometimes only spotted by a chicken-like bob of the head. But the underlying truth was undeniable. They were moving.

“How can that be?!” you demand, scraping your memory for justification. All that comes to mind is the Iron & Wine song you heard in that movie/that M&Ms commercial/that other movie. To your recollection, bearded film-professor-turned-frontman Sam Beam’s tune was slow enough to rock you to sleep – not rock out.

Calexico Live photo

But those expecting lullabies at the late-night show on November 30 were rudely awakened when a Tucson duo called Calexico took the stage. A coupla cowboys with music to match, Joey Burns and John Covertino have been Beam‚Äôs pals since 2004 and his partners since they collaborated on 2005‚Äôs ‚ÄúIn the Reins‚Äù EP. Critics heralded the addition of Calexico‚Äôs eclectic country backing to Iron & Wine‚Äôs wistful, weathered ballads. Continue reading →