Big Hits of Mid-America, Volume 412
Spaghetti Western String Co.
The Spaghetti Western String Co.'s new EP, Quiet Mob, clocks in at just over 20 minutes. It's the rare album that leaves you pining for more. The four-piece string band's commanding idiosyncrasy is amply displayed on the second track, "Luna Marinara." The only non-instrumental, it's a cover of an Italian ballad previously sung by the likes of Pavarotti and Carlo Buti. Hearing their versions remains on my list of things to do, but I feel confident in proclaiming that Spaghetti singer Nicholas Lemme more than holds his own. His mournful tenor is set against a dense mélange of guitar, cello, and violin, with the former adding a mariachi flair to the tune. I'm pretty sure the song translates, "Red Sauce Is Extra Yummy on the Moon," though I'm only in week three of my Berlitz class. Seriously, though, it pulls at your guts. The next tune, "Merton's Woods," sets off in a completely different direction. Here the banjo gradually comes to the fore, providing a lazy country gait for the other instruments to rally around. It sounds like an outtake from Bill Frisell's Nashville, with the violin and clarinet dueling for melodic position. This is the part of the review where I'm supposed to point out the flaws in an otherwise superb piece of work. But I can't think of any. --Paul Demko
Estate Sale Records
Let's clear the air right now: G-O-T-H. Sure, Revolver Modèle's crepuscular flame is too streamlined to allow for conventional pigeonholing; nothing about the band bears the slightest trace of fetish club or Renfest affiliations. The band passes on contemporary genre frippery, instead looking to the foreshadowing likes of Bauhaus, the Birthday Party, Banshees, and one or two Peter Hook-related projects for inspiration--along with (night)life itself. "Your legs are wrapped around my ribs/Can you feel my heartbeat?" vocalist and guitarist Ehsan Alam croons on "The Ache," his gloriously spooked baritone growing ever more insistent as it orbits bassist Natasha Hasset's fluid hub. As usual, drummer Jesse Winsell plays the straight man, while guitarist Mykel Arnold's measured interjections lend muscle to Alam's probe before resolving the track in a sustained torrent of speed-picked sparks. Slower than much of the consistently frisky Discothèque Crypt, the mid-tempo loper offers an easy peek into a realm where untrammeled sensuality reigns in lieu of mundane poo. A little time, a little money, and the band might well end up becoming rock's David Lynch. --Rod Smith
Phil Hey Quartet
Phil Hey's first CD as a bandleader reflects the creative passion, refined taste, and ensemble-oriented empathy that have, over the past two decades, made Hey the area's best jazz drummer. Favoring the warts-and-all spontaneity of a live recording, his distinctively hornless quartet plays with the nuanced wrinkles of a working band of intimate musical acquaintance, and Hey affords each member a simpatico showcase. Dave Hagedorn's luminous vibraphone envelops the opening track, Bobby Hutcherson's "Highway One," and in short order pianist Phil Aaron displays his sprightly elegance on Marc Copeland's "Darius Dance." Later, Tom Lewis proves himself to be a stalwart bassist throughout Charles Mingus's "Duke Ellington's Sound of Love."
The rest of the menu--which ranges from Irving Berlin to the DIY Brazilian renegade Hermeto Pascoal to inspired selections from the catalogs of John Coltrane ("Fifth House") and Ornette Coleman ("Blues Connotation")--is a testament to Hey's stylistic breadth. Never one to punctuate the obvious with bashed climaxes or keep mundane time with standard snare drum/ride cymbal combinations, he stokes the rhythm with innovative but understated fervor, keeping the beat floating and mutable in the manner of his mentor, Coleman associate Ed Blackwell. Hey's skittering snare accents on Don Cherry's "Mopti" and his fluid New Orleans-style march time on the Ornette tune would be homages to Blackwell even if the late drummer weren't tied to both tunes.
Subduction isn't a total triumph. Hey's rudimentary title track indicates he's a much better drummer than he is a composer, and the absence of horns is ironically most injurious on Berlin's "The Best Thing for You," which is too peppy and staccato with all the percussive strings, skins, and vibraphone bars. But by the time Hey finally hogs the spotlight with a raucous solo at the end of a chasing-their-tails band blowout on the 'Trane tune, you know that, on balance, it's a triumph all the same. --Britt Robson
Harp and Finial
Earthquakes Are Easy
When a band names themselves after table-lamp parts, there's a good chance they'll be on the tame side. Sure enough, the lead singer of Harp and Finial is a boy-next-door who claims to have a cat named I Love You. [Insert unfunny "nice guys and pussy" joke here.] An "aw shucks" attitude comes in handy when trying to pull off hometown pride anthems like "Minnesota" ("You're my home/Where I leave my brush and my comb"), but not all of their songs offer such cornball sentiment, and the band generally keeps things afloat with a goofing-in-the-garage vibe reminiscent of early Flaming Lips. The album drags, though, when the band hunkers down for an earnest song about Eleanor Rigby types ("Oxford, Ohio"), and I find myself wanting more lines like "It takes a day to fall in like and a week to fall in love." The album bounces back with "If I Were You," on which fuzzy guitars are layered for the big finish. File this one under "Things Seen Coming from a Mile Away": At peak volume, they sound like Weezer. --Lindsey Thomas
Rocky vs. FIC
Midwest True Story
Rock City Productions
"Roll Up" and "Just Imagine," two tracks buried toward the end of the encyclopedic Midwest True Story, would make a great two-sided single of thematic contrasts: a weed anthem backed by the alleged recollections of Fiction's prenatal life. It's all stuff close to the Minneapolis-based rapper's heart, and lungs. "This reefer got me/In a whole 'nother world," he declares in "Roll Up," "Tryin' to make your way through the twists and the twirls/Sometimes I just try/To roll up and kiss the sky." Eschewing mysticism and goofiness alike, his POV is strictly pragmatic: Cannabis brings relief from stress as well as enhanced creativity; therefore, the more, the merrier. Producer Rocky--like Fiction, a veteran of the Pharohs Entertainment crew--shows off his penchant for building beats around loops nipped from less-than-obvious chunks of R&B songs, letting FIC's red-eyed contentions float on a dreamily piano-driven bed of cotton ear candy. From the opening quatrain's "potential/menstrual" one-two, "Just Imagine" offers Fiction's least shopworn moments. But album-length consistency is not the MC's forte. "Last Call"'s celebration of cold-blooded womanizing leeches cred from "Imagine"'s eloquent fetal narrator, to the extent that the maliciously indifferent father pushing for the unborn rapper's cancellation might just as well be, uh, Fiction. Musician, heal thyself. --Rod Smith
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