Monday, April 23, 2007

Polvo - Today's Active Lifestyles (1993)/Oxford Collapse - Remember the Night Parties (2006)

What's this? A double post?!! That's right. 1 album from 1993 + 1 album from 2006 = Math Rock then and now. Polvo were one of the foremost exponents of the Math Rock subgenre in the mid 90's, as well as a crucial part of the fertile Chapel Hill, NC indie scene. Their layered guitars, odd time signatures, dissonant chord structures, and predisposition for noisy (albeit melodic) songs, built them a cult following in the underground art/indie rock scene. Today's Active Lifestyles is Polvo's second LP, and for the adventurous listener it's well-worth hearing. There is a bit of something for "everyone", from the clattering, distorted guitar jabs of opener "Thermal Treasure", to the loping, quasi-psychedelic ramblings of "Lazy Comet".

Oxford Collapse is a band of young men from Brooklyn (of course). This is their third album, and first for the almighty Sub Pop label. Though Oxford Collapse is by no means a Math Rock outfit first and foremost, there are moments throughout this excellent album that recall the off-kilter explosiveness of those bands. "For the Khakis and the Sweatshirts" bears the imprint of bands like Polvo, with its vaguely Eastern, winding guitar lines, and heavily accented rhythms. There are also whiffs of another Chapel Hill group: The indie rock heavyweights and Tigers-of-Love-approved Archers of Loaf . Times being what they are, though, this record is much more pop accessible than most 90's Math Rock. The single, "Please Visit Our National Parks", is built on a insistent guitar riff that gives way to catchy hook and sing-a-long chorus. Check out the video for this song, featuring sheep and a seriously malfunctioning walkman: Here. This is a band to watch, as they only seem to get better with each album.

Friday, April 13, 2007

The Free Design - Stars/Time/Bubbles/Love (1970)

"The commercial failure of the Free Design remains one of the most baffling mysteries in the annals of pop music -- with their exquisitely celestial harmonies, lighter-than-air melodies and blissful arrangements, the group's records were on par with the work of superstar contemporaries like the Beach Boys, the Association and the Cowsills, yet none of their singles even cracked the Hot 100." Jason Ankeny - ALLMUSIC.COM
Baffling indeed, if not downright criminal. Luckily, the incessantly upbeat pop contained on this record will help you overcome the anger of injustice. The Girl/Boy vocals recall in spirit, if not in style, the waves of indie kids that are still crashing on our shores with their twee pop, cute haircuts, and irreverent take on life. The four members (2 guys 2 girls) that make up The Free Design are all siblings, and their songs seem to be extensions of their childhood. "Bubbles", the opener, is a favorite. It has a bouncy bassline and jazz inflected harmonies. I have heard this record described as "the one where the Free Design discovered funk". "Bubbles" certainly makes a good case for that. "Butterflies Are Free", likely inspired by the Leonard Gershe play of the same name, is an uplifting ode to personal freedom supported by some lovely horn arrangements. "That's All, People" is a triumphant, horn driven The Free Design have always delivered superb covers of other people's songs, and the inclusion of "Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head" here is no exception. Like they'd done previously for The Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel, and The Mammas and The Papas, the group adds their cascading vocal harmony style and jazzy backing to a recognizable pop song and makes it their own. While it is possible to overdose on the sweet sugary-goodness that is the Free Design, sometimes a little hit of their unabashed sentimentality is all that you need to get over the hump.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Slint - Spiderland (1991)

Not much more needs to be said about the importance of this Louisville, KY band as far as their impact on Indie rock and Post-rock in particular. A band (and album) that has only continued to rise in the ranks of essential-must-hear-record status as years go by, they were mostly overlooked at the time (what with Grunge being all huge and everything). Slint may not have started the quiet-loud dynamic trend in Indie rock, but they at least made it a very convincing aesthetic choice. Same goes for speak/sing mumbling as vocal style. This record is certainly not for everyone, but those that dig off-kilter, angular rhythms, chilly atmospherics, deranged poetic ramblings, and occasional bursts of guitar noise will be, like, totally psyched. At the very least, it is worth hearing what all the fuss is about. I mean, you know they're historical importance is no joke when Spiderland's album cover has been featured in a Shins video.

Monday, April 2, 2007

Antena - Camino Del Sol (1982)

The peerless reissue gods at Numero Group unearthed a real treasure with this one. This French trio creates a compelling, unique fusion of electro-pop and smooth latin rhythms. Fans of Air and Miho Hatori will be especially pleased with Isabella Antena's whisper-soft vocals. Although they didn't get much recognition when they were on Factory Records in the early 80's, this group was definitely ahead of its time. Their dreamy, gently swaying, cosmopolitan sound, is the type of lounge music that makes you reconsider any negative connotations previously associated with that designation. Truly sublime.