By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
Same as it ever was
With a surreal cover whose artistry would be right at home with any of Hipgnosis Studio's bizarre illustrations for '70s acts like Yes, Tellus announces that it shares the ambitions (and yes, the pretensions) of prog-rock standard-bearers.
Of course, the form is different now, with a crunchier, more metallic edge that substitutes syncopation for symphony, but take away the King's X factor and the beast is essentially unchanged: big clanky bass lines, big clanky lyrics, and a big-voiced rock-operatic vocal delivery that add up--sometimes successfully--to a sense that the music is really, really trying to be "about" something.
Together four years, Tellus is musically tight--bassist and vocalist Mary and guitarist Chris Howell are brother and sister who grew up performing, and Mary is married to drummer Paul Parkerson, who respects but isn't intimidated by the siblings' heightened synchronicity--and has lofty goals, as any band that describes its music as "thought-rock" must. Fans of the idiom will find Stand By to be more than acceptable, a confident local take on a beloved formula; even those who have been watching, appalled and afraid while the ghost of progressive rock again surfaces Moby Dicklike, can't begrudge Tellus its skill. In fact, you might want to give props to the trio for a certain degree of redefinition, using Mary's influence and voice to dissipate one of prog-rock's most persistent bad smells: that it's the music of underdeveloped high-school boys with good grades, bad haircuts, and a predilection for long Picard/Kirk/Janeway debates. The dose of estrogen is refreshing, admitting as it does to the possibility of a wider audience; even when it overreaches, Tellus has finesse, not nearly as heavy-handed or bombastic as groups like Dream Theatre.
This split 7-inch hits the stores at a strangely appropriate time: With the Ramones bidding us "bye" from the traveling trade show called Lollapalooza and the Sex Pistols cashing in on the kids who got punk third hand, this single stands both as a homage to the spirit of punk and proof that music can still be made in the garage instead of the slick studios of a corporate multinational. Kings of three-chord wonders, the Mullens and Mess understand perfectly well that you don't need a fourth to communicate feelings of alienation, dissatisfaction, and lust. Grainy, scuffed, and impulsively catchy, these four songs could have been recorded 20 years ago. Their scratchy, sentimental glory creates the soundtrack for an alleyway Bohemia that is pretty much the same now as it was then.