By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
With the deluge of product released both by the major and indie labels as well as the proliferation of the do-it-yourself aesthetic even among the slackers, there are bound to be a few gems left unfound, a handful of treasures left undiscovered, buried in the miscellaneous rack at the local CD store or on page 113 of a mail-order catalog.
In what we hope is the first of a monthly series, here are a few to look for:
Johann Johannsson, IBM 1401, a User's Manual (4ad)
Icelandic-born composer and producer Johann Johannsson is best-known for his music for theater, documentaries and soundtracks. IBM 1401 is Johannsson's fourth release as a performer, and it is a lushly orchestrated mixture of fairly conservative neo-classicism and sampled, spoken-word art in the vein of the Books. Underneath lovely and potent washes of strings, a rather robotic voice dictates the contents of a user's manual for one of IBM's earliest computers. This is a work of rare significance, a bridge between the concepts of natural and artificial, an examination of the machine as simply an extension of mankind's beauty.
Uphill Racer, No Need to Laugh (Normoton)
Oliver Lichtl is the lone figure in Uphill Racer, and he creates a beautifully textured collection of off-kilter pop on this debut recording. Songs such as "The Fat Grin of the Enemy" and "Break the Bone, Start the Show" should appeal to fans of Beck or Eels as Lichtl is never afraid to embrace the poetic and the pretty. The arrangements may be a bit pristine for some folk, but the music of Uphill Racer takes pleasure in being dreamlike.
Hotel Alexis, Goliath, I'm on Your Side (Broken Sparrow)
Prior to forming the Hotel Alexis in 2003, Paris native Sidney Alexis (aka Sidney Linder) toured the States and collected stories and images that he felt represented the American spirit. Goliath is his brilliant and detailed recasting of these tales as songs. Mixing rural singer-songwriter fare with an urban attitude, songs such as "Silver Waves Crash Through the Canyon" and "The Devil Knows My Handle" are twisted tales of heartbreak that never betray the authenticity of their source material.
Goldrush, Ozona (Better Looking)
Hailing from Oxford, England, this energetic quintet is actually adept at classic Americana in the vein of the Byrds and the Flying Burrito Brothers. Ozona, the band's sophomore effort, was named for a small Texas town where the band members once stayed while their tour van was being repaired. "Wait for the Wheels," the opening cut, is a hell of a start, recalling the psycho-drone of the Dream Syndicate as well as the drug-fueled nirvana of the Meat Puppets. Goldrush is quite capable of delivering a transatlantic paean to real country that overshadows many local bands that invest as much in their costumes as they do in their compositions.