Guiding Big D's Sonic Pilgrims
It's Thanksgiving, folks, and during the tryptophan hangover, there's something we all need to do. No, we don't need to reflect again on the Pilgrims gettin' their maize on or how to enslave an otherwise free-spirited and lesser-clothed people. Instead, we need to give proper thanks for some musical releases from artists in an area just a touch southwest of Plymouth. The metroplex has tossed out some fine creations that, like the Indians, didn't get the respect they deserved.
In order to guide you, Big D sonic pilgrims, I cruised my big-ass ship into port, donned my buckled shoes and feathered headdress (genealogically speaking, I'm fashion conflicted) and feasted for the last week on the top picks for the holiday. So please rise, criss-cross those arms, bob your head and give thanks to these musical explorations.
Dialogues With the Devil
Liz MacGowan and Shawn Mauck start out their latest full-length like Meryl Streep and Jack Nicholson in an Ironweed bar—bare bones, raw, on the edge and with an inherent artistic chemistry that makes it evident there's not one other person with whom either would be better paired. "It Don't Make Sense (You Can't Make Peace)" is a brilliant rendition of the Willie Dixon classic that allows MacGowan to show off her new range-roving skills as she sings and howls with the sincere emotion of the wronged.
While the Silk Stocking has been compared before to an amalgam of Nick Cave, Tom Waits and PJ Harvey, the duo really makes the trifecta of burdened and blues-influenced songwriters proud on Dialogues. Mid-album, on "12 Years Later," MacGowan finds the vocals that were lost in the gap between Harvey's Rid of Me and To Bring You My Love. She is at once intimate, sexy and brutal. Cave's "The Carny" enjoys a bit of brief homage in "Dear You," and Waits is channeled through simple percussion and guttural haunts on "Motherless Child." These comparisons are not a discredit to Silk Stocking's originality, but rather a testament to their ability to create an eerie realm, a story and an emotion rarely accomplished even by self-proclaimed fans of such masters.
Shiny Around the Edges
I Just Can't Let You Say Goodbye
Paper Stain Recordings
There's nothing like a little white vinyl 7-inch to bring out the best and the evocative in a Willie Nelson cover. Jennifer Seman's pure and lilting voice creates an amazing tension when coupled with an ominous drone. The railway sound effect adds an atmospheric quality that's unexpected and ethereal despite its mechanical nature. Shiny's collaboration with Castanets on this track makes for no Willie you've heard before.
As far as B-side "Applied Quantum Physics," I want it crafted into some sort of material form and hung on my wall. It's a builder of a song, beginning with a simple strum pattern and a bang of the drum before swelling into an aggressive stomp assault that lyrically acknowledges both confusion ("It was last night or maybe next week") and resolve ("I found the book/I found the answer"). The less often heard vocals of Michael Seman are alluring and convey a sense of honesty. The track has its own murky spirit, which is lifted and unnervingly carried above and away by the piano-playing of Sean Kirkpatrick. "Applied Quantum Physics" grips tights and won't let go. Now give us an album.
Snowing in My Heart
Dallas has its fair share of pop musicians. Few, however, have offered such an accessible, solid album of poppy gems as Nourallah. Save for one or two slightly repetitive skippers, Snowing in My Heart is as close as you can find to a Beatles/Jellyfish/Finn top o' the pops in Big D.
The hooks run rampant. "The Wicked Are Winning" isn't gonna leave your head for a few days, and that's not a bad thing. It's a simple, winsome track with infectious harmonies and a chorus that's easily learned by the last round. "Erased" comes along with more backing harmonies and a...well, a bop, so to speak, that might just be the only thing to get "The Wicked" out of your head. Nourallah also gives listeners several slower, more ballad-y works without losing steam, the most successful and accessible (affectionately) being "I Miss You (So Come Back)."
Snowing is not only a who's who of Dallas musicians (Danny Balis, Daniel Hopkins, Rahim Quazi, Jason Garner, Chris Holt, the late Carter Albrecht and others), the vocals are sincere and basically unaltered, the instrumental layers are complex but natural, and shit, it's catchy.
Johnny Cashin' In
Back in the heyday of variety shows, there were legendary multifaceted performers such as Phyllis Diller, Lucille Ball and Carol Channing. They were damn funny, intelligent ladies, and they were also talented musicians. (Ever seen Diller play the piano?) They weren't real edgy by today's standards, but were they giggin' around Dallas today, they might hang with chanteuse/comic/songwriter Laura Palmer.
Palmer's Johnny Cashin' In is a good time. It doesn't take itself too seriously. The songs are ballsy and catchy—I can't get "One toke over the line, sweet Jesus" out of my gray matter (granted, the intro is pure Brewer and Shipley, but Palmer reawakened it). Palmer's alto/contralto range is a refreshing change, and her cheek is empowering. Her lyrics are peppered with "retard"s, "fuck"s, "turd"s and more; she works a little blue. And yet it's all very tongue-in-cheek and somehow appropriate, alternating sensitivity ("Pancakes and Sorrow") and sarcasm ("You Have So Much More Game Than Me")—always with irreverence. She says all the things people joke about but are too afraid to ever say with conviction. She even takes on Big D in "Dirty Dallas": "The potholes in the pavement make Beirut look like a palace" and "Where everyone you know has done more drugs than Go Ask Alice."
Each song on Johnny clocks in at two or three minutes, so when there's novelty it isn't overwrought and when there's a message it's swiftly and directly wielded.
The Crash That Took Me
120 Minutes had a baby. Its name is The Crash That Took Me.
Crash is reverb and chorus pedals and harmony straight from the place that made girls cry at simple, somber My Bloody Valentine lyrics and made guys decide they needed to be more sensitive when they rock. And, by the way, that's not called being a pussy—that's what we older folk once called a 4AD band. Go back and look at those VHS tapes with videos of the Stone Roses, the Jesus and Mary Chain, MBV and Cocteau Twins. There's a reason we still have those CDs in our collections.
I realize that Crash has gotten flak for their light shows and inconsistent live performances, but I think that comes with being a new band. You gotta get used to everyone's doings onstage—yes, even if members of Crash have played together before. That being said, Orchestrated Kaleidoscopes sounds like it's coming from a band that's been together for a long while. It flows perfectly, and it dabbles in simple lyrics, romanticism, reverb and some feedback ("Explosions in the Mind"). But the things that are really impressive are the harmonies between Dylan Silvers and Fatima Thomas. Silvers has really exercised his range with this project, steering away from the rockier baritone howls of his [DARYL] days. His voice is vibrant and even more emotive ("Celebration of Color and Light Within the Kaleidoscope"). Thomas' vocals have an inherent energy that matches Silvers' well, and her feisty parts take songs such as "Julianne" to a higher level.
Kaleidoscopes is a throwback pop/rock homage to the bands that obviously inspired this veritable mash-up of local bands. Luckily, it enraptures listeners and pulls at sentimental heartstrings with enough of a modern edge that it's not just a flat-out rehash. Staying power is everything, though. Hopefully Kaleidoscopes lasts as long as those VHS tapes.
Denton's trio of impressive résumés and finely honed talents has a little gem in no. 7. It's not much, just the standard two-song vinyl 45 (though with it comes a burned disc containing both the 7-inch tracks as well as two demos, "Carbonade" and "Measured Against"), but it's something. The Shellac-ian (yeah, I said it) contributions to Tre Orsi's first actual release are complex, memorable and satisfying. "The Illustrator" (side A) is an act in focused, restrained aggression—the kind that only comes from learned musicians. Howard Draper's vocals offer an accessible grounding for guitars that could and would go anywhere and everywhere if this was the song of a different band. Thankfully, it isn't. Drummer Brian VanDivier amazes, as he does live, with his mathematic precision and keen use of cymbals to elevate the drama of the band's material.
Sometimes the whole two-singer trade-off bugs the shit out of me—when it affects the flow of a set or when one is clearly a better vocalist (kinda like on that last Shellac album, come to think of it)—but Tre Orsi doesn't have that problem. Both Matthew Barnhart and Draper are both more than capable vocalists, and their singing styles are surprisingly meshed. A flip of the record, or skip of the track, and there's no love lost as Barnhart takes over vocal duties on "Faulkner's Blues." It's a more subdued track to start, but "Faulkner" is a sleeper-builder that once again exercises this insane restraint as some sort of sordid tease before all-out unleashing into a virtual cold-cock of a finale. It is, I think, the musical equivalent of watching the prosecutor pull out damning DNA evidence at the last second of a trial.
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