The members of Sub Oslo are dub fanatics for the post-punk crowd: They splice tape, lay on heavy echo and reverb, pour on the unorthodox sound effects that Perry and others created during continual ganja excursions. The only difference is that Sub Oslo has better studio equipment (and maybe more pedal effects than Stereolab). They're space-rock, but only if you're talking about the space in between inhaling and exhaling.
The ensemble, together since the winter of 1996, has come out with only one self-titled 12-inch EP, produced and released last year by Dave Willingham on his local indie label, Two Ohm Hop (also home to Light Bright Highway and Stumptone). The all-instrumental EP contains only three songs, but each track clocks in at more than 10 minutes. As Sub Oslo plays live, the music is fed to John Nuckels, who uses the mixing board to tweak the sound and throw samples into the mix. The result is a stew of sounds and textures bumping against one another and dispersing like asteroids that collide and pulverize in outer space. You can hear the fallout as beats erupt and shatter. But what keeps this potentially cluttered mix from degrading into a bong-resin mess is the ever-present see-saw melody and insistent bass line. There's a reason Sub Oslo entitled one of its songs "Dubaliscious." The stew just tastes good.
Winner for: Rockabilly/Roots
At the risk of looking into a crystal ball and ending up with a bunch of broken glass, the recent parting of ways between Interscope Records and Jim Heath will likely be the best thing that's ever happened to the Reverend Horton Heat. Heath's association with the label seemed to change his songwriting trajectory from ascendant arc to depressing parabola. By the end of it all, he'd succumbed to lounge shtick, cute fag jokes, and, finally, production that made his band sound like Slow Roosevelt on a bad night--which is to say unlistenable. The worst part of it all was that, for a time, Heath seemed like the man you could count on to avoid all that shit. He began, of course, as Deep Ellum's virgin in a whorehouse--all smiles and suits and rockabilly when the thing was ripped jeans and tuneless rawk. It seemed like novelty--such early songs as "Eat Steak" and "Marijuana" didn't exactly help--until you noticed that Heath could play that guitar, and that his melodies were generally dead-on.
Then he went and put out his second record, The Full-Custom Gospel Sounds of the Reverend Horton Heat, in 1993. More than anything before or since, that album proved Heath was for real. His songwriting had grown to the point that it no longer merely served his style, but rose above it. You could listen to the peerless "Lonesome Train Whistle" and imagine it sounding equally great played by a country yodeler or a garage-rock band; you could listen to "Wiggle Stick" and forget about the easy puns; you could marvel at the verses of "Bales of Cocaine," even if you thought the joke wasn't funny. Heath had figured out the trick: Force people to look beyond the superficial stylism. The only way to do that was with songs as good as these.
He then promptly set about screwing everything up. He jumped from Sub Pop to Interscope, and each successive album seemed to have its very own bad concept: Liquor in the Front teamed the Rev with uber-fan Al Jourgensen, a pairing that looked interesting on paper but sounded misguided on disc; It's Martini Time seemed like little more than a marketing scheme to lure the smoking-jacket lounge crowd, as if they hadn't all been previously cross-enrolled in the rockabilly revivalist problem; and Space Heater tried to reduce the band's country and rockabilly leanings into a slick alt-rock record. Those whispers you hear are an A&R guy telling the group to choose between a radio hit and a pink slip. As Heath wasn't able to come up with something as transcendent as Semisonic's "Closing Time," the pink slip it was, though Heath insists the split was a mutual decision.