Sunday, March 19, 2006

From Missouri to Minnesota (by Way of Memphis and São Paulo)

I guess I'd rather be judged by twelve / Than carried by six.
-- The Plastic Constellations, "Best Things"


The Bottle Rockets, Zoysia, Bloodshot (6/6/06 release date)

Zoysia just goes to prove what a diverse studio Ardent has become. Back in the 1970s, Al Green, Big Star, and all the great Stax acts layed their mellifluous sounds down at the renowned Memphis studio. Earlier this year, Cat Power released The Greatest, which was recorded there with some of Green's most celebrated sidemen. The result is one of her finest recordings. Well, the Bottle Rockets don't sound like any of those artists and yet their eighth full-length was recorded at Ardent with Jeff Powell (Alex Chilton, the Afghan Whigs). Okay, so "I Quit" has a bit of that patented Memphis groove to it--female back-up singers and all--but the rest of the record has more of a Midwestern country-rock feel (with the possible exception of pretty ditty "Where I'm From"). According to the press notes, singer/guitarist Brian Henneman used to roadie for Uncle Tupelo, played on their March 16-20, 1992 album, and was backed by Jay Farrar and Jeff Tweedy on the single he cut the same year. Not too surprisingly, Zoysia sounds a little like Tupelo or Son Volt, but it's rootsier and more "downhome," for lack of a better word. Not bad, but I'd probably enjoy 'em more live. No doubt they bring it in a major way--and you can catch 'em on tour with Bobby Bare Jr. this summer.

Fellini, Amor Louco, RDS [Brazilian import]

I first made the acqaintance of this São Paulo quartet-turned-duo via Nao Wave: Brazilian Post Punk: 1982-1988. In the liner notes, compiler Alex Antunes compares them to Wall of Voodoo. I'm not sure who I'd compare them to, but Stan Ridgway's LA combo isn't the first that comes to mind. It isn't entirely off-base either. I've listened to Amor Louco several times now over the course of several months, and I'm still having trouble deciding who Fellini sounds most like. Why should it be so hard? I guess because the songs are catchy and yet there's a certain indefinable darkness to them. It isn't a noirish darkness, like Voodoo's "Mexican Radio" (or Ridgway's Rumblefish anthem "Don't Box Me In"), and there's nothing gothic about it, but there's an air of melancholy to Fellini's off-kilter pop. REM, circa Murmur, is one possible comparison. A couple songs are in English, however, and the lyrics aren't particularly Stipe-like. Take "Love 'til the Morning," for instance, which consists entirely of the following: "O love 'til the morning / Love all the night / Love all the time." That's it. Of course, pop merchants can also be depressives, and that's what I hear on Fellini's 2000 comeback--upbeat music made by downbeat folk. Or is that upbeat music for downbeat folk? Something like that.

The Plastic Constellations, Crusades, Frenchkiss

My first reactions, in order, were: 1) Cool band name, and 2) Boy, are these guys good at what they do...I only wish I liked it more. The Minneapolis foursome are so damned tight, however--they can stop and start on a dime and arpeggiate like nobody's business--that I decided I should give their third long player more of a chance and the more I've listened, the more it's grown on me. Granted, it'll never quite be "my thing," but this CD sounds better and better with each spin. The late Tacoma band Seaweed is one analogue that comes to mind, but these kids (they're all in their mid-20s) have a more emo/prog-oriented approach--like an indie rock Rush (sans Geddy Lee). As with Seaweed or Fugazi, the lyrics are yelled rather than sung--all join in--but I rarely felt I was being hectored or harangued. Granted, I can't always tell what the Plastics are going on about, although they do have a song called "Quixote" and another called "Sancho Panza." (Gotta dig that.) Sometimes loud music just works best with loud vocals, the opposite of Slint or My Bloody Valentine, in which whispered/spoken lyrics were frequently overwhelmed by the wall of guitars. Crusades is metal for the alt-rock set.

Note: Plastic Constellations T-shirt design from their website, Amor Louco image from Clique Music.

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