Saturday, August 04, 2007

Shake It Up, Baby

Goodnight Loving,
Crooked Lake, Dusty Medical Records [9/18/07]

This Milwaukee quintet offers up lo-fi garagey sounds with country trimmings. I found it instantly appealing. (Previous effort, Cemetery Trails, was produced by Greg Cartwright of the Oblivians, Reining Sound, and the Detroit Cobras.)

If the recording were crisper and cleaner, I probably wouldn't like it as much. There's something charming about all that glorious fuzz, the byproduct of a secluded Wisconsin recording session.

According to the press notes, "Multiple listenings will expose rustic auditory atmospherics such as thunder and chirping
birds, all caught on tape live at the cabin." Plus, the songs
are catchy in a 1960s kind of way. CMJ cites the Feelies,
Uncle Tupelo, and the Violent Femmes in their description
of the band's first full-length. I'll buy that. I have no idea
if Goodnight Loving were influenced by any of those
artists, but they can stand proudly beside them.

Crooked Lake is saturated with harmonica, and a Beatlesque approach to rhythm, i.e. it sounds as if Paul's on the bass and Ringo's on the drums—circa the Cavern Club. Twist and shout!

Birds & Batteries, I'll Never Sleep Again,
self-released [10/09/07]

Just as Nature vs. Nature featured a Neil Young cover ("Albuquerque"), so too does Michael Sempert's follow-up. I'll Never Sleep Again opens with a lugubrious "Heart of Gold."

My first thought was "Ugh," but it grew on me after awhile. This version may not be light on its feet, but Young's original lyrics never suggested...bouyancy in the first place. Still, it might've made more sense as the closing track. Opening an album with something loud and sluggish isn't necessarily the best way to go.

The rest of this San Francisco singer/programmer's sophomore record, which features nine musicians this time around—approximately half are permanent—is more melodic, but still slow-moving and introspective (Julie Thomasson's Rhodes playing certainly contributes to that effect).

If you can imagine a cross between Steely Dan, Low, and Kelley Polar, you're halfway there. It isn't my thing, for the most part,
but it's an improvement over Sempert's sleepy predecessor.

The Selfish Gene, The Grand Masquerade,
Ruff Road Records [09/25/07]

Neither terrible nor great, The Grand Masquerade occupies that middle ground between the two extremes.
This Madison, WI quartet knows what they're doing, and they do it well, but
I've heard it all before. Maybe that's
more my problem than theirs...

Interestingly, Spin compares the Selfish Gene to ELO and Spoon, two bands that have almost nothing in common. Well, I like both, and I don't mind these guys, but their sound isn't sufficiently distinctive,
and I could do without lyrics like, "It's a carnival full of carnivores"
("Bad About It"). I've heard worse, and I've heard better.
Passing grade—but just barely.

Endnote: Birds & Batteries play Seattle's Comet Tavern
on 8/14. Please click the links for more information about Goodnight Loving, Birds & Batteries, and the Selfish
. (Click here for a description of the 1976 tome from
whence the latter act takes its name.) Images from Goodnight
Dusty Medical Records, Birds & Batteries, and Wikipedia.

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