Sunday, November 04, 2007

The Endurance

Love in October, Pontus,
the Devil, and Me, The
Musik Group [1/22/08]

On their first full-length, these Minneapolis musicians serve up alt-rock with a side of new wave. Led by Scandinavian-born brothers Erik and Kent Widman, the track "Vi Gar Till RevoluciĆ³n" is sung entirely in Swedish.

For the most part, though, Love in October's
debut (after a 2006 six-song EP), sounds more Am-
erican than European, like a harder-rocking Weezer.
You know—upbeat, fast-paced, and slightly adenoidal.

Aside from Erik (vocals, guitar,
piano) and Kent Widman (bass),
the line-up includes Charlie Abbott (guitar) and Chresten Hyde (drums). The two appears to be new additions
as the booklet credits Nik Pfeifer and Brian Boesen. Both Widmans handle the all-important Moog duties.

As for that Swedish song, it serves as a reminder that ABBA sang in English for a reason—and not just because it sells records to non-Swedes. I don't find the language unpleasant, but it doesn't lend itself well to pop music (and you could say the same about Norwegian, since Sondre Lerche and his brethren sing in English, too). All in all, Pontus, the Devil, and Me makes for a nice, breezy listen.

The Selmanaires, The Air Sales-
men, International Hits [1/22/08]

Click here to download "Reason and Change."

The first thing I noticed about this Atlanta quartet were the smooth, echoey vocals. They sound like a cross between David Bowie and Of Montreal's Kevin Barnes. As it turns out, two people are singing in unison—twins Herb and Jason Harris (Tommy Chung holds down the bass, while Mathis Hunter handles the drums).

As influences, the Selmanaires claim 1960s psych-pop, 1970s post-punk, Krautrock, and Motown. I don't hear much—if any—R&B on The Air Salesmen, but that unusual combination of styles helps to make up their appealingly unsettling sound.

"Unsettling" is also how Shohei Imamura once described his work. Though the American band has nothing to do with the Japanese director, I've been attending an Imamura retrospective for the past few weeks, so he's been infiltrating my consciousness. (Imamura's complete phrase
was "messy, really human, Japanese, unsettling.")

Although "unsettling" is sometimes used as a pejorative, I like
the idea of something that takes you by surprise, forcing you
to see the world a little differently. That's what Imamura did; on
their second long-player, that's what the Selmanaires do, too.

Further, their publicist makes a case for "ass-shaking beats,"
and on "Broken Mirrors in the Mud" and "GMAFB," i.e. "Give Me
a Fucking Break," they do indeed bring the grooves. That doesn't
make the Selmanaires a dance band, but post-punk/Krautrock
aptly describes their off-kilter approach to the dance floor.

There's a harmonious balance between Can fluidity and James
Chance & the Contortions angularity. Not as disco-oriented as
the former—think later singles like "I Want More"—or as jazzy
as Mr. Chance, but you get the idea. I can easily imagine the
Selmanaires sharing a bill with LCD Soundsystem. And I
mean that as the highest of praise. One of the year's best.

The Shackeltons, The Shackeltons, Loveless [1/29/08]

It's gonna be cold / it's gonna be cold / in the sea / the sea of love!
-- The Shackeltons, "The Ship"

Because they're on Loveless, I assumed the Shackeltons might be local, but they're actually based in Chambersburg, PA. I had already heard the first track, "Your Movement," as it's gotten a lot of play on KEXP (morning DJ John Richards co-owns Loveless).

I've also heard "The Blood" before. They're the two strongest tracks on this quintet's self-titled debut, but there's no filler here. Arguably, Mark Redding yells too much, but he's got the lung power for it. At times, he sounds like Frank Black, but his group is grittier than the Pixies.

Instead, they come on like a stripped-down Franz Ferdinand or more garage-oriented Fugazi. Despite the number of players, there's a fair amount of "negative space," i.e. breathing room, on The Shackeltons. It's a surprisingly minimalist effort—something you'd expect from a smaller combo.

As you might have guessed, the group took their name from Antarctic explorer—and formidable Irishman—Sir Ernest Shackleton. In the press notes, guitarist Dan Schuchman explains, "Each member of the band can relate to the feeling of being shipwrecked in a cold, unforgiving world, and gathering the strength to make it back home, or at least finding one." Okay, that's a bit much, but you've got to be glad these guys found each other.

Redding and Dan Schuchman are joined by Eric Fisak on guit-
ar, Justin McDaniel on bass, and Sean Hallock on drums. Mc-
Daniel also plays melodica, balalaika, mandola, and kalimba.

Aside from the volume and intensity, Redding delivers
his lyrics as if they were pronouncements from God.

"The Ship" (see above) is a prime example. Normally, I'd have a problem with that sort of self-seriousness, and when it comes to groups like the consistently over-the-top Arcade Fire, I do, but this outfit's instrumental approach is unpretentious enough to compensate.

It isn't orchestral, operatic, or baroque. Instead, the Shackeltons generate a compelling tension between the melodramatic vocals and the visceral music. And therein lies
their strength or—to complete the analogy—their endurance.

Endnote: For more information about the Shackeltons,
please visit their official website. As for the Endurance, it
was the name of Shackleton's legendary vessel—and the title
of George Butler's fascinating documentary about his historic
journey. (Note that the group spells their name differently.)

Shackleton image from Wikipedia, Love in October from
their official website, Selmanaires from Atlanta Music Guide,
Shackeltons (band and amp) from their MySpace Page; credits:
Shana Novak and Gregory A. Perez. (Dig that Mudhoney t-shirt...)


Anonymous said...

thanks for the review, we appreciate all.

-dan schuchman

kathy fennessy said...

My pleasure! Good stuff.