Thursday, July 17, 2008

Back to the Future

The American
Dollar, A Memory
Stream, Yesh
Music [8/19/08]

Explosions in the Sky
proved that instrumen-
tal rock could become both
popular and lucrative.

The Texas outfit provided the soundtrack for the foot-
ball film Friday Night Lights, then the NBC series, and
they've been selling out mid-sized venues ever since.

The American Dollar's John Emanuele and Rich Cupolo
ply a similar sound, and it's also been co-opted for the small
screen (see MTV's Battlegrounds). Whether the Queens duo's
similarity to EitS is coincidental or intentional, their third CD
serves wonderfully well as the score to an imaginary film.

Waves on Waves, self-titled, VIP Group [9/9/08]

This flamboyant Nashville
trio—throughout the cov-
er art, they cavort in head-
dresses, eyeshadow, ear-
rings, and tattoos—pumps
out 1980s-style synth-pop.

Front man Thornton (one name only, please) has a gentle yet forthright voice, akin to post-Soft Cell Marc Almond.

Sexually ambiguous imagery aside, Waves on Waves (for-
merly Thornton) play it pretty safe on their debut. Lyrics
like "Today I wrote the Holy Book" ("We Want To") join with
sweeping synths and Edge-influenced guitar work. The shiny
results recall a less dance-oriented Erasure or Spandau Ballet.

Wax Fang, La La Land, Don't Panic! Records [10/14/08]

Wax Fang's leader lives to shout. You can envision Scott Carney
in your mind's eye—even if you've never seen pictures of him be-
fore. There he is on stage, arms stretched out to the sky. Or may-
be he's on his knees, beseeching the crowd to heed his words.

Sounds off-putting, doesn't it? The thing is, some guys can pull
off these sorts of dramatics, namely Queen's Freddie Mercury.

Well, the aptly-named Carney sounds
nothing like Mercury, but I'll be damn-
ed if the Louisville singer/guitarist
doesn't make the old-school front man
schtick seem fresh. In fact, he's so good
at the loud stuff that when he turns the
volume down, as on the introduction
to "Cannibal Summer," he falters.
Briefly. This man wasn't meant for
the ballad, but the operatic rocker.

Partially recorded at Memphis's famed Ardent Studios with
drummer Kevin Ratterman and bass player Jacob Heustis,
Carney's follow-up to Black & Endless Night recalls the tight-
trousered days of Queen, Bowie, and The Rocky Horror Show.

La La Land isn't small or subtle. It's big and intense. By all
rights, this thing should suck. Miraculously, it doesn't.

Endnote: Every other CD that comes my way these days
sounds like an '80s flashback. Not counting the indie music
of the era—especially the bands on Rough Trade—I don't
share the nostalgia that fuels these musicians, though I'm
trying to be understanding. That said, I'm more tolerant
of the '70s revivalists, because that's my favorite era.

For more information about Waves on Waves, please click
here or here; and for Wax Fang, here. Images from the My-
Space Pages for the American Dollar (album cover by Greg
Brophy) and Wax Fang (I own that same edition of The Rock
Yearbook). The latter, incidentally, list Kenneth Anger, Werner
Herzog, Terry Gilliam, Albert Camus, Vladimir Nabokov, and
Journey (!) among their influences, to which I say: Right on.

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