Monday, June 13, 2005

Record reviews, Summer 2005

Epoxies - Stop the Future (Fat Wreck Chords)

Remember when you first heard “Kids in America” by Kim Wilde, and you listened to it over and over a hundred times a day? The Epoxies sure do—they sound at times like they’ve been listening to nothing but that one song for the last twenty years. On their sophomore album (and first release on Fat Wreck Chords), they continue cranking out infectious and infuriatingly danceable synth-drenched new wave that makes it feel even more like Reagan was still in the White House. They’re obviously struggling with the creative limits of such a deliberately retro sound, and it’s hard not to notice the songs all sound alike. But The Epoxies have such energy that it’s hard not to grin and turn it up, even though you know that after the inevitable week you’ll spend listening to little else, you’re probably never going to want to hear it again.

Finks - More Songs about Robots and Black Things (Permaculture Records)

Ever since carny culture fell victim to video games and good taste, theatrical weirdos haven’t had a lot of career choices. But thanks to the circus-punk sounds of bands like North Carolina’s Finks, and their sub-subcultural predecessors Old Time Relijun and Montreal’s own Dante’s Flaming Uterus and Me Mom & Morgentaler, would-be carnies at least have music to dance to. On their self-released debut, Finks scroll out ten shambling tracks of guitar, accordion, and drums, with scrambled free-associative lyrics about technology, poison, confusion, clowns, and, of course, robots. Trading off wailing male and female vocals in a manner at best reminiscent of LA’s immortal X (at worst grating and whiny), the Finks amp up the carny sound with the volume of punk rock, but their hearts clearly belong to the circus, as the sinister accordion of album-closer “Clown Song” makes clear.

ElectrelaneAxes (Too Pure)

The easiest way to describe Brighton UK’s Electrelane would be to suggest Brian Eno split into four well-educated women playing in a garage band. But even that doesn't do justice to their ability to both rock hard and entrance the listener with austere and hypnotic melody. Axes, their third full-length, is a document of how much Electrelane can do in a single disc. The initial sounds are familiar—Verity Susman’s insistent piano and organ of previous records, Mia Clarke’s driving and feedback-sodden guitar, and the persistent throb of drummer Emma Gaze and bassist Ros Murray—but the magic is in their interweaving. Incorporating choral arrangement and occasional horn bursts among the stunning drones, warbling feedback, and raucous rock and roll, the album displays the band’s versatility as musicians exploring the limits of popular music. Prominent here is a pronounced willingness to play with sounds and melodies, some of which loop and slip here and there to haunt the course of the whole record. Around these, guarded and reluctant, frontwoman Susman sings cautiously, but never seems as vocally detached as her obvious influences in British post-punk groups like the Slits and Joy Division. The album’s masterpiece is the mesmerizing two-track combination of the instrumental “Those Pockets are People” leading into an grim cover of the French resistance song “The Partisan.” There, as the guitar washes in bleak waves over the unrelenting pound of drums and bass, Susman’s aghast delivery is most effective in lyrics explicitly handling death, cruelty, and desperation. However, it is the interplay between those songs and their follow-up, “I Keep Losing Heart,” an oddly plaintive number anchored in jaunty banjo and New Orleans-style horns, that truly presents Electrelane’s remarkable talent for composition and contrast. Easily one of the best discs of the year.