Together We're Heavy
A sort of poor man's Flaming Lips done up in flowing Jesus-and-the-Apostles style, "I'd like to buy the world a Coke" garb, The Polyphonic Spree are the brainchild of one Tim DeLaughter, a sort of Wayne Coyne by way of Jim Jones and the Monkees. At some 20+ members strong, they're a band big enough to give Earth, Wind, and Fire an inferiority complex. They're also pretty good, once you get past the whole Lips-meets-Hair thing.
Here's the Kool-Aid you have to swallow: This stuff, full of a day's Recommended Daily Allowance of lyrical and musical sweeteners, will rot your indie rock defenses with a white-light sugar rush so overpowering that you'll think you're having a near-death experience.
I say go ahead and spoil your dinner.
This time around, DeLaughter has eschewed the demo-like qualities of the band's debut disc, The Beginning Stages Of, in favor of the carnival approach: begin with a simple charging piano melody, and then wrap instrumental and vocal backing around it like so much cotton candy. Like the pink fluff, it's not very filling, but a hell of a lot of fun while it lasts: "Hold Me Now" is an "Everybody Hurts" for the Fahrenheit 9/11 crowd. "Diamonds/Mild Devotion to Majesty" is a paean to immaterial wealth. "When the Fool Becomes the King" (why, hello Dubya!) manages to make the lines "Hail to the Sky/It's time to watch a show/The trees want to grow/Grow grow grow" seem like something torn from a lost McCartney notebook.
Pop the CD in your computer, and the Microsoft Real Player calls The Polyphonic Spree "Baroque Pop." I'm not so sure about that label, as the music never quite reaches any sort of real complexity one might associate with, say, Vivaldi or Handel.
Call it "going for Baroque" Pop instead. If there's one thing DeLaughter and his parade of parishioners know, it's that the journey is everything.
Track to Burn: "Hold Me Now"
Grade: B+--Timothy C. Davis
A Guess at the Riddle
Reuniting with author Rick Moody (The Ice Storm, Demonology) and many of the same musical clique that made Rickets & Scurvy one of "02's more intriguing releases, David Grubbs' A Guess at the Riddle explores the same musical territory of their previous collaboration -- only without wandering off into more eclectic forms this time.
It's the opening half of this record that bores its way into your cranium for good. How? Hooks -- something you'd think anathema to a Gastr del Sol alum. "Knight Errant," which opens the record, is as straightforward a song as Grubbs has ever penned; "A Cold Apple" sounds virtually indistinguishable from the Red House Painters; "Wave Generators," is a cello-driven near-ballad; "Magnificence As Such" a brief but gorgeous folk shuffle. In such settings it's easy to overlook what a great guitarist Grubbs is, perhaps the only drawback to this approach.
Because of Grubbs' past as one-half of the Gastr brain trust (Jim O'Rourke being the other half), not to mention his esoteric solo titles since then, it's pleasantly disconcerting to hear him upend expectations by delivering more traditional -- but just as thought-provoking -- music. Here's hoping he tries it again.
Track to burn: "A Cold Apple"
Grade: B--John Schacht
Cough, the Black Eyes latest -- and last -- is a punk experiment in free jazz, dub and noise. Keeping the two-bass, two-drum, two-vocal lineup of their debut, Black Eyes have added de-tuned saxophones and a healthy dose of Crass-style anarchy to album No. 2.
After the general chaos of opener "Cough, Cough," "Eternal Life" brings more of the same before a blast of rhythm scatters the flow and then brings it back together -- much like a flock of birds escaping a common threat. Black Eyes' vocalists (one shouter, one screamer) start flexing their collective muscle on "Drums," with melodic shouts battling spoken narratives, screamed accusations and whispered secrets, all over a dub mountain of crashing cymbals, dueling bass and a nearly sexy sax. Disc closer "A Meditation" ends with both these "singers" howling at each other like wolves. Kind of scary.
Even if Cough retains the debut's rhythmic intensity and the shout/scream vocal thrills, old fans may balk at the experimental qualities while new fans probably won't be lured in by this aural afterbirth. I'd have to bet the Black Eyes could care less, having broken up six months ago. Which seems fitting: Cough is the sound of potential and expectations exploding.
Track to burn: "False Positive"
Grade: A---Jesse Steichen