By Doug Levy
Arizona Daily Wildcat January 30, 1997
Bleed your cedar
Elysian Fields is a cool name for a band. No question about it. Of course, anyone unfamiliar with mythology will have no idea what it means, but that's okay. That's because chances are, if you're the kind of person who thinks reading the Odyssey is a chore, you probably won't like this music anyway. All right, so maybe it's a bit of a stretch, but there's a certain sensibility to Elysian Fields' songs; one that brings to mind people sitting at tables reading poetry and bopping their heads to the gentle beat. There's smoke in the air, and only some of it is from tobacco. No one is moshing. No one watching ever has. It takes too much energy. Everything is cool, man.
Maybe that all sounds clichéd, but believe me, it fits. Elysian Fields are an art-rock band. I wouldn't go so far as to call them avant-garde, but they are definitely not striving to reach a mainstream audience. The songs on bleed your cedar range from Mazzy Star mellow to a loosely eastern vibe with the feel of free-form poetry. Actually, that's probably the best way to describe this album as a whole: it sounds like what poetry would be if it was forced to become music. Vocalist Jennifer Charles has a voice that is extremely compelling, and it neatly does the trick of pulling you into songs which might seem a little inaccessible without her. This leaves the rest of the band more room to experiment with unconventional forms of songwriting without scaring off the listener. The result of all this is exactly what you would want to hear at four in the morning as a hazy night runs down. If your night is already over by four a.m., you probably won't understand.
Critters Buggin are weird. It's not my opinion -- it's an objective statement. I'm sure they wouldn't argue with it themselves. They play weird music and they wear weird costumes. Their latest release, Host, features tracks with titles like "Bill Gates" and "I Ain't No Adobe Hut".
These songs sound very much like they're making them up as they go along. To a degree, this is probably true. The three members of the band put a lot of emphasis on improvisation, the force which drives their live shows, and that feel comes through on the album. The roots of their music are firmly in good old acid-jazz, with lots of attention given to saxophone and horn doodlings, to wild, hypnotic percussion and wandering guitars and bass. There are points where the influence becomes less apparent, though, where the songs become tripped-out space epics, featuring some downright bizarre samples and sounds. There's no real vocals on Host, but the instrumentals are interrupted by eerie sampled speeches, and on the most bizarre track, Bubble Boy, there's a helium-like voice that will make you check to be sure your punch wasn't spiked.
The album is an interesting listen, if nothing else, and the improvisational feel of the songs and otherworldly atmosphere created at times seem to promise a live show worth experiencing. Add to that extravagant and silly costumes, unusual instruments and a focus on visual displays (hmm . . .) and you can see where the real appeal lies for Critters Buggin: in concert. Lucky for you, they'll be at Club Congress on February 15. See the show, then buy the disc. I'm not sure it works the other way around.
Ocean Colour Scene
A few years ago, OCS released their first album, a disastrous commercial failure. But instead of losing faith, vocalist/songwriter Simon Fowler began working industriously on a new batch of songs, while guitarist Steve Craddock landed a second job playing guitar for British mod-father Paul Weller (he of the Jam, for those of you not in the know). Now, it's a well-known fact that a certain Mr. Noel Gallagher no less than worships Weller, so being in with Weller meant being in with Noel. It meant being in with Oasis. In the UK, Oasis have reached a level of stardom that threatens to surpass even the Fab Four themselves. So, when an icon of that status begins to mouth off about how brilliant your band is, it's not tough to figure out the impact on sales. Yes, through a little name-dropping, OCS became a huger success than anyone would have thought possible.
The funny thing is that Mosley Shoals is actually a damn good album. They didn't really need the celebrity endorsements to have a hit with this. Ocean Colour Scene are among the UK bands currently dipping into the sounds of the past, wearing their classic-rock influences with pride, rather than trying to hide them behind a wall of noise. As you might expect, the Beatles presence shows through strongly here, but so do the Stones, which is what makes it interesting. Imagine if John, Paul, Keith and Mick had recorded an album together; if the Beatles' melodic pop-rock was joined with the blues-based grooves of the Rolling Stones. That's basically Mosley Shoals. The groove-heavy opener, "The Riverboat Song", is easily the best on the album, so you can get a feel for this one real quick.
Listen to it once. Noel was right. You'll be back.
"We told you not to cross us ... "
I haven't been drinking tonight, but I feel like I should have been. There's a quality to the Revelators music that just makes you feel naked without a beer in your hand. This is the music you'd expect to hear in the background of a barroom brawl, where the chairs and tables fly, but the band plays on. Imagine the Blues Brothers standing against a wall smoking cigarettes while this goes on, and you've pretty much got this one down.
"We told you not to cross us..." is the first album from this Columbia, Missouri band that formed just to get the opening slot at a local Oblivians show. There is nothing clean or produced sounding about their music. The entire album was recorded live, in eight hours. On a two-track no less. While you might expect this to mean the album itself sounds like shit, it instead manages to perfectly capture the sonic appeal of the music. The Revelators are closest in style to the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, especially in their symbiosis of blues-drenched rock with modern punk and hardcore grooves. And, like the Blues Explosion, I expect the real way to appreciate The Revelators is live. With a beer in hand, of course. But, since they managed to capture that live feel on their cd, you can enjoy it at home too.
It's also great to hear such variety on an album these days. The songs range from flat out punk-rockers to low-down blues grinders, with vocals that sound at times like the Bosstones Dicky Barrett and at others like the great Elvis himself, but always sounding good. These boys is rockers, folks. Step up to the bar, pay your money, then try to sit still. You'll never make it.