Arizona Daily Wildcat
Thursday April 24, 2003
Superstructures and other Small Things
Do you remember the epic rock of the '70s? Probably not, but you can now relive it with the release of Easyco's Superstructures and other Small Things.
It's not necessarily a bad thing to relive the past - in small doses. By doing so, you can sound original, rather than like the cookie-cutter bands that rule the airwaves today. But when every song on an album takes on an epic feel ("Superstructures" is more than eight minutes long, and four other songs are more than five), you quickly lose your audience.
That said, Easyco would probably be great to see in concert. That's part of the problem of the CD: When you are at a concert, you appreciate it when the band extends its songs, when the guitarist "spontaneously" extends a solo for 30 seconds. But when it's on a CD - unless it's a live CD, of course - the extra music just drags.
What happens when a song drags on the radio? A finger moves rapidly, changing the station to something that can hold the listener's interest. Changing stations means fewer people listening to your music, which in turn means lower record sales.
What can Easyco do to maintain the interest of a new listener? Exactly what it is doing now, except on a smaller, shorter scale. If the songs on Superstructures averaged between four and four-and-a-half minutes and still kept their soul, this album would be a refreshing throwback to the days when being a rock star meant something.
But for now, this is an album that is just too much.
Lonesome, On'ry and Mean: A Tribute to Waylon Jennings
There are certain country music singers who command the respect of fans of all genres. Unfortunately, such rebellious non-conformers are starting to leave us. With the death of Waylon Jennings, the genre lost one of its best performers.
The traditional thing to do when an artist - especially one who has inspired many other musicians - dies is to come out with a tribute album. Lonesome, On'ry and Mean is a solid effort at capturing not only the rebel spirit of Jennings, but his soulful music as well.
Most of the album is occupied by traditional country singers. From the old-school storytelling of Cowboy Jack Clement ("Let's all Help the Cowboys (Sing the Blues)") to the newer, poppy country of Guy Clark ("Good-Hearted Woman"), these artists capably convey Jennings' inner cowboy.
The highlight of the album is Jennings' friend and fellow rebel Kris Kristofferson. His rendition of "I Do Believe" makes you think, for a split second, that it's actually Jennings singing.
Unfortunately, in the next song - Alejandro Escovedo's version of "Lock, Stock, and Teardrops" - a similar attempt to channel Jennings fails badly. The song is a strained mess; Escovedo tries too hard to be Jennings-like instead of letting the music speak for itself. The same can be said for the title track, sung by former Black Flag frontman Henry Rollins. Lonesome, On'ry and Mean is played in the style to which people familiar with Rollins are accustomed - in other words, very, very angry. On an album that generally plays like an easygoing tribute, Rollins sticks out like a sore thumb.
But then again, so would Waylon Jennings.
According to their online biography, Fruit Bats "found (their) sound evolving from bizarro folk-rock into lush cinematic pop music." Let's see · lush? Yeah, maybe. Cinematic? Sure, in the sense that some tracks on this album could be used for the soundtrack to a teen-angst flick where the skinny, red-headed band geek can't get the middle-school prom queen. Pop? Fruit Bats are pop in the same way Super Furry Animals are pop: They're out-there, quirky and atmospheric, but most of this album couldn't be heard anywhere but college radio. Note to Sub-Pop: Release "When U Love Somebody" as a single, and try to change all this. Contrary to popular belief and speculation about the album's title, the Fruit Bats are not folk-influenced, instrument-playing gay bats. Rather, they are a two-piece band from Chicago, comprised of Eric Johnson (apparently not the amazing guitar player, nor the Archers of Loaf guy) and Gillian Lisee, and aided on various tracks by at least four other musicians.
Mouthfuls, Fruit Bats' sophomore effort, isn't stripped-down, traditional folk pop. Like Beck's Sea Change, it utilizes many multi-layered sound effects incorporated under strumming guitars. The effects come from instruments as diverse as a bass, a banjo, keyboards, drums, electronics, a xylophone, a mandolin and household objects. The music drifts from bouncy to waltzy to upbeat, and manages to sound particularly palatable for lazy afternoons. Without hearing their first album's "bizarre folk-rock," it seems safe to say that any evolution this band has made has certainly been in the right direction.