Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Nick Drake
Family Tree

Sunbeam Records
Double LP 180g Vinyl

When singer/songwriter Nick Drake passed away at an all-too-early age in 1974, he left behind only three studio albums as his legacy, albums that have grown in stature over the years as classics among serious music fans. Family Tree widens the scope of Drake's impact by providing a historical glimpse behind the scenes into his creative past.

The album is made up of homemade, amateur recordings of Drake, along with a few tracks with his mother and sister, all made before his first official album was released in 1969. Lo-fi and rough around the edges, the songs are a raw representation of Drake's vision and musical influences, doodles and sketches of the more polished gems that would come later. There is a nice mix of tunes here, everything from old blues covers and early versions of original tunes, along with a Drake family recording of Mozart's Kegelstatt Trio for clarinet, viola and piano.

As with any other recorded demo, it is important to understand the music within the context they were created. In that respect, Family Tree may not be the best introduction for a newcomer to Drake's music, simply because of the raw quality of the original production. My advice would be to familiarize yourself with the studio albums before diving into this one. Yet, for the established fan, this album is a must-have, especially if you want to fully appreciate Drake's work as a whole.

This particular Sunbeam release pays due respect to Drake, pressed on audiophile-grade vinyl and packaged in a beautiful gatefold cover, along with an insert booklet. The recordings were remastered at Abbey Road for the highest quality possible, and the vinyl includes a bonus track not available on the CD version. Add this one to the ever-growing list of fantastic vinyl releases out there.

MISH MASH Mandate: All In The Family
Sunbeam Records Website

Monday, January 28, 2008

Carpal Tullar
The Milquetoast Manual


13 song CD

In case you can't figure it out by the goofy name, Carpal Tullar (aka Chris Tullar) is not someone you should take seriously. But that won't stop you from enjoying this crazily weird release, an album that makes up for the ridiculous subject matter with stunningly beautiful and catchy classic pop.

Underneath the wackiness there are traces of the genius of The Beatles and Brian Wilson, an absolute appreciation of pop structure and harmony that only a true talent can produce. My favorite track is Planets, a song that could easily translate into one of those deceptively educational School House Rock vignettes from the 70s.

MISH MASH Mandate: Conjunction Junction
Carpal Tullar Website

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Grand Hallway
Yes Is The Answer

Jack Straw Productions
11 song CD

This release from Grand Hallway is great for the little things, the tiny and intricate details that permeate this quirky and wonderful pop album. Singer and all-around musician Tomo Nakayama possesses these tunes with his gentle and heartfelt singing, while a melange of acoustic instruments weave in and out of the background.

The result is an album that is full of subdued surprises, where the gentle lines of a piano merge with melancholy strings, only to pick up into a lighter than air rhythmic beat that suggests a hint of happiness in the gloom. Nakayama's voice holds it all together with his warm and inviting tones, a beacon in this quiet storm.

MISH MASH Mandate: Like The Weather
Grand Hallway Website

Saturday, January 19, 2008

The Meeting After The Meeting

Eskimo Kiss Records
7 song CD

There are a lot of comparisons of Citified with R.E.M., and this Greensboro, NC-based band even makes the comparison themselves. But it turns out that the similarities have more to do with approach and execution rather than actual sound. Song structures and phrasing have an R.E.M.-like quality, but singer Chris Jackson doesn't come across as a Michael Stipe clone. His voice has its own distinct timbre which has little in common with Mr. Stipe's, other than the occasional inflection here and there. And, let's face it, R.E.M.'s sound is pretty much rooted in that voice, no matter what the music sounds like.

My favorite track on the album is KL Gala, an odd little tune that drifts around a quirky lyrical refrain. It has the aforementioned R.E.M. feel, laced with a Smiths-influenced droning guitar line. The song proves along with the rest of the record that the band can wield their influences with powerful results.

MISH MASH Mandate: Reconstructing The Fables
Citified Website

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Bortom Inom

Sounds Of Zilence
4 song download

Sweden-based Tid has just released a four-song EP via free download for your uneasy listening pleasure. They are providing both low and high resolution versions, along with cover art, etc at their website.

The music is slow and methodical hardcore that revolves around ethereal guitar and synth sounds, building from a slow burn into a raging inferno of sonic rage. The band avoids the standard clunky guitar noise for a more open, airy sound that seems to make the music wide open and expansive, building their drama to fill the landscape.

MISH MASH Mandate: Open House
Tid Website

Sunday, January 13, 2008

The Hectors
Sometimes They Collide

Tarantism Records
5 song CD

The Hectors remind me of just about everybody, as their influences read like a history book of indie rock. I hear traces of The Cure, The Smiths, 10,000 Maniacs, R.E.M., The Pixies, and well... you get the drift. It's all here.

Please don't mistake me. I'm not saying they're just another 80s throwback, anything but that. The band doesn't rehash, they skillfully emulate and translate, and they do it oh so well. Lead singer/guitarist Corinne Dinner has one of those gripping, strong-yet-endearing female voices that gets immediately under your skin. Add to that an anxious dual guitar attack from guitarist Robert Bonilla, and you've got a recipe for infectiously catchy indie pop that seems timeless in its scope. Was it released in 1985 or just last week? It doesn't matter, because these five tunes will surely find a happy home in your player.

MISH MASH Mandate: Period Pop
The Hectors Website

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Pamela Hines Trio

Spice-Rack Records
9 song CD

Pamela Hines and her Trio have captured the magic of classic piano jazz, while at the same time making it fresh and exciting for the modern listener. On her latest album, Return, Hines opts for a no-nonsense approach, letting the music do the talking in a bold, stated style.

It's obvious that this is a real trio and not just a vehicle for Hines, as the band is tight and in perfect gelling mode. Bassist John Lockwood and drummer Bob Gullotti are certainly along for the ride, and their input makes this release all the more challenging. Especially impressive are the three Hines original pieces, where she ventures beyond the jazz standards and lets her creativity loose with fervor. The addition of guest saxophone of Jerry Bergonzi on a few tracks gives even more depth to the group. This one is a keeper.

MISH MASH Mandate: Return Of The Jazz
Pamela Hines Website

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

One Starving Day
Broken Wings Lead Arms To The Sun

KNVBI Records
7 songs
Limited Edition 12”+7” vinyl

Taken as a whole, in terms of music and packaging, this debut full length from One Starving Day is more like a piece of performance art, rather than merely a listening experience. The physical art alone is stunning, a gatefold cover with stark black and silver imagery, complimented by the swirling black and white marbled vinyl. It's almost enough to make you forget there's music inside. Almost.

Seven tracks are spread across a 12 inch and a separate 7 inch record, which serves as an interesting musical coda to the larger LP. The music on the 12 inch is rooted in dark, abstract hardcore, with a slow and methodical approach that revolves around a wall of guitar noise, synths, strings, screamed vocals and off-kilter drum patterns. It doesn't hit you all at once, but instead draws you in with waves of sound. The companion 7 inch takes an entirely different approach, with the drums taking a breather while piano and ethereal string sounds take center stage. It's more intimate and immediate, personal in the relative quiet.

By the end, the experience is almost emotionally draining. The band describes itself as a "melancholic hardcore suffering band", and what a beautiful way to suffer.

MISH MASH Mandate: Suffragette City
One Starving Day Website
KNVBI Records Website

Friday, January 04, 2008

Feeding 5000
The Books We Read

12 song CD

Hard rock gets spiritualized with this quintet from Austin, Texas. Their sound is big and bold, with a touch of mystique in the religious/philosophical sense. There's plenty of big guitar chords and soaring vocals --- think classic Queensryche on a collision course with early U2, and you'll get a general idea of what they're capable of sonically and thematically.

The band is at their best on the title track, where all these elements combine into a powerful tour de force. Vocalist Kelly Scott Taylor opens it all up on this song, belting out an enigmatic line that lingers in your mind long after the song is over: "We belong, better off than Rome/When California's gone/The righteous remain wrong."

MISH MASH Mandate: Good Book
Feeding 5000 Website